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About WFDD

History and Objectives of the World Faiths Development Dialogue

June 2009

Established in 1998 by James D. Wolfensohn, then President of the World Bank, and Lord George Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury, The World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD) bridges between the worlds of faith and secular development. Based in Washington, DC, WFDD supports dialogue and conferences, fosters communities of practice, collects case studies on faith-based organizations, and promotes understanding on religion and development, with formal relationships to the World Bank and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Peace, Religion, and World Affairs. WFDD is housed at the Berkley Center; WFDD is a separate legal entity and is not owned or managed by the university.

What is the World Faiths Development Dialogue?

WFDD is a not-for-profit organization working at the intersection of religion and global development. It also refers to a process of exchange involving leaders of the major world religions, and international development organizations. The organization’s creation was led by the World Bank and the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and it is now an independent entity housed at Georgetown University in Washington DC. The process was inspired by an ambitious objective: bettering the quality of development work both through enhanced mutual understanding and specific insights into poverty and equity challenges.

WFDD has two central objectives: to reinforce, underscore, and publicize the synergies and common purpose of religions and development institutions addressing poverty; and to explore issues on which there is little consensus and where common ground is unclear among different faith traditions, within faiths, and between faiths and development institutions.

At the heart of WFDD’s vision is an effort to bring voices and experience from poor communities more forcefully into development thinking at all levels, by facilitating a more active participation by faith communities in the strategic reflection processes on which development programs are based.

WFDD supports forward-thinking dialogue around action-oriented partnerships between faith-inspired and "secular" development institutions – such as the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, and the Berkley Center's program on Religion and Development –and supports some of the analytical work necessary to assess the efficacy of these partnerships.

WFDD’s History: How did it begin?

The idea for the WFDD took form at a meeting at Lambeth Palace, London, in February 1998. Organized at the initiative of then World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn and then Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, the Lambeth meeting brought together a small group of senior leaders from nine major world faiths. Archbishop Carey later said that over the course of the two days, the leaders "shared honestly some of our concerns, pain, and anger." Wolfensohn remembered that there was a "total meeting of the minds," and "a unity between us…of concern for physical livelihood but also spiritual and cultural continuity." He underscored that the meeting opened opportunities to work together "in our various ways…so that together we can make the world a better place and improve the lot of poor people everywhere."

One practical outcome of the first gathering at Lambeth was the establishment of a small office in Oxford, England, led by Wendy Tyndale, formerly of Christian Aid. It had two immediate mandates. The first was to pursue work involving both World Bank staff and faith representatives on several themes at the country level, including hunger and food security; environmental sustainability; preservation of cultural heritage (including sacred sites); violence and post-conflict reconstruction; and education and social service delivery. Second, religious communities were invited to “influence the thinking of the World Bank by participating in the studies and discussions embodied in the Bank's annual World Development Reports.” The first effort focused on the year 2000 WDR, whose topic was "understanding poverty."

Building on the momentum of the Lambeth meeting, a second meeting was convened in November 1999, this time in Washington, D.C. The Washington meeting included many of the leaders who had participated at Lambeth, but was broadened to include, notably, Michel Camdessus, then Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a much enlarged group of World Bank senior staff. The meeting again underscored the strategic importance of sustaining dialogue between leaders from the faith and development communities. The leaders who were present agreed on the need for a formal organizational base and adequate resources to do the job. They commissioned a strategic review, which was undertaken on a pro bono basis by Bain & Company. The review was launched in February 2000 and culminated in a decision in May 2000 by a leadership group which included Carey and Wolfensohn to move forward with a small but properly constituted and funded organization. The great majority of funding for the initial launch of the new WFDD was committed by the leaders represented at the meeting.

Establishing the WFDD

The process of establishing the WFDD as an independent organization got underway, following a decision that it would be UK-based and be a legally registered charity under UK law. Various studies were undertaken to provide a foundation for the work, notably a series of seminars at Harvard University financed by His Highness the Aga Khan and a study of various possible headquarters locations. An executive search firm, also working on a pro-bono basis, led the recruitment of an executive director; an appointment was made (David Bryer formerly of Oxfam) but he later withdrew for personal reasons. With substantial World Bank support, pilot work designed to test different models of engagement proceeded in Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. A consultation process about faith approaches to poverty in several world regions resulted in a paper that fed into the 2000-2001 World Development Report.

During the period from late 2000 to early 2001, the World Bank’s Executive Directors were briefed about the proposals for WFDD and planned World Bank involvement. A wide-ranging internal discussion ensued as to the nature of the World Bank’s partnership with world religions generally and the WFDD more specifically. The discussion was then expanded to include the faith leaders who had participated in the two initial dialogue events. The result was a reshaping of the concept and governance structure of the WFDD. The most significant change was an agreement that the World Bank would not associate itself formally or be a party to the governance of the organization, though it would participate actively in dialogue and action led by the WFDD. The faith and development institution leader meetings would continue but under World Bank leadership. Joint activities, including tailored training activities for faith community leaders on development topics (HIV/AIDS especially) and research on dimensions of poverty reduction of common concern, were anticipated in areas which fit the World Bank’s mandate and instruments. These agreements were formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding signed in May 2002.

