Published on Voices

The power of faith to help end poverty: 5 key takeaways

Better understanding and harnessing the role of faith in development is becoming an area of growing interest and engagement within the World Bank Group. Five leaders of prominent faith-based and religious organizations came together at our Washington, D.C. headquarters last month for a dynamic panel discussion with President Jim Yong Kim on the essential role that faith leaders and organizations can play to help end extreme poverty by the year 2030. Below are five key takeaways from their discussion that we hope to build on through the Bank Group’s ongoing engagement with faith organizations and leaders.
  1. Ending poverty is a moral responsibility.
    The panelists emphasized strongly the idea that ending poverty is not just the right thing to do: It is our moral responsibility as members of the human race. This idea looms large in many religious traditions; there is room, the discussion suggested, for this kind of thinking in broader development discourse. “Today, 22,000 children will die simply because they live in poverty,” said Pujya Swami, co-founder of the Interfaith WASH Alliance. “When we accept these 22,000 children as our own, we realize that we must not only pray for them, but we must also provide for them.”
  2. Poverty alleviation requires a multifaceted approach. Left to right, Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement General Secretary Vinya S. Ariyarante; Interfaith WASH Alliance Co-Founder Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati; World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim; Voice of America Religion Correspondent Jerome Socolovsky; Islamic Relief Worldwide CEO Mohamed Ashmawey; American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger; Carolyn Woo, President and CEO, Catholic Relief Services. © Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank
    From corruption to climate change, extreme consumption to extremism, so many issues combine to create the conditions for extreme poverty to remain a scourge on our collective conscience. The panelists’ discussion highlighted the staggering complexity of poverty, and the need to work across sectors in order to effectively address it. “We have to look holistically at the problem,” said Islamic Relief CEO Mohamed Ashmawey, “otherwise it’s not going to be solved.”
  3. To end extreme poverty, we must also address extreme affluence.
    “You can’t just focus on poverty in order to eliminate poverty,” said Vinya S. Ariyaratne, general secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement. “You have to also address affluence and extreme consumption.” The idea that “the Lord has created the world with enough for every one of us,” as Ashwamey put it, is a common thread throughout many religious teachings and texts; it follows that, as World Bank data has found, the relationship between growth and poverty alleviation needs to change in order to create more equitable societies.
  4. Faith-inspired organizations and leaders have specific skills and assets that are critical in tackling development challenges.
    As several panelists pointed out, faith leaders have a gift for delivering simple, poignant messages: they have the power to enact positive behavior change. Kim spoke about the inextricable linkages between poverty and conflict, and the incredible potential of faith leaders and faith-based organizations to be positive influences in their communities, helping people choose to reject extremism and violence.
  5. Collaboration is essential for ending extreme poverty.
    A strong theme throughout the discussion was the urgent need for organizations like the World Bank Group to come together with faith leaders, governments, and beyond in order to tackle extreme poverty by the year 2030. “This is a time for collaboration,” said Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. “We won’t be able to get anything done that is meaningful if we don’t collaborate.” Echoed Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, “This is about going far, going together, and building movements for social justice that will end extreme poverty.”  

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