His Highness the Aga Khan’s description of this event from his speech at the Centro Ismaili, Lisbon, Opening Ceremony:

Although my faith and office place upon me a distinctive perspective and role, I am most certainly not alone in my concern about the pace and direction of change at this moment in history. In recognition of the critical problems of human welfare confronting today’s world, and the role faiths can play in contributing to their resolution, Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Mr. James D Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, convened a Dialogue on “World Faiths and Development” earlier this year. Leaders of nine world faiths participated: Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Tao. Within each, the major traditions were represented, the Christians by both Catholic and Protestant leaders, the Muslims by leaders of Sunni and Shia communities.

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References in His Highness the Aga Khan’s speeches and press releases, and news stories regarding this event, follow:

Centro Ismaili, Lisbon, Opening Ceremony Speech:

Although my faith and office place upon me a distinctive perspective and role, I am most certainly not alone in my concern about the pace and direction of change at this moment in history. In recognition of the critical problems of human welfare confronting today’s world, and the role faiths can play in contributing to their resolution, Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Mr. James D Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, convened a Dialogue on “World Faiths and Development” earlier this year. Leaders of nine world faiths participated: Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Tao. Within each, the major traditions were represented, the Christians by both Catholic and Protestant leaders, the Muslims by leaders of Sunni and Shia communities.

The Dialogue took the form of an open and wide-ranging exchange of views among the participants. It concluded with a public commitment to continue the Dialogue and to the development of specific follow-on activities. Several points emerged which are important and encouraging. I was particularly struck by the degree of commonality in the ethical basis that motivates and guides the development work of all the faiths. To find that similarity in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of which share common Abrahamic roots, was anticipated and comforting. But to discover the extent and strength of comparable formulations among the religions that have their origins further East was exhilarating for our common goals.

The Dialogue has now moved to the creation of working groups with membership drawn from both the World Bank and the faiths. They are charged with drawing lessons from successful projects addressing some of the most pressing problems of our time: food security, post-conflict reconstruction, delivery of social services, and the role of culture and cultural institutions for healthy societies. This process will focus on the work of faith organisations in different geographical settings, and will seek to identify best practices. One goal is to lay the ground-work for co-operation between faith organisations and development organisations including the World Bank. Another, and it is one to which I attach particular importance, is to explore the potential for co-operation between faith organisations in settings where interests are shared and the environment enabling.

Press Release from the Secretariat of His Highness the Aga Khan:

His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, and Ivoirian President Henri Konan Bedie yesterday signed an Accord of Co-operation for Development envisaging an expanded commitment by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) to Cote d’Ivoire….

In a speech made during an official visit to Cote d’Ivoire at the invitation of the Government, the Aga Khan situated the Accord in the context of the World Bank’s recent inter-faith dialogue on development at which nine major religious traditions were represented. The dialogue with religious leaders initiated by World Bank President James Wolfensohn and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Aga Khan said, had recognised that the world’s major religions shared ethical principles, underlying the development of civil society, as well as the common objectives of combating the “iniquities of our times and the growing marginalisation of the weakest in society.”

The dialogue, he said, had revealed a common consensus that development could not be measured in economic terms alone, and needed imperatively to address the quality of life for individuals, access to and improvement of, education, public health, preservation of national cultures and care for the environment….

Inter Press Service news story:

Leading religious leaders from around the globe reached a landmark accord with the World Bank this week, one that aims to put spiritual, moral and social values back into the financial giant’s balance sheets. “This is an historic moment”, Wendy Tyndale, a spokesperson for the international development agency Christian Aid, told IPS Friday. “For the first time in the 53 years of its history, the World Bank has opened its doors to dialogue with the faiths.” Working groups between the faiths and the Washington-based financial institution have been set up to discuss how best to ensure projects designed to eliminate poverty consider spiritual, moral and social factors as well as financial ones.

The two-day meeting, co-chaired by the head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, and the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, was held on Feb. 18-19 at the archbishop’s residence in London, Lambeth Palace. Participants included leading figures from of nine faiths: Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Taoist. They conferred with senior World Bank staff and policy-makers from major British based international aid organisations, including Christian Aid and the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development.

The Aga Khan, the spiritual leader or Imam of the Nizaris, the larger of the two main branches of the Ismaili Shia community, was also present. The Ismailis have developed a world-wide reputation for charity welfare and development work. In 1967 the current Aga Khan established the Aga Khan Foundation specifically to promote such humanitarian and cultural work.

Over the next 18 months, small working groups will combine people from different faiths working in the community and World Bank officials, and decide the role of the Bank in this new alliance between the churches development network. “We shall be exploring vital questions about the definition of what constitutes successful development, bearing in mind the importance of religious, cultural, social and environmental aspects of a society’s long-term well being,” said Carey in a statement. “We shall consider together, against this background, the kind of criteria which need to be built into effective long-term development policies and projects, and how faith communities and the World Bank might work together to achieve beneficial changes in the fight against world poverty.”

The move, initiated by Carey and Wolfensohn over a year ago, has been described by development experts as a major change in World Bank policy. One of the key decisions to have come out of what Carey called “frank and intensive dialogue” was a shift in the bank’s understanding of development to include cultural, ethical and spiritual issues, aid agencies here said. “Up until now, the World Bank has ignored the importance of cultural, ethical and spiritual values in development projects because it has focused on economic values alone,” said Tyndale. “Development is, of course, about economics, but, as the churches development network has known for a long time now, culture, spirituality and ethics should not be left out of the development equation either.”

The World Bank has often found itself at logger-heads with religious-based agencies and experts who have condemned its investment in giant projects that take little account of the needs of ordinary peoples or the social and environmental damage the can cause. Non-governmental development agencies have attacked many of the bank’s policies, including its ‘soft’ loans at lower rates for developing countries. This, they argue, has sucked the developing world into a spiral of escalating debt, conditional on economic policies not tuned to the needs, cultures, and existing structures in recipient countries.

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