Now legally constituted as a UK-charity, WFDD, with Dr. Michael Taylor as its new Executive Director, began operations in late 2000 from a base at Birmingham University. The organization that developed at Birmingham was smaller than the organization that had initially been envisaged, focusing its work on a series of consultations on the World Development Reports and on the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. WFDD also undertook a consultation process on faith roles in service delivery and on culture, religion, and development. Dialogue efforts focused on Africa. WFDD during this period operated largely as a modest, informal network and as a policy think-tank offering advice and support to the World Bank and faith leaders.

Throughout this period (and up to the present), the World Bank maintained an office responsible for relationships with faith communities, first called the Office on Faiths, later renamed the Development Dialogue on Values and Ethics (DDVE). The DDVE focused on a steadily expanding set of partnerships, interfaith and faith specific, on high level leadership meetings, and on case studies of cooperation between the worlds of faith and development. It provided a wide range of operational support but the mandate of the office and its director were focused on engaging with those outside the Bank, to learn from their perspectives, and to build on positive engagement between the worlds of faith and development at the country and global levels.

Another noteworthy development during this period was a meeting in Nairobi organized in March 2000 by the World Bank’s Africa Region. The ambitious agenda of the Nairobi meeting focused on a range of issues pertinent to African development including structural adjustment, HIV/AIDS, and governance and corruption. Around this time the World Bank also engaged with an early WFDD partner, Martin Palmer and the Alliance of Religions for Conservation (ARC), on a series of global meetings and country-based actions on religion and the environment.

The Millennium Declaration and September 11

Discussions about WFDD’s roles were shaped by the global discussions around the turn of the new millennium, including the formulation in late 2000 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). WFDD was invited to take a lead role in organizing the segment on poverty during an unprecedented global gathering of world religious leaders at the United Nations which preceded the Millennium Summit of world leaders. As the MDGs took form over the next year, WFDD’s network engaged in reflections and articulated a series of ideas about how faith communities could and should be involved.

The terrorist attacks on the United States in September 11, 2001 resulted, globally and within the World Bank, in a sharper focus on issues of religion. The leadership of the World Bank questioned whether previous engagement of faith leaders had been a high enough priority. Among other shifts in focus, the importance of religion in fragile states had become more apparent when it was revealed that Al-Qaeda had been nurtured in Taliban-led Afghanistan.

The WFDD, too, sensed a heightened awareness of its responsibilities in the wake of the attacks. Shortly after 9/11, Lord Carey said, “At a time when faith communities are under intense scrutiny over what divides them, the WFDD can help to strengthen and deepen the dialogue and the understanding upon which effective common action is based.” Among its activities during this period was a discreet consultation about reaching out to faith groups and people beyond the accepted “comfort zones”.

Leaders’ meetings in Canterbury and Dublin

Inspired both by the MDGs and by a fresh awareness following 9/11 of religion’s roles in international affairs, a third meeting of faith and development leaders was called in Canterbury, England, in October 2002. The agenda for the Canterbury meeting, which was largely organized and financed by the World Bank, was centered on the question of how religious leaders and organizations could work more effectively with development organizations to advance the MDGs. The meeting was larger than the two earlier meetings and notably included a wider range of development organizations, including representatives from several United Nations agencies and also the UK government. A meeting highlight was the entertainer Bono’s passionate plea for greater engagement by the faith communities in the effort to address global poverty. The outcomes of the meeting pointed to more work to develop partnerships in priority areas, notably HIV/AIDS, gender, and post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction.

In preparing for the Canterbury meeting, the DDVE at the World Bank undertook an inventory of work within the Bank that involved partnerships with faith organizations. This information, augmented by supplementary studies, supported the Canterbury discussions. The inventory work also highlighted the major gaps in existing information, including the dearth of evaluation work on much work carried out by faith organizations. These kinds of evaluations were and are crucial to understanding the potential role of faith organizations in addressing development challenges; “mapping” the contributions of faith organizations became an increasing focus in the ensuing years.

The next leaders’ meeting was held in Dublin, Ireland, in January-February, 2005. This meeting was again co-chaired by Wolfensohn and Lord Carey (who had in late 2002 retired as Archbishop of Canterbury), together with Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. In many respects the most ambitious and largest of the series of four faith and development leader meetings stretching back to 1998, the Dublin meeting affirmed the priority and direction of the ongoing dialogue, again focusing on the issues of peace and security and service delivery. The theme of equity inspired the focus on “global balance” thus linking human and economic development and bringing in human security as an organizing theme.

