Looking back to look forward: COVID-19 and Faith Reflections on 2020-2021 Webinar Series
JLI’s year-long collaborative learning process culminated on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, with a webinar that brought representatives of the faith actors who had participated in the research into dialogue with key external partners, discussing where they have seen growth and where problems remain with faith engagement.
Three representatives of the collaborating faith actors began by sharing what they felt was the most important message from the report. Nkatha Njeru, from African Christian Health Associations Platform, began by highlighting the importance of building relationships with local faith actors before a crisis so there is already a foundational mutual understanding in an emergency. Dear Sinandang, from Humanitarian Forum Indonesia, encouraged everyone to be more courageous in forming more diverse partnerships. She spoke about the complementary role that faith actors can play to government responses and the value of diverse, interfaith partnerships. Dr Mwai Makoka, from World Council of Churches, echoed this point, using the image of each actor having their own ‘toolbox’ – unique capabilities, approaches and assets to respond to global challenges – to emphasise the need for actors to value one another’s differences and contribution when building trusted partnerships. In his experience, problems come when stakeholders only want to work with others who share all their values and ways of working – for example, donor agencies being suspicious of faith groups’ methodologies, or faith groups distrusting government. Yet in the diversity of methodologies, principles, and convictions, holistic solutions can be found when each actor proactively seeks and harnesses areas of convergence.
Three representatives of key external partners, nominated by participants, then commented on the research findings from their experience. Robert Kanwagi, currently working with GAVI, spoke about the significant harmonisation during COVID in this area, as governments and secular development agencies saw the vital role of faith actors with increasing clarity. He also confirmed from his experience that faith actors were still often engaged in times of crisis, not seen as long-term strategic partners, for example on climate change. He saw a united interfaith voice about the unique value that faith brings to the table as a vital step to ensuring their inclusion in global partnerships on every issue. Dr Takeo Fujiwara, a Professor at Tokyo Medical and Dental University, affirmed the value of faith actors’ contribution, especially in bringing unity, cultivating empathy and tackling misinformation. Finally, Muhammad Alhassan from the Da’wah Institute of Nigeria shared his experience. He had seen significant growth through COVID-19 in proactive local partnerships between faith actors and with secular agencies, with new collaborations and networks formed. He emphasised the influence of faith actors in many communities, and the danger where they are not equipped to differentiate misinformation, emphasising the necessity of capacity development. He too concluded with the need to sustain long-term, healthy relationships with local faith actors in times of peace that can be drawn on in a crisis.
Each panelist then reflected on one key learning they would take forward in their own organisation, from breaking silos and focusing on diverse, long-term partnerships to strengthening internal learning processes to developing the capacity of grassroots faith groups to respond themselves and connect to their communities.
Read the Lessons Learned: Faith-Based COVID-19 Response Report
Watch the second webinar of the series: Faith and the COVID-19 Pandemic at Two Years: A Retrospective and the third one: Two-year updates from National and Regional Faith Actor COVID-19 Responses.