Faith leaders have joined the World Bank in officially launching a global commitment to end poverty by 2030.

A panel of six spoke at the event, held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC to talk about the role of faith in combating poverty.

More than 35 faith leaders have already endorsed “Ending Extreme Poverty: a moral and spiritual imperative”. Kick-starting the discussions, panel member and World Bank president Dr Jim Yong Kim said the task to end extreme poverty was going to get harder with more than half the people in extreme poverty by 2020 expected to be living in countries affected by conflict and violence.

He said it was essential to grow the economy, invest in people and ensure, through social protection policies, that they did not fall back into poverty.

Explaining the need to build movement for change alongside faith leaders, he said: “If our 188 member countries can agree that our mission going forward is to end extreme poverty, we must make common cause with faith institutions that have said the same thing for millennia.”

Sharing the world’s resources

One of five faith leaders on the panel, Islamic Relief’s CEO Dr Mohamed Ashmawey cited the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who said people with faith could not go to sleep on a full stomach knowing their neighbours were hungry.

“It is unacceptable, ethically or morally, to have one more poor person in the world,” he said.

He argued that God had created enough resources, including water and food, for all his people.

“It’s the greed of some that denies our brothers and sisters in humanity from having their share.”

Accountability and a voice

The panel and audience discussed the issue of land rights in Africa, and the need to protect people from the unintended effects of some investment.

Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, argued that poverty was complex and had financial, social, medical and intellectual elements to it.

“Our work must be measurable. We must provide a channel for feedback from the people we serve,” she argued.

The strength of holistic development

Left to Right:

Left to Right: Vinya S Ariyaratne, moderator Jerome Socolovsky of Voice of America, Dr Mohamed Ashmawey, Ruth Messinger, Dr Carolyn Woo.

Dr Ashmawey added that corruption also needed to be considered and often it was not the lack of resources that caused poverty.

“We’re not going to go there and just give money or food or build hospitals,” he said. “We have to look holistically at the problem or it’s not going to be solved.”

Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, added: “When there is an investment in resources we have to look at the rights of those people who are negatively affected by those investments.”

The panel, which also consisted of Pujya Swamiji, co-founder of Interfaith WASH Alliance; and Vinya S Ariyaratne, general secretary of Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, agreed that faith motivated them, and the next step must be action.

“This is a historical moment. I believe we can tackle poverty if we work hand in hand together,” added Dr Ashmawey.

“If we ignore the power of faith to end extreme poverty, we, as the world, will not be able to tackle it fast enough.”

Islamic Relief began working on the Joint Document in December after a meeting with the World Bank. Islamic Relief is motivated by faith to end injustice in the world.