COVID-19 heightened interest in faith partnerships as governments and international agencies sought rapid behavior change to reduce the spread of the pandemic. It illuminated the unique capacity of local faith groups to reach people quickly, effectively, and relevantly. To increase resilience to future crises, the qualities of effective, ethical partnerships must be identified and developed.

To support this effort, the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities facilitated a learning process that explored key success factors and barriers to effective partnerships for eight faith actors (national and international organizations and networks) who responded to COVID-19, 2020–2021. Four themes recurred. Firstly, there were mixed views about the quality of partnerships with international agencies, some feeling instrumentalized in times of crisis. Secondly, where colonial exploitation has left mistrust of Western “experts,” effective programming with faith communities to counter misinformation requires either skilled, long-term investment in relationships or supporting faith groups already trusted by local communities. Thirdly, many of the most effective responses to COVID-19 emerged when local faith groups took the initiative and responded using their own assets. Finally, although technology facilitated connection, it also excluded, mediating the kinds of partnerships that were possible.

The participating faith actors identified the need to build and sustain trusted relationships with local faith groups, increasing resilience by equipping them with asset-based approaches to take the initiative in their own context. They call on international agencies to value their complementary capacities and develop long-term structures for cross-sectoral engagement, supported by flexible funding.

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