On Monday, November 8, 2021, representatives from around the world gathered in Stellenbosch, South Africa - or dialed in - for the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development’s (PaRD) General Assembly of Members (GAM). The four-day event, held in accordance with COVID-19 protocols and with regular testing, was supported and coordinated by the PaRD Secretariat and co-hosted by the Cape Development and Dialogue Centre Trust (CDDC Trust) and the National Religious Association for Social Development (NRASD) of South Africa.
The assembly brought together over 100 representatives from governments, multilateral entities, civil society, especially religious actors, and academia. The membership, which has grown since the partnership’s founding in 2016, uses PaRD as a hub to foster engagement and work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. At this year’s GAM, PaRD members focused on global issues under the motto “Shared Future, Shared Path". The agenda topics emphasised the contribution of religious actors to sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19.
The meeting in South Africa provided PaRD members with first-hand accounts of issues that disproportionately affect the Global South, including vaccine equity, food security and poverty reduction, localising aid, and climate change. The sessions, roundtables and side meetings brought government ministers, clergy members, representatives from religious and secular NGOs, implementing agencies, and academia into discussions about how collaboration between groups can help achieve the 2030 Agenda.
Until now, “there were few spaces for regular interaction between governments and religious actors,” Dr Reiner Koegelenberg from NRASD pointed out. He said that for partnerships to succeed, there needs to be a place “where the challenges and benefits can be worked out.” South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation , Candith Mashego-Dlamini stressed that even though governments have a special responsibility in coordinating efforts, all sectors of society share responsibility for achieving the SDGs. She shared her hope that the event would mark the beginning of closer cooperation with PaRD. Mastoera Sadan, Chief Sector Expert, Social, National Planning Commission Secretariat (NDP) of the Government of South Africa, noted that poverty and hunger have increased, life expectancy has decreased, and unemployment has grown. This indicates the need for greater cooperation between the government and religious actors, including preparing upcoming national development plans. Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, local co-host and President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), highlighted that
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the poorest and most marginalised communities. At the same time, it showed that the already existing networks of religious organisations were vital for timely responses at the local level.
Becoming More Together: PaRD’s new five-year strategy
PaRD has over 140 members representing 8 religions, 38 counties, 7 national governments, and 7 multilateral entities. During the meeting, they unanimously approved and acclaimed a five-year strategy for the partnership. The strategy outlines PaRD’s mission, vision, the principles that guide PaRD’s work, along with strategic objectives for the next half-decade. According to the new Head of PaRD, Khushwant Singh, “the strategic planning process vividly showed how well PaRD members, made up of very diverse actors, work together and learn from each other at equal levels, even in times of a pandemic. The ability to build consensus among over 140 members is remarkable because it represents the potential for cooperation between our members on a much larger scale.” The five-year Strategic Plan 2022-2026 can be found here.
The new strategy with the title Becoming More Together further strengthens PaRD’s work, especially in the four PaRD work-streams Health (SDG 3), Gender Equality (SDG 5), Environment, Water and Climate Action (SDG 6, 13, 14, 15), and Sustaining Peace (SDG 16). At the same time, the strategy emphasises the possibility to address arising global crises. Accordingly, work on vaccines equity and food security has been initiated. To foster the evidence base, the new Journal Religion & Development, which was jointly developed by Stellenbosch and Humboldt Universities, was launched during the assembly.
PaRD’s new leadership
Apart from content-driven exchanges, leadership decisions were taken. The outgoing PaRD leadership was sincerely thanked for their long-standing engagement. Grammy winner Ani Zonneveld dedicated her song “In my soul” to the former leadership.
The partnership’s new steering group members are Fred Nyabera, Arigatou International; Hazel M.D. Dixon, AUC-CIDO; Denise Kodhe, AU-ECOSOCC; Hanno Spitzer, BMZ, Germany; Mercy Munene, Cynesa; Atallah Fitzgibbon, IRW; Mohammed Abu-Nimer, KAICIID; Kristian Westad Bertelsen, MFA Denmark; Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS; Adam Nicholas Phillips, USAID; Peter Prove, WCC and Stefan Sengstmann, WVI.
PaRD’s new co-chairs are Hazel M.D. Dixon; Adam Philips, and Peter Prove.
The assembly‘s concluding remarks were made by from Prof Dr Muhammad Ilyas, Chairman, International Dialogue, Research and Awareness Center, Pakistan; Günter Nooke, the German Chancellor’s Personal Representative for Africa, German Government; Ejaz Alam Augustine, Minister for Human Rights, Minority Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Government of Panjab, Pakistan and the outgoing co-chairs Jørgen Thomsen, Dan Church Aid/ACT Alliance and Prof Mohammed Abu-Nimer, KAICIID. The speakers stressed the uniqueness of PaRD’s approach and the success of the GAM despite the challenges due to the pandemic. They highlighted that in five years, PaRD has established itself as an important global hub for policy engagement, sharing knowledge, experiences and finding new ways of coordination and collaboration amongst governments, multilaterals, and religious actors.
A detailed summary report of the GAM 2021 and a list of speakers and moderators can be found here.
The International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) was founded in 2016 by 12 members. PaRD has since grown to become a partnership of over 140 members with representatives from civil society, especially religious and faith-based actors, governments, multilateral entities, and academia. The Annual Meeting and General Assembly (GAM) of PaRD is coordinated by PaRD’s Secretariat, which supports members in implementing PaRD’s mission. The Secretariat's office is located at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), the government owned German Agency for International Cooperation. To learn more about how governments, multilateral entities, civil society, especially religious actors, and academia are working together, visit PaRD’s Knowledge Centre.