Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka has over 400 staff, but as a whole it accomplishes its work with the help of over 1200 staff and 100,000 volunteers. It was founded 59 years ago. The term Sarvodaya, coined by Mahatma Ghandi, means the awakening of all. The movement is inspired by Buddhist principles and works across five countries and reaches 15 thousand of 38,000 villages in Sri Lanka. Dr. Vinya S. Ariyaratne, who has been involved in the senior positions of the organisation since 2000, and is now the General Secretary of the Movement. Dr. Vinya shares the trajectory, faith aspects, successes and challenges of the Movement in an interview with JLI’s Postdoc Intern, Tedla Desta. Tedla completed his PhD in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 2016 researching the nexus between peace and conflict and the mass media.

Sarvodaya Mission: the fulfilment of the basic needs of people in a holistic way bringing spiritual, moral and cultural dimensions integrated with social, economic and political development in community.

An excerpt of the interview follows.

As we start this interview, I want to thank you for your involvement in JLI.   Can you please briefly introduce yourself and your organisation’s mission?

Dr.Vinya: I am a Medical Doctor and specialised in Public Health. I am married and I have two children. I grew up in the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement because my father was the founder of the Movement but I started working full time only in 2000. I was practicing my profession and I was an academic teaching public health before that. In 2000, I became the Executive Director and from 2011, I have been serving as the General Secretary – it is a governance position. I have now a corporate governance responsibility because we now have 12 subsidiary organisations.

Sarvodaya means the awakening of all and Shramadana means sharing of labour. The word Sarvodaya was actually coined by Mahatma Ghandi to denote the uplifting of people but we gave it meaning. At the inception of the movement in the late 1950s, it was inspired by Ghandian and Buddhist thinking to support people to satisfy their own needs by their own efforts and through sharing their own resources, including labour, thoughts and energy.  It evolved with a very distinct development philosophy inspired by Buddhist and Ghandian thinking but it is a very inclusive secular organisation, which works across all ethnic and religious communities in Sri Lanka. So today, it is the largest grassroots development movement in terms of its outreach, which has a presence in or has reached about 15 thousand villages out of the 38 thousand villages in Sri Lanka. It is a bottom up process, where we encourage maximum participation and ownership of communities through sharing of their resources. We also get supported by whatever external assistance that we can get, forming community level institutions, and giving them legal status to run their own affairs and evolve a network in the country to be able to deliver some structural issues related to poverty and powerlessness and try to promote peace and harmony.

We are involved in peace and conflict projects, refugees and migration but we focus on internal migration or displacement. That phase is somewhat over now because we do not have very many IDPs in Sri Lanka right now. Sexual and Gender-based violence is a continuing thing. We have been running homes for sexually abused girls, and this is a very big problem in Sri Lanka.

What is distinctive about your organization especially in terms of its faith focus?


Dr.Vinya: I think the most important thing is that Sri Lanka is a country where seventy percent of the population is Buddhist but we also have Hindu, Christian and Muslim communities. So we are a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society and we have been able to articulate a philosophy, a development philosophy based on Buddhism but which has been able to mobilise even the non-Buddhist communities because it brought out the spiritual dimension, which is common to all religions. We have been accepted by all communities in the country. We have few organisations, which have been able to work throughout the country across all communities even during the civil war. Because of our acceptance and the inclusive philosophy that is based on indigenous thinking and methodologies, based on basic Buddhist philosophies of sharing and compassion, we have been able to serve a large underprivileged community that are considered disempowered. That is the uniqueness; we have been able to translate the Buddhist teachings into very sophisticated but at the same time very practical development activities around the country.

Can you give us examples from your organization's experience of how faith based delivery is working?

