Dear Excellencies, PaRD Members, Guests and Colleagues,
Welcome to the Annual Forum and General Assembly of Members of the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development.
It is an honour to speak to you today. It is such a relief to see so many of you here, who came to personally attend. Covid-19 had put us all into a distant virtual mode. So there was longing for seeing each other again. Face to Face. At the same time, it is a great advancement that even those who cannot come here in person, can join virtually. Without leaving a major Co2 footmark on this beautiful blue planet.
I thank everyone, who made this important event possible. I want to thank the Steering Group for their trust and guidance, especially the co-chairs, Jørgen Thomson, Prof. Mohammed Abu-Nimer and Adam Phillips. And I want to say thanks to all the colleagues at the Secretariat, who worked so hard.
I also want to thank our co-hosts – especially Bishop Sipuka and Dr Renier Koeglenberg. I was able to see a bit of Cape Town and spoke to local people. Renier from CDDC Trust, PaRD member - and our local partner for this event, is right - South Africa is a wonderful place. Even more wonderful are the people. They deserve that the huge disparities between rich and poor are urgently addressed.
Because of Nelson Mandela I have been interested in South Africa since my childhood. And I have always wanted to come here. You see, Sikhs were going through difficult times in the 80s and 90s. They faced discrimination, injustice, and violence. At the same time, people in South Africa were also going through challenging times.
Times that changed their lives forever. I was just a child then. One whose parents had to apply for asylum in Germany to feel safe. I owe them a lot. I understood all too well the pain of those striving for dignity, freedom and justice. Who gave their lives to ensure that future generations do not have to make the same sacrifices for basic human rights.
Nelson Mandela was a ray of hope in those dark days. But not only for his people, but for the world, and to me. He showed what humbleness and being faithful to one's values can accomplish. He was one of my inspirations to walk on the path of dialogue - without compromising universal human values.
I had always wanted to meet him.
Today, I stand here, for the first time in South Africa. As the new Head of PaRD's Secretariat. And I am so thankful that I can walk on the land where wonders happened. Where Apartheid ended, because Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and uncountable others joined hands - not only to resist - but to shape a new world. A world with more solidarity, justice and peace.
PaRD walks on this path, and it brings us to the right place at just the right time. In 2016, when this multistakeholder partnership was established, we just had the idea that governments and multilaterals need to take religion, its actors and their contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals more seriously.
Why? Because 4 out of 5 people in the world connect to spiritual and religious wisdom and values. Because religious actors contribute in so many ways to the well-being of people.
PaRD, our common baby, is now 5 years old. As we all know, priorities change with age. So we have initiated a strategic planning process. The aim was to sharpen the unique value proposition of PaRD. Its mission and vision. And its key strategic priorities. You will agree with me that this is a challenging task. Why?
We have 144 members.
We had 12 in 2016.
We have 128 religious organisations.
From 38 countries.
From 8 religions.
All with unique perspectives and expectations. Yet, we were able to create a draft strategy, that will be shared and discussed in the next days. It was developed in an inclusive and respectful process with everyone on equal footing. A draft, which feels good to those who so actively participated in the process.
So this working together exemplifies what PaRD is about. Enabling the exchange of knowledge, experiences, and having a dialogue and collaboration at equal level in a safe space – to contribute to the 2030 Agenda.
I am glad to see that we have a partnership that works on a long-term basis on such important issues like sustaining peace and environmental protection. I am even happier to see that we are flexible and can respond to new global crisis with work groups.
Together with your proposals, we have put together a fascinating programme with distinguished speakers who will share their insights to Food Security and Poverty Reduction, Vaccine Equity, Localising Aid, and Climate Action.
I hope this programme is all that is needed for the Government of South Africa to join PaRD as the very first government from the Global South. Our arms are open to you, as you have opened your arms to us.
Let us use this new momentum on this path, the new strategy, the diversification of members, which we have initiated - to Become More Together. Not only in words but in action.
In his humbleness, Nelson Mandela rarely talked directly about the role of religion in his life. But at times he did. Referring to his nearly 30 years in jail, he said, and I am paraphrasing:
Difficulties break some men but make others. … No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul. … They tried to isolate us completely from the outside. … The link was religious organisations. They were the faithful who inspired us … and exemplified in the most concrete way the contribution that religion made to our liberation.
In Sikhi, my religion, the wise ones say: It's in neither clothes nor words that make people. But deeds.
I wish us inspiring and results-driven deliberations over the next four days.
Let’s Become More Together!
Thank you so much.