Insights and Analysis

Religious Leaders Tackle Toughest Questions on Development in Asia

March 24, 2010

When President Obama declared in his Cairo speech last year “Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments, community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life,” a new sense of optimism charged those dedicated to building bridges between the two communities.

In direct response to President Obama’s call for greater engagement and his Global Engagement Initiative in which the United States has committed to work with Muslim-majority countries to advance democracy and development, USAID and The Asia Foundation convened a regional conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 21-24 that attracted nearly 70 religious and traditional leaders from 14 countries to candidly exchange views and ideas on the critical role that “leaders of influence” play in promoting positive change in their communities and the power they have to affect national development.

The conference was a culmination of the U.S. Government, the Government of Bangladesh, and The Asia Foundation’s effort to engage religious and community leaders in Bangladesh through its Leaders of Influence (LOI) program. Through intensive training workshops, the program has introduced more than 15,000 religious and community leaders, local government officials, the media, women leaders, and youth to key national development issues, such as education, public health, agriculture, fisheries, governance, human rights, anti-trafficking, and enterprise development. For more information on the LOI program, watch a video that offers a program overview as well as glimpses into actual on-the-ground training sessions.

Presentations and side interviews with participants were recorded throughout the conference. Watch highlights on the Leaders of Influence You Tube page, including: Dr. Khalid Zaheer, dean the University of Central Punjab who spoke on the role of Muslim religious leaders, mosques, and madrassas in Pakistan; Center for Pesantren and Democracy Studies director Lily Munir of Indonesia on the significant ways that Islam varies from country to country; Nepal’s general secretary for the Inter-Religious Council Keshav Chaulagain on the need for the East and West to work together to address cultural and religious challenges; N.B. Dayananda, a well-known Malaysian speaker and practicing Buddhist, who declared corruption the world’s biggest problem; and Father Albert E. Alejo, a Filipino Jesuit priest who has worked with labor groups in Manila, on the three main tools religious leaders need to become more powerful leaders in Asia: empirical data, forums for comparative reflections, and the technology needed to share ideas globally.


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