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LIDC Workshop on Faith-Based International Development

Thursday, June 9, 2011 - 17:00
Researchers from Bloomsbury Colleges and development practitioners from international NGOs gathered at LIDC to explore the role that faith-based organisations play in international development and what further research is needed to understand this role better.

Prof. Jane Harrigan from SOAS presented her research suggesting that in the Middle East and North Africa (with the exception of Tunisia) faith-based organisations filled the gap in welfare provision left by the state after economic liberalisation. In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood provides a whole range of social services to the population, including education and health - often of higher quality and at lower cost than state-run services.

Dr. Michael Jennings from SOAS observed, drawing on his study on East Africa, that the voluntary sector or civil society are often perceived as synonymous with NGOs, while in fact the voluntary sector emerged long before NGOs entered the region, and it was created by faith-based organisations, essentially Christian missions. In Tanganyika, faith-based organisations initially received no support from the colonial state, but gradually they gained recognition, access to state funding and an increased role in policy-making, although at the expense of greater supervision from the state.

Dr. Martha J. Chinua from LSHTM presented a case study of the evolving role of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe in the 2000s. The Anglican Church effectively replaced the state in tackling the HIV/ AIDS pandemic and providing welfare to the poorest.

Isabelle Lange from LSHTM presented a case study of Mercy Ships – a Christian organisation providing medical services through a hospital ship. Lange’s study concluded that religious volunteers had a higher level of satisfaction than non-religious ones. Also, evidence was found that religious organisations were better able to integrate into the community and thus achieve better results locally. 
 
Prof. David Mosse from SOAS talked about his research on the caste of untouchables (dalits) in India. Jesuit organisations significantly contributed to case being perceived a development and a human rights issue, leading campaigns for dalit rights.
 
Paula Clifford from Christian Aid outlined the history of the organisation, emphasising its ecumenical roots. Christian Aid works with local churches on the ground as partners, which helps reach remote communities. It also works with churches in the UK and is accountable to them. The organisation is strongly rooted in Christian - and in general humanitarian - values, but it does not aim to evangelise and it works with people of various faiths.
 
Mamoun Abuarqub from Islamic Relief Worldwide similarly stressed that Islamic Relief works with people in need regardless of their religious background. Muslim organisations enjoy relative financial security, as Muslims are obliged by their faith to engage in charitable giving and many choose to do so via Muslim organisations. Similarly to Christian Aid, Islamic Relief sees itself as a value-based organisation, aspiring to the ideals of social justice and empowerment – values that are strong in Islam.
 
The plenary discussion that followed raised the questions of what faith-based organisations are and what makes them different from other charitable organisations. The complex and context-specific relationship between faith-based organisations and the state was explored as well.
 
Participants agreed that further research areas, possibly to be explored during future joint initiatives, include the issues of the impact of faith-based service provision on beneficiaries, efficiency of service provision, and historical perspectives on how the relationship between faith-based organisations and the state has evolved in particular settings.
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