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Navigating Global Crises: PaRD’s Call for Multiplex Collaboration

During his welcome address at PaRD’s Annual Forum on Religion and Sustainable Development 2023, Khushwant Singh, Head of PaRD Secretariat, emphasized the urgent need for collective action in the face of environmental destruction, economic disparities, and global violence, urging multiplex collaboration for sustainable development.

PaRD Head of Secretariat Khushwant Singh welcoming participants of PaRD's Annual Forum on Religion and Sustainable Development 2023. Credits: GIZ/PaRD, Maurice Weiss

Esteemed PaRD members,
dear excellencies,
dear ladies and gentlemen, 

We have come together here at the historic city of Berlin for the Annual Forum 2023 of PaRD, the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development. I am delighted to address each of you today. Those sitting here in front of me and all those joining virtually. Your presence signifies the importance of our shared mission within PaRD. 

I am honored to convey warm greetings and best wishes from the Office of the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, the Office of the German President and the Office of the German Chancellery. Their encouragement underscores the significance of the role of faith, spiritual, religious and Indigenous actors in the field of sustainability. 

Polycrises of Humanity

As we gather here today, it is impossible to ignore the current challenges facing humanity. They range from human-made environmental destruction and exploitation of nature to economic disparities, from the spread of violence and hate to the erosion of democratic values. The violence and terror in Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Ukraine, just to name a few out of too many afflicted regions, is shattering. They all remind us of the urgency of our collective mission.  

There is hope 

Yet there is hope. Berlin is the city of hope and unity. Who thought that the Berlin Wall would fall? Who thought that German could unite? 

The most remarkable developments are often born out of the most existential moments in life. Our theme, “Multiplex Collaboration in a Multipolar World,” calls upon us to harness the power of partnership at all societal levels and address complex and global issues with determination, solidarity, and compassion. It has been said in the Interfaith Opening: We have come to this world, to heal and unite.  

Added value of PaRD 

Our ability to foster dialogue and reach concrete results despite our diversity is evidenced by our inclusive processes in PaRD. Our partnership is the embodiment of SDG 17. I only remind us of the inclusive process when we developed our five-year strategic plan and acclaimed it at the Annual Forum 2021 in South-Africa. There we developed together key strategic objectives guided by the motto “Becoming More Together”. We agreed to foster safe spaces for dialogue, strengthen evidence base, and enhance effective and inclusive development practice and policy. 

Measuring the impact of partnerships like PaRD is not easy. Because we do not implement one specific project in a given time frame in a defined region. Fostering dialogue and enabling members to learn and change course individually and at organizational level is an impact in itself. We can mainly demonstrate that achievements would not have been possible without the facilitation of PaRD and that more has been accomplished together than individual stakeholders could have achieved. 

Partnerships like ours also provide conducive frameworks for building trust among diverse stakeholders. Trust is the basis for solidarity, success, and transformation. Trust ultimately leads to greater commitment and ownership. When there is ownership, we are more open to pooling resources, expertise, and experiences. In a world where the local has a global impact and vice versa. 

The example of the PaRD facilitated publication “Faith-Sensitive Mental Health and Psychosocial Support” to foster resilience amongst vulnerable children on the move is another example of the added value of PaRD. It exemplifies the strength of our multi-stakeholder partnership, as experts from various sectors incl. governments worked together to develop recommendations for policy improvements. Projects initiated through PaRD have created dialogue spaces to strengthen social cohesion and inclusion, especially for women and youth. In Nigeria, Pakistan, and Kenya, interfaith dialogue forums have brought diverse communities together to prevent extremism and combat stereotypes. 

Challenges in PaRD 

Those who attended yesterday’s gathering have also heard from my colleague Dr Jennifer McCarthy that we achieved quite a bit since last year. We are on track with the amounts of policy dialogues we are fostering. We have increased the diversity of our membership. Yet, challenges remain. And I appreciate this. Challenges are the spice that ensure our work does not become boring.  

Especially in secular contexts it is becoming more and more challenging for us to work as the contributions of religion and spirituality and its actors is overlooked or even regarded negative due to prejudices.  

We need to diversify our funding. We need more government members from the Global South in PaRD. Indonesia is a great start, and we are so pleased to have you and your delegation here Prof Amin. Thank you for coming all the way here to Berlin.  

Our current budget is significantly lower than in the previous years. We have a reduction in the size of our Secretariat. The sustainability of our partnership hinges on our collective efforts to diversify our funding base. 

Foundations, new governments, private sector, and new partners, each door is open for exploration. We need to understand that the financial health of PaRD is a responsibility shared by all members. Dr Berthold Weig from the German government emphasized it yesterday.  

We also need to be become more active amongst the broader membership. More participation is required when electing the Steering Board.  

All in all, our journey within this multi-stakeholder partnership has been transformative and will be transformative. Development means change. 

An Inspirational Vision of Well-being 

Let me also say this: Too often, we are part of discourses which create even more complexity in an already complex world. I personally want to be part of a discourse that also enables to reduce complexity. We see that so many people are challenged and have difficulties in a world which is becoming even more complex and stressed day by day. Look at me. I wanted to walk slowly to this venue. But then I had to sort out some urgent matters. I had to run here. I even volunteered our respected Monk Napan from Thailand to run with me. At least in was an interfaith run. It ensured our physical well-being.  