Dr.Vinya: Actually, I have a problem with this question itself because one thing we do not like is being a delivery organisation. Our core philosophy is based on what we call sharing. When something is carried out in a community, all are participant beneficiaries. If we are delivering and somebody is receiving, that creates dependency. That is contradictory to our own philosophy. We get everybody to share and contribute when there is a need. Now what we try to do is share, it is a sharing at equal footing. This is somewhat a different way, we do not mobilise resources and deliver. Of course, we are the largest humanitarian organisation in Sri Lanka, so when there is calamity, we have a delivery system and of course, we get a lot of donation so that tradition is there. We are going beyond the traditional giving and institutionalising the way that people feel that it is not really a meritorious way but it is really by giving something, you are reducing your own ego, craving for wealth, which is a true Buddhist vision, a spiritual transformation that we expect everybody who participates in giving. That is the thing we try to promote and it has succeeded very well even though we get external funding and technical support, seventy percent of the resources we mobilise locally is through that notion. We have been very successful in institutionalising the faith dimension of Buddhist thinking in a very dignified way.

Now based on the sharing understanding, how does faith based sharing make a difference or add value?

Dr.Vinya: Yes, it does make a difference because on one hand people feel that it is encouraging for your individual spiritual liberation and advancement but at the same time doing it in a systematic way where we bring in proper needs assessment and standards. We were also involved in piloting the SPHERE standards, the standard for humanitarian delivery. We do it in a very systematic way so that in a relief distribution or a recovery process.  We ensure that we help a lot during displacement after conflict and resettlement. Sometimes some groups only want to assist a particular community belonging to a particular religion; we do not do it that way. We make sure that any assistance is done in a way that is fair. Therefore, that is how we bring in the faith perspective into a more sort of organised and rational delivery system.

Do you collaborate with other faith groups? Cross sector with public/private organisations and other secular organizations?

Dr.Vinya: Yes very much so and at different levels. Now at our village level  you usually get mono-religious, mono-ethnic groups but in certain geographic areas you get mixed communities, so we always make sure that the Buddhist Temple, the Muslim Imam, the Christian community that they have regular understanding and in all the activities, they participate. Even in a Buddhist village, we encourage very much the non-Buddhist communities, the clergies, and the priests to participate.  In all our activities, we get them to pray, not just symbolic but it also gives the communities an understanding of the values and traditions of other religions particularly for children. Having that inclusive notion of religion is important, that is at the very basic level. Then, as a country, which has been affected by ethnic conflict, although religion played a big role, there is a religious dimension in this because the nationalists have been mobilising people, the country being a Buddhist country, so there we tried to, at a much higher level, to bring faith leaders in conflict transformation and peacebuilding including interfaith dialogues. We also had prepared manuals for intra and inter-faith dialogues and then trained lay leaders and priests from all religions on peacebulding and reconciliation. Lastly, we had violent incidents occasionally between different religious groups even with small incidents, we have trained these communities to have an early warning system and the leading religious leaders to come together meet and for people not to resort to violence and it has worked very much. The last few years we have seen some very serious incidents not prevailing in other areas because these trained faith leaders were intervening early in advance before it got out of hand.

For example on child protection, we have a platform where we bring different religious groups. We are equal partners in mobilising and advocating for child protection especially sexual abuse. Right now, we are working with UNICEF and few other organisations on the prevention of sexual exploitation of children. Therefore, it (collaboration) depends on the type of issue we are addressing but of course, we are only collaborating with organisations, which adhere only to principles of non-violence and non-confrontation. We do not do street demonstrations and that kind of thing; we have a different approach. So those organisations including private organisations, which agree with our principles, we collaborate and are member of such alliances.

What were your biggest successes and challenges?

Dr.Vinya: I think the biggest success is that we will be celebrating sixty years as a social development organisation and a peoples’ movement next year. So by surviving and being relevant because still today we are the largest humanitarian organisation with a network down to earth, which can mobilise at anytime even in an emergency or otherwise. For example, we are going through a reconciliation process right now and the country is in a political transition, now there is a constitutional reforms process going on and the government is having it at a national level but hardly anything is happening at the grassroots level. We are educating the people like in South Africa after the Apartheid: what kind of constitution do we need? Sarvodaya at community level is leading that: on basics of the constitution, the model and so on. Therefore, our success has been surviving and flourishing as a movement, as a people’s movement and being a service organisation catering to a very large number of communities in the country. Also leading the thinking at the grassroots level about development and now going into sustainable development goals and educating people on those and trying to make every community SDG complaint and so on.

