HomeDREAMwww.economist.com (Regno Unito) – Keeping the faith
30 - Ago - 2006

from: Economist.com

Keeping the faith
Mixing religion and development raises soul-searching questions

WORLD Bank projects are usually free of words like faith and soul. Most of its missions speak the jargon of development: poverty reduction, aggregate growth and structural adjustments. But a small unit within the bank has been currying favour with religious groups, working to ease their suspicions and use their influence to further the bank’s goals. In many developing countries, such groups have the best access to the people the bank is trying to help. The programme has existed for eight years, but this brainchild of the bank’s previous president james Wolfensohn, has teh past year largely in limbo as his successor, Paul Wolfowitz, decides its future. Now; some religious leaders in the developping countries are worried that the progress they have made with the bank may stall.

The progress has not always been easy. The programme, named the Developement Dialogue on values and Ethics faced controversy from the start. Just as religious groups have struggled to work with the bank, many people inside doubted if the bank should be delving into the divine. Critics argued thaht religion could be divise and political. Some said religoin clashes with the secular goals of modernisation.

Altought the bank does not lend directly to religious groups, it works with them to provide health, educationnal and other benefits, and receive direct input from those on the groound in poor countires. Katherine Marshall, director of the bank’s faith unit, argues that such groups are in ideal position to educate people, move resources and keep an eye on corruption. They are organised distribution systems in otherwise chaotic places. The programme has had succes getting evangelicals groups to fight malaria in Mozambique, improve microcredit and water distribution in India and educate people about ADS in Africa. “We started from very different view points. The World Bank is looking at the survival of the country, we look at the survival of the patient”, says Leonardo Palombi, of the Community of sant’Egidio, an Italian chruch group that work in Africa.

Altought the work continues, those involved in Mr Wolfensohn’s former pet ptoject now fret over future. Some expect the faith unit to be transferred to an independent organisation also set up by Mr Wolfensohn, the Worlf Faith Developement Dialogue, which will still maintain a link with the bank. Religious groups are hoping their voices will still be heard. “If we are going to make progress, faith institutions need to be involved. We believe religion has the ability to bring stability. It will be important for the bank to follow trough” says Agnes Abuom, of the World Council of Churches for Africa, based in Kenya.

Like religious groups, large institutions such as the bank can resist change. Economist and developement experts are sometimes slow to believe in new ideas. One positive by-product of the initiative is that religious groups once wary of the bank’s intentions are less suspiscious. Ultimately, as long as both economists and evangelists aim to help the poor attain a bettre life on earth, diferences in opinion about the life hereafter do not matter much.


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