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PRESS RELEASE: First Sacred Cities Investment meeting, London July 24-25

July 23 2017:

Kano, Nigeria is one of the cities presenting a proposal

In London this week (July 24 and 25), representatives of faith-based sacred city proposals totalling nearly a billion dollars will discuss how their initiatives can be funded through the investment community's growing commitment to ethical investment.

They will do so, in part, because two leading Hollywood actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both Catholics, both fiercely committed to social development, came separately to the conclusion that sacred cities should be models for successful sustainable development around the world.

And that involves working with the religions, as well as the usual bodies – local and national governments and private sector businesses.

“The investment community, which has already made great strides in ethical investment, is starting to realise that religions are producing structured investable projects in this area,” said Dr Christophe Nuttall, CEO of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s R20 Foundation: Regions of Climate Action, which together with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation and The Wesley, the UK Methodists’ first eco-hotel, is co-hosting the event on July 24 and 25.

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and Prince Albert 2 of Monaco’s Foundation are one of the early initiators of the process.

The aim of the London meeting is to set up a structure for faiths to access impact investments. In the short term this will finance some or all of the attending projects (see below).

In the medium term this will finance up to 200 sustainable projects in different cities and places. And by 2030 this could grow to include 7,000 cities, some of which will be considered sacred, but others which will benefit from having local faith groups consult in investment plans.


Initiatives from 10 pilgrim cities and sacred places will be represented.

• Cebu and Naga (Philippines, Catholic, wanting to replace thousands of highly polluting tricycle vehicles with electrical vehicles as the major form of transport to key pilgrimage sites)

• Djerba (Tunisia, Muslim and Jewish business plans developing infrastructure for pilgrim/tourist visits)

• Etchmiadzin (Armenia, Orthodox Christian, planning a model green pilgrimage city focusing on education, water and energy)

• Fez (Morocco, Muslim, dubbed “the Mecca of the West”, planning biogas collection for public lighting)

• Fujaira (UAE, Muslim, planning new pilgrimage/tourist facilities based on traditional Islamic architecture)

• Jiangsu, (China, Daoist, replacing old energy systems in 200 temples with high tech sustainable technologies which will be a model for other, secular, development in China)

• Kalakad & Mundanthurai (tiger reserves in India, Hindu, proposing sustainable financially viable ways to cope with the millions of pilgrims passing through)

• Kano (Nigeria, Muslim, the largest Sufi pilgrimage site in Northern Africa, hosting 3 million people at key times, planning major infrastructure and drinking water distribution programmes)

• Rameshwaram (India, Hindu, with business plans to overhaul transport, water and waste facilities for pilgrim visits to the island’s temples)

• Zanzibar City (Tanzania, Muslim/Christian planning an eco-hotel and environmental education centre on abandoned land beside the UNESCO heritage site of Stone Town)

There are also three complementary business initiatives including:

• Amaravati Buddhist Centre (London, Buddhist, which is planning an eco-village for the 21st century on its 8.35 hectares – plus woodland – site in London)

• Wesley Methodist Hotel Group (London, Methodist Christian, expanding their chain of award-winning eco-hotels to include the first ever Methodist National Park, in Kenya)

• Dartington (UK, Multi-faith centre around a 14th century historic house and substantial grounds and property, which has around 40 organisations including businesses working on technological solutions to energy needs, agriculture, waste, water, etc.)

All have produced business plans to attract investment for sustainable infrastructure enterprises.

What it's about

“You're not just donating to help local people making recycled flip-flops,” said Martin Palmer, Secretary General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC). “You're investing in a group that supports a range of programmes including local communities making flip-flops from old tyres as well as a company that comes in and lays 500 miles of new sewerage pipes in a sustainable way to improve lives and communities.”

"This isn't about how lovely it would be if the faiths were involved in sustainable development. This is about how, for this to work, the faiths and these cities need a billion dollars. Not in funding but in profit-generating investment. They are meeting with the people who might make it possible for that billion dollars to be invested," said Revd Dr Stuart Burgess, Chairman of the Wesley Hotel.


While there is an increased interest in ethical, or “impact” investment from investors, there is a real shortage of sustainable projects for sustainable funds to invest in around the world.

In 2016 The Ecological Sequestration Trust (TEST) produced for the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the document Roadmap 2030 on financing and implementing the Global Goals in Human Settlements and City-Regions. In it, for the first time, they named the faiths as the fifth pillar of investment partnership with UN-HABITAT (the four pillars, to date, have been national governments, municipal governments, private sector and academia), and gave explicit examples of good practice. TEST will be represented by its founder, Peter Head.

Also attending is BlueOrchard, set up by the UN in 2001 as “the first commercial manager of microfinance debt investments worldwide” with at this date more than USD four billion in asset funding accessing more than 30 million impoverished people in 70 developing countries. The aim is to foster growth and shared prosperity by empowering low income people and households across the emerging world.

R20 and BlueOrchard have developed a unique value chain which, on the one hand, identifies and structures a portfolio of low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure projects up to bankability, and on the other hand, helps invest in these projects thanks to a de-risking blended finance mechanism with philanthropic, subsidies, equity and loans from both public and private banks. BlueOrchard and R20, together with ARC, are proposing to build such a dedicated fund for sacred cities.

The meeting includes a special focus on Faith Eco-Hotels, including Methodist plans to expand on the success of the London Wesley Hotel (the first hotel to receive eco-certification) to build eco-hotels in Argentina, more in London, and in Kenya where they own a large tract of land to build an eco-hotel (which could be a model to other business enterprises in the area) and to turn over the rest of the land to become the first Methodist National Park. Other faith-run eco-hotels in Zanzibar, Fujaira (UAE), Dartington, and Amaravati are being considered. The plan is for these separate initiatives to learn from each other to make the most viable business model.


The Wesley Hotel, the first Ethical Hotel in London, 81-103 Euston Street, London NW1 2EZ, UK

The Alliance of Religions and Conservation
R20 – Regions of Climate Action

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