The challenges, I think we have now built an infrastructure of fulltime staff, training centres, like officers and village organisations so you still need resources to sustain these. Even though, largely we mobilise volunteers and about 1200 staff is there, we are not getting financial support like we used to get 20 years ago because we are now, Sri Lanka, is considered as a middle income country and therefore official development assistance is almost zero. The current funding that comes through bilateral agencies like the USAID and few other European donors are only for specific areas like human trafficking, human rights and reconciliation not so much for development even though we have vast disparities. Poverty levels are high in some communities; there are pockets of poverty and instability in terms of ethnic harmony. There is a lot to be done and resource constraint is very much there. The political atmosphere, we had nearly 10 years of suppression of civil society. Though we still survive, it has been difficult for civil society organisations to operate because the government which was in power until 2015 was anti-civil society, anti-NGO, so we were not getting enough space, there were restrictions, harassment and even violence against some of the civil society leaders. That situation changed but we are still finding a lot of administrative and legislative hurdles for organisations to operate.

The Evidence Working Group created an online Guide as a living library of resources that will be updated regularly. It aims to support the gathering and sharing of evidence by religious and faith-based organizations about their work to alleviate poverty and enhance the wellbeing of their local communities.

The purpose of the survey was to understand whether and how the Guide could be useful as a resource to potential local users.

More than 11 EWG members facilitated the surveys and there were 33 respondents. The summary document of the survey findings is available here.

Top five lessons learned from the Survey are:

  • Useful Guide: the majority of respondents found the guide and its contents and the presentation useful. For instance, 100 percent of the respondents said the page titled “Why should faith groups care about evidence?” answers why faith groups should care about evidence. Similarly, over 80 percent of the respondents said that the “how does faith shape our understanding of evidence?” page answers how faith shapes our understanding of evidence. Six said they would share this guide with colleagues and one said “with some changes.”
  • Diverse resource library: The resources on the page were helpful to the respondents. Respondents appreciated the variety of the examples on data collection, the diverse subjects covered, the different types of data collection and styles were the most helpful about the six resources shared in the library. The lesson learned here is that resources of similar nature should be updated and added.
  • Interesting resources: The CRS, URI and Tearfund’s reports were respectively of most interest to the respondents and their organisations. This suggests that the resources were relevant to most of the members and similar resources should be uploaded.
  • Data collection: The majority (75 percent) of the organisations surveyed currently collect information on specific faith-inspired metrics (for example hope, trust, love, relationships etc ).
  • Improvement: One major area of change would be to include more detailed information for faith groups that are interested in beginning or improving their evidence collection processes. Nearly 70 percent of the respondents said faith groups would need other information to start.

Next steps

  • EWG members will send any additional feedback on EWG Guide through Survey Monkey or to Stacy
  • Stacy will work with co-chairs to make changes to EWG Guide front page, add glossary and edits considering language accessibility and for increased user understanding
  • JLI will start, as capacity allows, to add new examples for the library
  • JLI will reach out to partners to work on examples based on the template
  • Next meeting in June. To get involved join the EWG here



Conference on International Humanitarian Action between the East and the West

Co-hosted by Eid Charity and 11 other Islamic Charities

March 26 and 27, Doha, Qatar

Conference Agenda

The conference aimed to strengthen cooperation, build partnerships in the field and fund joint projects in the field of humanitarian action and peacebuilding, between organisations of different backgrounds and world views.


  1. Cooperation in the humanitarian field: challenges and opportunities
  2. The war on terror and international designations: impact on humanitarian cooperation
  3. Humanitarian cooperation: past/ongoing experiences and future perspectives
  4. Launch the “Geneva Platform for the Work of Goodness”

Jean Duff represented JLI and gave a presentation on Engaging Local Religious Networks in Humanitarian Response during Session 5: Cooperation in the humanitarian field: past/ongoing experiences and future perspectives. This presentation draws on the work of JLI Learning Hubs. Please see here for the presentation and JLI Sources Handout.


