September 26 marks the beginning of the fifth annual G20 Interfaith Forum, which takes place in anticipation of the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires to be held November 30 through December 1. Over the next three days, participants from a wide range of religious, national, and professional backgrounds will discuss policy and societal contributions of faith traditions and philosophies on leading global issues.
Last week, the Berkley Center hosted several experts who previewed the Interfaith Forum agenda and explored possible recommendations that may emerge, focusing in particular on how religious communities can help combat the core global challenges of inequality and foster economic and political development.
Expanding Our Moral Perimeter
John T. Monahan, senior advisor for global health to Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia and senior fellow at the McCourt School of Public Policy, views the G20 Interfaith Forum as an opportunity to speak in a “common moral voice about who’s been excluded,” empowering faith communities around the world to broaden what he referred to as “our moral perimeter” by calling attention to and advocating on behalf of marginalized groups.
Argentine diplomat Cynthia Hotton echoed this belief in the importance of faith-based organizations to global development and poverty alleviation efforts, indicating ongoing crises in Nicaragua and Venezuela as key examples where faith-based communities are playing active roles as sources of aid.
Faith-Based Groups and International Development
David Moore, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Kirsten Evans, director of the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives at USAID, expanded on the objectives of foreign assistance and the critical role faith leaders and communities play in USAID’s work.
Moore described faith leaders as pivotal figures in their communities who enable USAID to “reach corners in the world where governments cannot effectively go, or have chosen not to go,” meaning that partnering with communities of faith is not just the best way to reach these vulnerable populations, but often “the only way to do so.”
Evans reiterated this point, describing religious leaders as authorities who can “provide justification for action, for peace, for the pursuit of social goods in a way that large foreign entities or international actors are not able to speak to a local community with the same closeness or trust.”
USAID: Myths Debunked
Evans also dispelled several myths surrounding USAID development work. She emphasized that USAID does not favor one religious community over another, nor does the organization privilege religious over secular groups. Both Evans and Moore said that USAID seeks to level the playing field for all groups pursuing the organization’s support, providing each of them with the necessary tools to navigate a frequently intimidating and competitive process to obtain grants and funding.
Evans noted this does not mean a faith-based group must give up its religious identity to receive USAID funding, but rather that “any American taxpayer dollar that is going to help fund these organizations… arrives to programming that is not specifically religious in nature.”
Evans concluded the panel discussion with an overview of her expectations and hopes for the upcoming G20 Interfaith Forum: a position of American leadership, a desire to learn from international partners, and an eagerness for innovative global development solutions. In her words,
These types of events create an unprecedented environment in which to cross-pollinate, share ideas, and understand best practices and… the experience of our partners around the world.