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Ahimsa Forum 2017: Global Health, Social Entrepreneurship and Faith-inspired Communities

The Forum took place on June 27th-30th, 2017 at the Les Pensières Centre for Global Health in Annecy, France.


The spirit of 2017’s AHIMSA forum took inspiration from the UN’s sustainable development goals, or SDGs. Michael Møller, Director General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, personally emphasized their importance: “with health,” he said, “all are at risk when others are excluded and the vulnerable are ignored.” Mr Møller stressed the UN’s deep and strong commitment to the SDGs, and the need for all facets of all societies to work together in new ways, in the service of the most vulnerable, if they are to be achieved by 2030. From the wider UN system, this engagement was underlined by the strong presence of WHO and UNAIDS at the forum, and the frank manner in which their representatives addressed questions of accountability and transparency. The honest, self-reflective engagement of the major international organizations will be essential in forming the strong and open-minded partnerships required between now and 2030.

The forum covered a wide range of topics and ideas. Some stood out as particularly pertinent; session three discussed entrepreneurship and health in the context of migrants’ needs—an important contemporary topic—focusing encouragingly on concrete approaches to meeting their needs.

Ethics were a particularly strong theme throughout the forum. A refrain emerged to the effect that health bridges communities; all associated issues are universal, and all people in all places deserve the same, high quality care. JF de Lavison reiterated the hope that health can “bind, open doors, and inspire,” and shared a personal mantra, an acrostic on ethics: “Example, Tolerance, Humility, focus on the Individual, Compassion, and always planting Seeds.”

Health is also an effective way to facilitate inter-religious dialogue. It was evident in discussion that many organizations are working on bridging initiatives around the world, bringing together actors from different religions, communities and sectors in the service of health.

Innovation also emerged as an important aspect in almost every session. Underlining the notion of universality, the argument was made repeatedly that innovation should not benefit the rich alone, but everybody. Patterns of inequality are changing—today’s world is no longer one of developed and underdeveloped countries, but one of rich and poor populations, with both present everywhere. The poor too often lack high quality health care, but they expect and deserve it. To meet their needs, current models must be changed, moving away from simplistic and improbable attempts to make current ways of treating more affluent populations available to everyone, to changing economic and financial models to use local capacity, empower people to strengthen health care, and make projects locally sustainable for private and public actors. Innovative engagement of the private sector will be crucial in achieving this.

A particularly inspiring session on leadership suggested that humanity has what it needs to achieve these goals: wheels need not be reinvented. But one key piece of the puzzle, currently missing, is having the leadership skills in the right places to build these sustainable partnerships and approaches. This encompasses leadership at all levels, including policy, science and business. This discussion also integrated a reminder of the power of art to express and inspire, underlining the importance for bold development of inspiration, discipline, creativity, attention to others, and the use of innate gifts and skills.

Education was emphasized repeatedly as central to all these themes: the world’s demographic profile is young, and those youth have expectation, optimism and a will to succeed that may be the most valuable resource we have—if it is properly nurtured. Today’s leaders must be held accountable for educating the young.

The forum leant on associations of opposites and paradoxes, in relationships where both have much to gain. It painted a broad vision of rich working with poor; young with old; science with faith; and cultures and religions working together with one another, in the service of better health for all.

This article was taken from the full report available in the right column.


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