The World Bank and the world’s major religions are to establish joint working groups on development issues, it was announced today at the end of a two-day dialogue at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s London headquarters.
Wolfensohn Co-chaired by the archbishop, Dr George Carey, and by the World Bank’s president, James Wolfen-sohn, the dialogue brought together leaders of nine world faiths – Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Taoists and Christians (represented by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox – both the Ecumenical and Moscow Patriarchate officials).
The World Bank, which channels billions of dollars in development loans from the rich industrialized countries to the impoverished nations, has been frequently criticized for its policies in recent years by religious leaders, including Archbishop Carey, and by aid organisations. Many have accused the World Bank of ignoring the views of the poorest people in the countries it is trying to help, and of imposing unrealistic and harmful demands for economic reform on governments as a requirement for receiving loans.
Today, Wolfensohn, a 64-year-old Australian-born American, acknowledged the criticisms and accepted the need for dialogue. He told a press conference: “If we are wrong, let’s admit it and deal with it. If we are not, let’s get recognition for what we’re doing.”
Pointing out the seriousness of the dialogue, he said: “This is not Hollywood. It is not a PR [public relations] exercise.” World poverty was not decreasing, he said, but the meeting between the bank and the faiths had produced a “unity of concern” for the linkage of physical, spiritual and cultural development.
(The World Bank estimates that almost a quarter of the world’s population [23 per cent or 1.3 billion people] live in poverty – on less than US$1 a day.)
Development subjects selected for the first joint working groups are: community building; hunger and food security; environmental sustainability; preservation of cultural heritage; violence and post-conflict reconstruction; education and social services.