JLI Advisory Group member Azza Karam, UNFPA spoke on “Beyond the war on terror and East West divide: Building practical bridges.”

Final Recommendations: The communiqué from the conference

At the end of the conference, the Cordoba Foundation launched the Geneva Platform for the Work of Goodness (Concept Note Link).

DSA 2017 Conference
September 6-8 at the University of Bradford
The Religions and Development Study group will be hosting a panel: “The increasing space for ‘moral economies’ in light of global inequality: the role of religions and faith perspectives”
More panel details


  • Shabaana Kidy (Islamic Relief Academy)
  • Emma Tomalin (University Of Leeds)

Short Abstract

In the light of global inequality, there have been renewed criticisms against neoliberal economics, both from ‘secular’ and ‘faith-based’ NGOs and thinkers. This panel will seek to explore the role of religious traditions, values and faith-based tools in ‘moral economies’ and financing for development.

Long Abstract

Since the financial crash of 2008, neoliberal economic systems have been subject to renewed challenge and criticism by both ‘secular’ and ‘faith-based’ NGOs and thinkers. In the light of Agenda 2030 which details a trajectory for sustainable development across a multitude of sectors ranging from poverty and hunger, through education, gender equality and care for the environment, there has been increasing emphasis on well-being and holistic development. This creates increasing space for faith groups and religions to provide new perspectives and thinking around ‘moral economies’ in the light of global inequality. This may include, but is not limited to, faith-based social financing mechanisms, as well as opportunities to harness religious values to challenge neoliberal economic excesses. This panel will seek to explore the role of religious traditions, values and faith-based tools in moral economies and financing for development.

Call for papers that address the above panel theme 

Proposals must be submitted online by April 26th


Localizing Response to Humanitarian Need: The Role of Religious and Faith-Based Organizations

October 16-19, 2017

Colombo, Sri Lanka

JLI is cohosting the Localizing Response to Humanitarian Need Working Meeting. Focus on documentation of methods and mechanisms of engagement of local faith networks.

More information


Invitation to submit an abstract *Deadline: April 30, 2017*

Abstract call for evidence-based presentations addressing the role and methods of engagement of local faith networks in humanitarian situations. Of special interest is information on what is working (and what’s not!) in the field, and the methods and mechanisms that support that. Subtopics include:

  • Emergency Response
  • Protection
  • Peacebuilding
  • Delivering aid in conflict
  • Disaster preparedness
  • Refugees & Forced Migration
  • Sexual & Gender-based Violence
  • Effective partnerships between public sector and religious and FBOs

If you would like to express interest in making a presentation at the October Forum please submit an abstract:

The GHR Foundation is partnering with OpenIDEO, an open innovation platform, to conduct the BridgeBuilder Challenge. The BridgeBuilder Challenge leverages the universal call from Pope Francis to ‘build bridges’ addressing the pressing and emergent concerns of our time in the areas of peace, prosperity and planet.

The top ideas selected from the challenge will receive a total of $1 million in funding (up to $500,00o for one organization), in addition to support provided by experts. All participants will benefit from the platform’s collaborative improvement process and opportunities for connection to new partners and potential funders.

For more information please see the OpenIDEO brief

If you have an idea solving an urgent global challenge at the intersection of peace, prosperity and planet, submit on OpenIDEO

Tearfund, on behalf of the JLI Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) Hub, has been chosen by The Department for International Development (DFID) to lead a  on development a research project, “Working effectively with faith leaders to challenge harmful traditional practices (HTP)”.

Veena O’Sullivan, the Hub Secretariat, will lead the project with a research team with Elisabet le Roux (Stellenbosch), Brenda Bartelink (University of Groningen) and Shereen El Feki, with support from JLI SGBV Hub co-chairs (Diana Arango, World Bank and Liz Dartnall, SVRI), Hub advisory committee, Hub members and the JLI Knowledge Manager.

The project will conduct a literature review focusing on the five most prevalent HTP and faith actors. Subsequently, the review will guide selection of case studies for a multi-case study investigation conducted with international faith-based organizations working with faith leaders to address HTP. The case studies will be followed by an online survey to provide a more comprehensive scope of the knowledge gathered on HTP and FBOs role.