The Wise Ones of Sikhi say you cannot solve a problem at the same level where the problem has been created (ਝਝਾ ਉਰਝਿ ਸੁਰਝਿ ਨਹੀ ਜਾਨਾ ॥ GGS, 340, Bhagat Kabir). The timeless wisdom of spirituality (Gurmat) looks at problems from a different level. It looks at life holistically. It looks at life from a cyclic perspective. But we have neglected this art of thinking in our day-to-day life since we are heavily interwoven with linear growth-based thinking.  

We are also too fragmented in our thinking, not only in policies and economy. We just need to look at the way medicine works. And we are also too often led by negative thoughts, doomsday scenarios, and by discussion on what needs to be restricted. Look at the climate debate. My feeling is that we need a positive vision. An inspiration. Something which brings us together as humanity.  

A vision I can identify with, and I have said it elsewhere too, is to develop a binding Holistic Well-being Index. It would measure development based on the well-being of humans, animals, and nature. This would be a project where every nation – through multiplex collaboration – could participate and contribute. It is a vision based on existing experiences and learnings. It transcends barriers and helps creating a feeling of belonging to humanity and Mother Earth. This project could be spearheaded by wise people. Also by people from the realm of spirituality who nourish core values such as healing, compassion, justice, solidarity, humbleness, creativity and far-sightedness. 

Until and unless we are not able to change our current paradigms and move from linear and growth-based thinking to circular thinking, achieving the SDG’s of the Agenda 2023 or any other goal in the context of sustainability will be mere lip service. So apart from all the other things we have already discussed, I want to see us part of a larger global inspirational vision.  

In the face of adversity, we have the chance to contribute to shaping our future. A future where the wisdom and welfare-oriented contributions of spiritual and religious actors are not separated from sustainable development but are interconnected elements that drive dignity and well-being. Well-being in a much larger sense than SDG3. 

Without overestimating our influence, PaRD can play an important role in such a visionary approach in future. Also in the realm of reconciliation and mediation. Topics that will gain importance not only in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. This is much needed in a world where people mistrust each other easily. This is much needed in a world where exclusion is exercised too easily.  

Global Voices on PaRD 

Let me now come to a little solemn moment. 

You have perhaps noticed that in the breaks we are showing pictures from people who have and who are shaping this unique partnership. We invited PaRD members to speak about their experiences within our partnership and share their motivations, successes, and challenges. The result is an inspirational brochure printed on environmentally friendly paper called “Global Voices on the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development”  

I am very thankful to all those who contributed to this publication. And I am especially grateful to Andrea Mateja for her great job. The booklet was just completed one day before the Annual Forum. You see we have even more precision than a Swiss watch. And you will notice that we are fast. Yesterday you said we need to highlight better our work and you see we have listened very carefully and delivered one day later. 

Let me share a few insights of the booklet: 

Fred Nyabera, from Kenya, affirms that inclusivity lies at the core of our partnership, where engaged leadership members guide our agenda towards our overarching goal. 

Justine Aenishaenslin, from World Vision, Germany, speaks about the necessity of consulting and partnering with religious institutions well-before implementing development projects. 

Prof. Dr. Phil H. Kamaruddin Amin, from the Indonesian government, highlights how PaRD reshapes the narrative of sustainable development and elevates faith’s role in shaping global progress positively. 

Kristian Westad Bertelsen, from the Danish Government, acknowledges the welcoming and collegial atmosphere within PaRD’s global network. 

Professor Katherine Marshall, from the Berkley Center in the USA, envisions PaRD as a comprehensive network of networks that significantly enriches the international cooperation landscape. 

Dr. Iyad Abu Moghli, from UNEP in Kenya, Director of the Faith for Earth Coalition, emphasizes that through PaRD, he was able to get in touch with people who seemed out of reach in the context of Climate Action. 

Mercy Munene, a young woman from Kenya, underscores the importance of connecting local and global through partnerships like PaRD. 

Click to read through global voices on the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development.

These voices reflect the heart and soul of PaRD. I think that a person who has no clue about PaRD, who is even critical of religion or does not see any linkages between religious actors and sustainable development, will change his or her opinion after reading this booklet. So let me now ask all those who have been part of this project and are able to be here today in person to come to the stage so that I may hand over to each one you one copy.  

Thank you again to everyone for making this publication possible. 

Before we move forward to the next talks, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of you for your unwavering support and dedication to PaRD. I want to express my profound thanks to BMZ, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Director General Mr. Steinhilder, Deputy Head of Division Dr Weig, who are here, our main funders. Your generous support and guidance have been instrumental, and your commitment to our shared mission is truly commendable. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the PaRD leadership and all those who have contributed to PaRD financially and with their in-kind support in the last years. Your invaluable contributions have significantly enhanced our mission.  

Let me finally express my deep appreciation for the outstanding work my colleagues at the PaRD Secretariat are doing. Your hard work, collaboration, and enthusiasm have created an environment which allows me to go to work with a smile every morning. 

There was a farmer… Well. You will need to wait for the next Annual Forum for the story to continue. Feel free to chase me on this. 

Thank you so much!