World Bank hopes power of faith will help end extreme poverty

Charity Dorelien stands with her grandchild outside her makeshift home in Canaan, a community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 17.  (CNS/Bob Roller)

Charity Dorelien stands with her grandchild outside her makeshift home in Canaan, a community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 17. (CNS/Bob Roller)

It’s not surprising that faith leaders consider worldwide poverty a scandal that each person must take responsibility for. Hardly anyone would expect them to say otherwise. There’s no news value there.

When the president of the World Bank agrees and has placed the institution on a path toward eliminating extreme poverty by 2030, it gets attention from a lot more people, including those with the resources to help.

Bring the two parties together and the promise of action on the causes of extreme poverty would seem likely to succeed.

Jim Yong Kim, World Bank president, hosted six faith leaders, including Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, in an hourlong discussion today on efforts to alleviate extreme poverty.

Extreme poverty is defined as having an income of $1.25 or less a day.

Kim said partners from the faith community are crucial to ending extreme poverty because of their connections deep inside local communities.

Woo said people acting on their faith will yield the results being sought. “It’s not just what we talk about. We have to act on our faith and show faith, action results.”

At the same time, it’s important for faith-based organizations to work with other organizations in government, business and civil society that share the same goals.

“It’s probably as controversial for me as for the Catholic Church to say we will work with the World Bank,” Woo said. “But we won’t be able to get anything done that is meaningful if we don’t collaborate, including (with) government and, of course, other faith groups and, of course, even the World Bank.”

Representatives of faith-based development organizations echoed Woo.

Vinya S. Ariyaratne, general secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka, urged steps that go beyond outcomes for the world’s 900 million people living in extreme poverty.

“You can’t just focus on poverty in order to eliminate poverty,” he said. “You have to also address affluence, extreme consumption. You don’t endorse extreme suffering or extreme poverty but at the same time you don’t endorse indulgence or consumption based on greed.”

Mohamed Ashmawey, president of Islamic Relief Worldwide, said all people of all faiths and even no faith are brothers and sisters together.

“The Lord says in the book, the Quran, that we bestowed dignity on the progeny of Adam. All of us have this given fact that we are all dignified by the Lord. How can one be dignified if they are spreading their hand every day asking for food?” he asked.

“We need to have the responsibility to work together hand-in-hand, faith based organizations. Rather than fighting, let’s put our hands together and let’s try to resolve the issues of the world. It’s unacceptable ethically, morally, and religiously to have one more person on earth in extreme poverty.”

Others joining the discussion were Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, and Pujya Swamiji, co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance based in India.

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, Nigeria, invited to the World Bank for the April 14 release of a report on development in his country, liked what he heard from the panel.

He said he has seen cooperation among Christians and Muslims in his diocese in the northern part of the country and that the Boko Haram insurgency has not reached the region.

“What is most powerful is the collaboration between the various faith communities,” he said. “The real challenge is when you place religion before faith. Then people get quite territorial. Whereas the issues of common concern like rampant poverty go beyond religion. I think in a pluralistic society like ours, with competing identities, religious differences and so on, one way to look at this is as a common cause, and I think poverty is one of those.”


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