Results will be published in an online toolkit on the JLI website and disseminated at the SVRI conference in Rio in September 2017. For more information, please join the JLI SGBV hub for updates.

JLI was privileged to attend the PaRD mid-term meeting. See agenda here

PaRD announced the launch of three new platforms: Health, Gender Equality and Religion and Sustaining Peace.

More information on Gender Equality and Religion Platform

Building on the recognition established at the 60th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60) of the role of faith-based organizations (FBOs) in addressing the needs of women and girls – especially those facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalization –at CSW 61, PaRD launched a global Platform on “Gender Equality and Religion”, hosted at the Canadian Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

This platform aims to bring together religious and traditional leaders, leaders of faith based and civil society organisations, as well as gender and development experts to unpack how achieving gender equality can be pursued from within a religious lens.

UN Women, on behalf of the UN’s Interagency Task Force for Religion and Development (UNFPA/UNIATF), together with UK-Aid/ DFID and the International Partnership for Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) collaborated on this seminal new initiative.

To read more click here.

In preparation for CSW 61, the Faith and Feminism Working Group submits a statement on feminist faith actors pivotal role to play in the economic and social development of their communities. Without recognizing and effectively partnering with feminist faith-based actors, the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved by 2030.

The Faith and Feminism Working Group is a civil society led coalition, targeting the gender equality discourse at the United Nations. It is comprised of faith-based organizations, scholars, secular organizations and social justice groups working towards gender equality through the lens of faith and feminism.

The Faith and Feminism Working Group shares questions to identify and share existing religious resources as well as challenge religious practices that undermine women’s contributions to vibrant economies and gives recommendations to the international community, Member States and United Nations agencies

For the full statement click here.

The African Christian Health Association Platform ( ACHAP) 8th Anniversary meeting

Theme: Evidence for faith-based health care provision

Hosted by the Christian Health Association of Lesotho

The 2017 biennial conference program chaired by Dr Karen Sinchinga Churches Health Association of Zambia, focused on the themes of Building Partnerships for FBO Health Systems Strengthening towards Achieving the SDGs. An important sub theme was building evidence for health systems strengthening for Christian Health Associations (CHAs)

CHAs’ capacities for data collection, and analysis vary widely according to the size and level of development of the CHAs. Many sessions and workshops presented state of the art of health information systems in CHAs, and considered ways to build the evidence capacities of CHAs, and of the collective platform, ACHAP. There was much discussion in formal and informal sessions of the conference on ways to strengthen evidence for CHAs’ activity and contributions.

In a preconference workshop hosted by World Council of Churches, Dr Isabel Phiri delivered a paper setting a context for the development of a comprehensive ecumenical health strategy , and Dr Mwai Makoka who heads the WCC Health and Healing program led an interesting discussion on the process towards developing such a strategy.

Dr Jill Olivier, University of Cape Town gave a comprehensive summary on research on African Faith-based Health providers, and together with her student Eleanor Whyte presented information on diverse models of engagement between the state and faith sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. Other sessions focused on partnerships for research, and on evidence leading to improved practices. CHAs from across sub-saharan Africa gave excellent presentations.
See here for access to the conference presentations 

At a session on Global Partnership opportunities for Christian Health Associations, moderated by Rick Santos, Ellen Starbird, Director USAID Office of Population and Reproductive Health, affirmed the significant role of faith-based organizations in the provision of family planning and/or healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.

Jean Duff spoke on behalf of the JLI about the value of expanding partnerships with denominational congregational networks for community health, and encouraged CHAs to increase the visibility of their important work by strengthening the data and advocacy capacities of the ACHAP Secretariat

The 10th anniversary meeting was a real celebration of the distinctive capacities of the CHAs and the dedication of their leadership. It was also a time for prophetic re-imagination of the future, for the sustainability and growth of CHAs’ loving service for health for all. A new ACHAP Board, led by Peter Yeboah of Christian Association of Ghana CHAG, now In its 50th year, will lead the CHAs into their next decade.


WCC News article