Dhaka, March 26, 2010 — Asia’s religious and community leaders play a central role in combating corruption, poverty, and instability, but broader knowledge of critical national issues would enhance their contributions to development at the community level, according to delegates at the “Regional Conference on the Role of Religious and Community Leaders in Advancing Development in Asia.”
The four-day conference, convened jointly by the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) and The Asia Foundation, was held in Dhaka and attended by religious and community leaders from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Tajikistan, and Thailand, together with representatives from The Asia Foundation and the United States government. Participants identified ways that religious and community leaders can tackle important national development issues, including good governance and preventing corruption, improved public health services, conflict resolution, empowering youth, and gender justice and equity.
Delegates developed strategies to address their community’s most pressing needs and identified critical challenges to overcome, such as a lack of coordination between governments and civil society groups, a reluctance to engage religious leaders in the design and implementation of local policies, and distrust between various religious organizations along theological or political lines.
Conference delegates had the opportunity to interact with representatives of the successful Leaders of Influence (LOI) program – developed in 2004 by The Asia Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Bangladesh and the Imam Training Academy, with USAID support – and to then participate in an inter-faith, intergroup meeting with their LOI counterparts. Examining the feasibility of adapting aspects of the Bangladesh experience to their own national development plans was cited as a highlight of the program.
The conference concluded with delegates designing country-specific action plans, including training programs for imams and other religious leaders on social development issues; convening regular forums for government, civil society groups, and religious leaders to engage in dialogue and improve communication; and providing opportunities for religious leaders to learn about, and interact with, leaders of other faiths.
Conference materials and presentations are available on the Leaders of Influence website and interviews with delegates are available on the Leaders of Influence YouTube Channel. Following the Dhaka conference, delegates will continue to share ideas and resources through Facebook and Twitter.
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