Concurrent with the 2005 Dublin meeting were global efforts to mobilize funding and support for the MDGs, as shortfalls in MDG performance were becoming apparent at that time. At the Dublin meeting there was a call both for continued action at the country and community level to translate the insights from dialogue into practice, and for continuation of the high level forums at an interval of about 18 months to two years. The upcoming leadership transition in the World Bank was another focus in Dublin, as Wolfensohn had played a central role in launching and nurturing the dialogue process. As Lord Carey had already retired, Wolfensohn’s departure from the World Bank prompted discussion about the future of WFDD and, in a larger sense, about the future of dialogue between faith and development leaders.

The years 2005-2008 were a transition. The WFDD wound its operations to a close in the UK, while efforts focused on the legal and practical challenges of reconstituting the new US based organization. The center of activity shifted to the World Bank, where knowledge and partnerships continued as the central focus. Following an internal task force review, the mandate of the DDVE was reaffirmed, and a new leader appointed. In mid-2008, WFDD’s trustees met with senior World Bank leaders and agreed to organize a next leaders’ meeting. The objectives were both to sustain what was described as a “transformational” (in the words of Rabbi David Saperstein) process of engagement and to help make that process more concrete and action focused. Those agreements led to the leaders’ meeting planned for Accra, Ghana, in July 2009.

Operational History

WFDD operated from 2000-2006 as a registered charity in the United Kingdom. WFDD’s founding board of trustees was chaired by Lord Carey and included Canon Richard Marsh, Jeffrey Solomon, Kamla Chowdhry, and Professor Akbar Ahmed. These trustees were joined by Dr. Haruhisa Handa and Count Armenise Auletta. WFDD’s primary sources of funding during the initial years were generous grants from a group of founding patrons. The World Bank, in lieu of a direct grant for WFDD start-up activities, provided direct support, in addition to staff support for the restructuring work. WFDD secured project financing from the UK Development agency (DFID), the Swiss Government, and various foundations, for specific policy and country work.

WFDD’s trustees decided in mid-2005 that the United Kingdom location was not optimal for achieving WFDD’s objectives and therefore decided to reconstitute the WFDD as a US-based organization. The reasons were to allow WFDD to work more closely with the World Bank and other major development organizations, and to develop stronger links with the United States administration and the United Nations. The process of recreating the WFDD in the U.S. was supported by the World Bank and proceeded as planned. The new WFDD became operational in late 2006 and the United Kingdom charity was dissolved.

WFDD operates today as an IRS-registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Washington, D.C. It is based at Georgetown University, and has close ties with Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. The Board of Trustees is chaired by Lord Carey, and includes, in addition to WFDD Executive Director Katherine Marshall, Rabbi David Saperstein, Professor Akbar Ahmed, Dr. Haruhisa Handa, Dr. John D. De Gioia, Jacqueline Ogega, Count Auletta, Bishop John Chane, and Sir Timothy Lankester.

WFDD's Logo: the Story

WFDD logo

The WFDD logo is the gift of Setsuko Klossowska de Rola, Japanese and French artist and UNESCO Artist for Peace. She has long supported WFDD’s goals of dialogue, bringing to WFDD her belief in the power of culture to bridge divides across the world and to promote true understanding and compassion.

Setsuko is a living exemplar of the rich diversity of world cultures. Born in Japan, she spent many years by the side of her husband (the renowned French painter, Balthus) at the Villa Medici, seat of the French Academy, in Rome. They then moved to the Swiss Alps, where their home, the Grand Chalet in Rossinieres, became an artistic and aesthetic center. Setsuko lives there and today leads the Balthus Foundation. Her paintings and works of art, evocative still life, mischievous cat images, and recycled ribbons among them, are exhibited across the world.

Born in Japan, Setsuko was raised in the Buddhist tradition, with Shinto’s deep respect and love for nature imbued in her. Both Buddhist and Shinto values and culture are very much part of her identity. Nonetheless, when her husband died in February 2001, she decided that, though Buddhism was unshakably part of her life and would never leave her, she wanted them to travel in the same boat as her beloved husband, with the same light of inspiration. Since Balthus was Catholic, she was baptized as a Catholic just before the funeral, by Polish Cardinal Henryk Roman Gulbinowicz. Artist and activist Bono served as her godfather, interior designer Verde Visconte as her godmother.

Bono wrote to Setsuko in his gift of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, “Words cannot describe you, but if they could they might be found here. God is love, your loving godfather, Bono.”

The logo conveys both WFDD’s global vision and the personal care that is true spirit of dialogue. The light that begins at the top reflects the mind: understanding, inspiration, and clarity of thought. Faith is also part of the image of light. The outstretched hand conveys both deep caring and compassion and the WFDD’s determination to translate ideas and ideals, faith and conviction, into practice. WFDD's aim is development, in the truest sense of developing human potential, its vision is of an interconnected world that thrives on the diversity of faiths and cultures, and its conviction is that action for a better world must be grounded in the respect and understanding that can only come with true dialogue.


Katherine Marshall headshot

Katherine Marshall

Senior Fellow
Walsh School of Foreign Service, Executive Director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue

David Saperstein headshot

David Saperstein

Center for Jewish Civilization