25 September 2019

Islamic Relief hosted a panel discussion at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday highlighting the critical role of faith in tackling global poverty. Representatives of Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Buddhist organisations spoke on the impact faith-inspired work is having even at a time when aid budgets are under strain.

The event, ‘Why faith actors are critical to achieving the 2030 Agenda’ explored how faith-sensitive programmes are contributing to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to transform the world we live in by 2030.

Co-hosted by PaRD (International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development) and chaired by Sara Pantuliano, Acting Executive Director at ODI (Overseas Development Institute), event panellists discussed how the world is currently not set to achieve the SDGs by 2030, especially given the impact of the climate crisis.

Attendees heard how new partnerships and technology are important in finding innovative solutions to poverty but traditional community networks and the faiths that underpin them also have a valuable role to play. Faith actors are already making progress in many areas, including ones where we might not think of them as natural allies.

The power of religious belief

Islamic Relief’s CEO, Naser Haghamed, spoke about zakat as a built-in mechanism to redress wealth gaps and inequality, as well as promote social justice. He also said, “Islamic social finance is an extensive and comprehensive solution for lifting people out of poverty.”

Christine Allen, Director of CAFOD shared her experience of how religious belief plays a critical role in combatting the spread of Ebola. She said, “Trust, presence and access” are what faith-based organisations offer, using “the language of hearts and minds” to reach people rather than the secular approach of some aid agencies.

Also contributing to the debate was Ruth Messinger from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), Global Ambassador for the American Jewish World Service and Finkelstein Institute Social Justice Fellow, who said faith partnerships need to strengthen if we are to achieve the SDGs. “Whatever faith you are, we cannot do this alone. We have so much shared concern that we could always do better to work collaboratively,” she said.

Panellist Ivy Koek, Programme Coordinator for UN Affairs, Soka Gakkai International (SGI), who said faith organisations need to unite against injustice and violence. “So many around me are disheartened and burnt out. I have found that faith has played a big part in being able to persist in this very tough road.”

Jean Duff, Chief Executive of the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (JLI) said faith can be a powerful force for climate action. “[Greta Thunberg in her speech at the UN] really raised the bar on the moral call, and the faith community has the possibility and the strength and the power and influence to rise to this call.”

Islamic Relief at the UN General Assembly

Islamic Relief is a member of the UN Faith Advisory Council and is attending various events at the General Assembly in New York this week, sharing perspectives on faith, development and climate action.

This is the first year SDG Action Zone events have been held at the UN General Assembly and Islamic Relief looks forward to contributing further to the global development debate at the heart of the UN.