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Partenariats avec la société civile

Comprendre les valeurs, les structures et le leadership

Religious communities differ widely in terms of their size, geographical focus, structures and operational and technical capacities. Even within a single religious organization there will be differences in the theological emphasis, political leanings and cultural influences. Individual leadership can also result in variations. Some religious communities are informal in nature, typically volunteer-driven and motivated by passion grounded in their faith. These may lack the administrative and management systems normally expected of partners.

At the same time it is important to remember that the complexity of child rights organizations, including UNICEF, will present a similar challenge to potential partners in the religious community. Therefore, both actors need to make every attempt to clarify for the other their organizational structures and related systems in order to find the most appropriate linkages for effective engagement.

As part of any assessment it is important to ensure the inclusion of information on the presence, structure, influence and relationship with government bodies of religious communities – especially grass-roots religious actors, women and youth leaders and structures that tend to be overlooked in assessments and stakeholder analyses, leading to missed opportunities for highly organic and sustainable interventions. This is particularly the case for traditional or indigenous religions.

Child rights organizations should know the basic concepts, principles and teachings of religious traditions in which they work. This information can be obtained not only by reading but, importantly, by engaging with members of religious communities in a manner of inquiry. There are also people of faith working within UNICEF and other child rights organizations who can serve as a bridge to better understand religious traditions and engage with religious communities. In some countries there are government bodies that collect information on religious communities and could also be contacted.

Structures and systems

  • What are the predominant faith traditions (and geographical focus, if applicable)? It is important to remember that this may include traditional or animistic communities that may lack visible or formalized structures to the external eye.
  • What are their basic organizational structures and systems (e.g., houses of worship, formal and informal ceremonies and celebrations)? Are there government entities responsible for religious issues (e.g., Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Culture)? 
  • What dynamics exist between religious communities or within a particular community that may be characterized by other factors (i.e., ethnic, economic, political) that would potentially affect collaborative programming? 
    • What existing services and/or advocacy initiatives are religious actors undertaking in relation to children’s rights and do they adhere to national guidelines and standards? 
    • Some of these may be support to formal structures in the broader community, such as management of health facilities, outreach services, community radio, newspaper and television programming, provision of educational programmes. 
    • There may also be mechanisms within the religious tradition to provide assistance to particularly vulnerable members of their community, such as zakat in Muslim communities and church funds from donations or tithing. 
    • Some assistance may be informal or even ad hoc, such as offering the use of worship spaces for education, community activities or shelter in emergencies.
  • What relevant technical experience or skills do religious actors have (including knowledge of systematic codes of good practice and appropriate/ethical conduct regarding children)?
  • What financial resources do the religious structures have for carrying out the intended activities? If they need additional financial support, do they have the organizational capacities to handle financial inputs and the accompanying reporting requirements?
  • What, if any, involvement and influence do religious communities have in local, national or regional social and political governance, especially in addressing the needs of the most marginalized children and families? Is this influence the result of established structures or due to individual leaders with particular charisma or influence?


Understanding leadership and management structures, as well as identifying the focal persons who have the authority to enter into collaboration and move the work forward, is key to any partnership. If a religious community is new or unfamiliar, however, it can be an especially challenging process. It is important to find out information such as:

  • How does the religious community define leadership?
  • Is there a formal, centralized or hierarchical system of designated leaders, or is the structure decentralized with leadership residing closer to the community level?
  • At the different levels of the religious structure, and particularly at the grass-roots level, are there persons who may not have formal leadership status but are perceived to be opinion leaders (e.g., an elder in the community, a school teacher, an individual who self organizes groups within the community around any given social issue)?  These individuals often educate, reflect and mobilize community members in ways important for implementing any given programme. 
  • Who are the people responsible for making decisions regarding the partnership as well as the implementation and oversight of programming (these may not be the same individuals)?
  • If there is a highly structured system of decision-making necessitating dialogue at different levels, can decision makers be mobilized at comparable levels within child rights organizations to engage in the process? This can be very important in expressing respect for and adhering to the protocols of the religious community and will greatly enhance the sense of partnership and collaboration.