July 12, 2012, 9:22 AM
As a Hindu girl growing up in the (mostly) Christian town of Huddersfield, England, Kiran Bali had a history of interfaith encounters from a very early age.
Not all of them were positive.
“I felt a lot of tension between faith groups, even amongst children around the age of seven,” said Ms. Bali, who became the newest chairperson of URI’s Global Council in June. “I felt the need for better understanding and cooperation, due to the dynamics I experienced in junior (primary) school and in the wider community.”
Ms. Bali, 34, has devoted much of her life to making it easier for members of different religions to understand each other. Her voluntary endeavors and social entrepreneurial skills drew the attention of Queen Elizabeth II, who honored her as a Member of the British Empire in 2007.
She became ordained as an international interfaith minister – after extensive training in the United States – in 2008, and served as the youngest-ever chairperson of the Huddersfield Interfaith Council from 2005 to 2006.
“I have always believed that mutual respect, unity in diversity and a safe space for dialogue form the bedrock of society,” Ms. Bali said. “So interfaith work has been a natural activity for me since my childhood days.”
Being the youngest member of the Huddersfield Council is nothing new for Ms. Bali, who is also the youngest magistrate to sit on the Kirklees bench. (She is also the youngest Trustee ever chosen to head URI’s Global Council). Her age, she says, has never been an issue – except to provide her with an unique perspective in her work with others.
“A large amount of my work has centered around diversity and inclusion, and a range of age groups brings more creative diversity,” Ms. Bali said. “I believe that one’s age is no barrier to wisdom, as we are all continuously learning.”
In addition to her work as a magistrate and her interfaith service, Ms. Bali has also served as a student mentor, lectured at schools, colleges and universities, served on the steering committee of URI’s Young Leaders Program and volunteered with the local elderly community through the South Asian Seniors Brotherhood – which she founded. She has somehow also found the time to teach Bhangra dance and karate (she holds a black belt) sing, and perform in local theater.
“I have a real passion for diverse endeavors, and therefore ensure that I make the time to contribute to my areas of interest,” said Ms. Bali, who still has fond memories of the dance contest she won at the age of eight. “I believe that the projection of key messages through the creative arts is exceptionally powerful.”
Her talent for multi-tasking is likely to serve Ms. Bali well as chairman of a global interfaith network. In her statement as a candidate for the Global Council, Ms. Bali wrote that “trustees must be active and get involved in projects as pioneers or participants.”
That’s a campaign promise she intends to keep.
“Global Trustees must lead by example and inspire others by disseminating valuable information and providing direction and support,” Ms. Bali said. “As elected representatives of the wider URI family, the service aspect of our roles, and setting a precedent through our actions, are particularly significant.”