Religion to save lives

October 2005 -

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to end the taboo on the inclusion of religion in the field of development cooperation. In a first step towards achieving this goal, the Ministry has set up a Religion and Development Policy Knowledge Forum. The AIV, the Advisory Council on International Affairs, has researched this subject and come forward with recommendations.

"If we want to lift people out of poverty and to see human rights respected everywhere, we will have to take account of religious and cultural values in our policy – not to save souls but to save lives," said Development Cooperation Minister Agnes van Ardenne at her presentation of the Knowledge Forum. The Knowledge Forum is made up of policymakers, academics and representatives from the world of development cooperation. It is their job to ensure that the store of knowledge about religion and development is maintained, added to and disseminated. The Internet allows them to make their knowledge and experience available to all.

All too often, religion is seen as a problem, whereas it can in fact make a positive contribution towards efforts to make poverty history, end conflicts and promote development. The AIV stated its belief that a society’s cultural and religious beliefs and customs greatly influence its development, which is why they need to be properly taken into account when planning development policy. In other words, it makes sense to analyse the local situation before the implementation of specific activities. These findings must serve as a basis for developing collaboration and dialogue between the parties offering and the parties receiving help.

The AIV also advises embassies to take the issue of religion into account in their work and strategy formulation and also to incorporate it into their civil servant training programme. The AIV and the Ministry believe that the implementation of an intercultural dialogue about cultural and religious values greatly improves a development action programme’s chances of success.