Recognizing that religion is or could be a highly political issue in many contexts, it is important that efforts to engage with religious communities are impartial and non-partisan. This is critical in situations where religious differences may be used to fuel conflict or competition for political power. Such situations will require transparency in communications with the different parties, or prioritizing work with a recognized inter-religious body that can advance child rights efforts without being overshadowed or used to advance another agenda. High-level advocacy may be required in addition to the more operational-level discussions.
By emphasizing their political neutrality and mandate, child rights organizations can often open a space for activities to promote the rights of children and cultivate a broader base of support than may be possible by partisan actors. This support often extends to the highest levels of religious communities, which may be more responsive to child rights organizations that exhibit political and religious neutrality.
There may also be contexts in which it is better not to engage with religious actors in programming. This is likely to be the case where religion is politicized to the point that any such engagement would threaten a child rights organization’s neutrality – or even perceptions of its neutrality. It is also possible in some contexts that the beliefs and practices of a specific religious community are so far out of line with child rights principles and a child rights organization’s mandate that engagement would call into question the latter’s legitimacy and good reputation. Obviously, these assessments need to be made carefully and thoroughly to ensure that the opportunities afforded by engagement always outweigh the risks.
Barriers to collaboration
|Social factors||Operational Factors||Structural Factors|
|Lack of familiarity – Ignorance about a would-be partner’s strengths and strategic potential.||Differing operational norms – Difference in approaches to program delivery, results monitoring, and financial tracking, for example.||Fragmentation of actors^^ – Diffuse and difficult to navigate sectors with weak organizing structures.|
|Preconceptions and stereotypes – Presumptions about a potential partner’s level of commitment or quality of work, for example.||Divergent priorities – Conflicting (or often changing) views about which issues or approaches should be given precedence.||Competition** – Rivalry among actors for resources or recognition.|
|Suspicion and mistrust** – Fear of hidden motives, such as proselytizing, or a history of tensions between two groups.||Lack of a shared language* – Differences in the common lexicon and technical terminology.||Exclusion of actors^ – Under-representation or systematic exclusion of some actors from collaborative mechanisms.|
|Desire to maintain boundaries – Faith actor’s concern about being co-opted or instrumentalized, as well as secular actor’s unease about potentially over stepping religion/state boundaries.||Uneven capacity – Concerns about skill gaps (e.g. technical expertise, management capacity, M&E), or the ability to administer funds.+|
* Marshall, K. and Van Saanen M., “Development and Faith,” The World Bank, 2007.
+ For example, critics of PEPFAR’s funding of FBOs highlighted the “limited capacity of many indigenous FBOs to absorb large grants and use the funds effectively.” Berkley Center, “Mapping the Role of Faith Communities in Development Policy: The US Case in International Perspective,” 2007.
^^ For example, a study of HIV/AIDS partnerships in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Malawi identified fragmentation within the Christian faith entities and donor groupings as a barrier to effective collaboration. Haddad B., et al. “The potential and perils of partnerships,” ARHARP, 2008.
^ Karam, A., “Concluding Thoughts on Religion and the United Nations, Redesigning the Culture of Development,” CrossCurrents, September 2010.
** Haddad B., Olivier J., De Gruchy S. 2008. The potential and perils of partnership: Christian religious entities and collaborative stakeholders responding to HIV and AIDS in Kenya, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Study commissioned by Tearfund and UNAIDS, Interim Report ARHAP.
Source: Excerpted from Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, 2010.