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The World Bank and ARC

Tony Whitten of the World Bank at Lambeth, 2005:

Over the past few years the World Bank has hosted a range of meetings relating to faith and conservation. At one of those, a staff member of a Christian missionary group turned to me and said: “You know, I’d always said to my wife that if I weren’t a Christian I’d be an environmentalist; and now I see I can be both!” That same sort of realization is happening around the world, across the faiths and even among World Bank staff.

The World Bank has been working with ARC since 1999. My own conviction and experience told me we were missing development opportunities by not engaging with faith communities. I looked around for a partner organization which could be effective on the ground and in advocacy across the religions of Asia, and ARC was really the only contender.

A benefit has been the fun of working and musing and dreaming with Martin and the whole ARC family including of course the faith leaders and the communities whom they serve. We all know we are involved in something unusual - but we share the feeling that it is very important and needs to grow.

"I ask some of my colleagues to look beyond their own problems to the approach of engaging with faith groups which touches so many of our ultimate clients - the poor of the world's developing countries - at a level which is difficult for some of us to understand."
In the past five years we have much to look back on and to be thankful for. Not least for the generosity of the Dutch and Norwegian governments and the outgoing President of the World Bank, Jim Wolfensohn. Jim has been our most ardent supporter and I could only wish that all Bank staff were as open to working with faith communities.

There is too much to record here and I could easily fill the entire evening with stories about tree planting, fisheries management, ceremonies, long discussions, sermons, trainings, etc. Joanne has already spoken of our work with the southern, Theravada tradition of Buddhism. We have also been very active in the northern, Mahayana tradition, especially in Mongolia. We have good relationships there with the main Buddhist leaders and the efforts are facilitated by Mr Enkhbayar, until recently Prime Minster and engaged at this moment in his campaign to become President. This would be his second Presidency, the first being of ARC.

The books we have produced in Mongolia have focused on sacred sites - since these tend to overlap with protected areas of conservation interest. A senior politician expressed his excitement to me that we had translated the sutras relating to those sites from Tibetan into Mongolian for the first time and that the chanting of the monks would now mean something to him. Our Country Manager in Mongolia is fully engaged with our efforts and other World Bank staff have brought Buddhist groups and figures into their projects and consultations.

For example, we have been trying to promote fuel-efficient coal stoves in Ulaanbaatar which suffers from terrible air pollution. During project preparation one of the ladies whose stove had been examined by technicians took ill and died. A lama who was called to the tent pronounced that the death was because the 'golomt' or fire spirit within the stove had been offended. We were able to explain the situation to the Chief Abbot of the main temple in Ulaanbaatar and he both joined the project launch, blessing the improved stoves, and also insisted that the technicians show more respect for the 'golomt' in their work.

For this third and final year of financial support from Jim Wolfensohn, he asked us to work broader and deeper. To that end we sought to apply lessons we had learned in Asia to Africa and this has taken off well with a major Christian meeting held in London last November, and a pivotal Muslim meeting in Mombasa in January. Our move into Latin America has started with a small but potentially significant partnership with the Benedictines.

Over the past five years I have been fascinated how the work has had a cathartic effect on some of my colleagues who have come to sit in my office to explain their lack of faith, or their experiences at draconian religious boarding schools, or their opposition to certain (often marginal) teachings. I ask them to look beyond their own problems to the approach of engaging with faith groups which touches so many of our ultimate clients - the poor of the world's developing countries - at a level which is difficult for some of us to understand.

When the people of Timor Leste were finally on their own, all they had to cling to was their faith.

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