Ghana Meeting

9 January 2009

Dear Friends,

Greetings of love and peace.

This past Friday I returned from Accra, Ghana where, 1-2 July, I represented URI at a meeting of faith and development leaders - Faith-Inspired Networks and Organizations: Their Contribution to Development Programs and Policies - co-convened by the World Bank and the World Faiths Development Dialogue.

The meeting had three primary objectives: "to (1) take stock of the extensive and rich experience on the ground of faith-inspired networks and organizations in implementing development programs and policies; (2) discuss the role of religious leaders as advocates on strategic development issues at regional and global levels, with emphasis on how to scale up successful development programs and policies; and (3) identify clear ways forward for expanding analytical work, capacity development, and policy dialogue involving faith and development, especially for service delivery in education, health and social protection."

The meeting - co-chaired by Graeme Wheeler, World Bank Managing Director, and Lord Carey of Clifton, former Archbishop of Canterbury - "focused on Africa, including fragile states where development needs are highest and faith-inspired networks are the most active in service delivery." URI's Director for Africa, Mussie Hailu, was also to have participated in this meeting but a family health emergency made his participation impossible.

The group of 80+ participants was global, interfaith, strongly African and representative of a wide array of organizations involved in development efforts, including the World Bank, the UN, the World Council of Churches, and different faith-based and interfaith organizations.

Over two days, we heard panel presentations, followed by questions and comments, on the following topics:

* The Current Economic Crisis and Its Implications
* The Role of Faith-Inspired Organizations in Health
* Faith-Inspired Organizations and Service Delivery in Ghana
* Service Delivery Challenges in the Light of the MDGs
* The Role of Faith-Inspired Networks and Organizations in Promoting Peace
* Advocacy Opportunities and Challenges
* Looking Forward: Development and Faith

There will be a formal report coming from this meeting, which I will find a way to share with anyone who is interested, but for the present, here are a few observations:

* Though the challenges confronting our Earth community on many fronts are enormous, there are remarkably talented, committed, spiritually-inspired people working every day to address both the daily consequences and the root causes of these challenges.

* Each passing year brings growing awareness of the importance of including faith-inspired organizations and networks as full partners in confronting these challenges, recognizing that working with these organizations and networks brings both great opportunities and very real challenges.

* Everywhere you turn there is a deep desire for partnership and an uncertainty about how to create truly meaningful partnerships, especially where there is a significant power imbalance between potential partners.

* It is important to meet potential partners where they are - to listen and learn, but also to speak and teach.

* It is essential to acknowledge the remarkable resources that exist in local communities, and also the need for training and capacity building, and to accomplish this in ways that don't recapitulate cultural imperialism.

* The work of faith-inspired organizations and networks is often more efficient and effective than the work of secular organizations, perhaps because it is motivated by such a deep value base.

* There is a great deal of work to be done to establish appropriate standards and values for regional development, with appropriate accountability, measurement and transparency, which must also take into account the "intangible" value that is central to so much faith-inspired work.

* We are diverse beyond imagining, which is an inexpressible gift, but which also presents the challenge of how to accommodate this diversity while still having a center of coherence.

* Global climate change, with the poorer nations which are least responsible for it suffering the most for its consequences, threatens to overwhelm and exacerbate everything else on a development agenda.

I left the meeting moved, inspired and challenged, with many new colleagues and offers of partnership for URI. This will all take disciplined follow-up, which requires time, a scarce commodity in my life; but with the hiring of an Associate Executive Director (the title of the position we have been calling Director of Operations), I expect to have more time for this essential part of URI's growth.

In closing, I offer a complementary question and affirmation.

The question: With so much wisdom, experience and expertise, why do we seem so overmatched by the pressing issues of the day?

The affirmation: We are entering a new era of partnership that has the potential to transform our collective capacity to deal with the issues that most challenge our Earth community.

It is a privilege to lead URI in our effort to make meaningful contributions - locally, regionally and globally - to this journey of urgently needed transformation.