The Worldwide Bahá’í Community’s Approach to Social and Economic Development
Prepared by the Office of Social and Economic Development
For the Bahá’í community the expanding network of activities described in the foregoing pages has had significance beyond the immediate benefits in the communities in which they operate. The experience of applying principles found in the writings of the Bahá’í Faith to a wide range of situations has enabled the Bahá’í community to progressively gain insight into the current challenges in the development field and equipped it to contribute ever more confidently to the global discourse taking place. It should be noted that the purpose of Bahá’í participation in discourses is not to persuade others to accept a Bahá’í position on this or that subject. Nor is effort in this area of endeavor pursued as a public relations activity or an academic exercise. Rather, Bahá’ís are eager to share what they are learning in their efforts to apply Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to contribute toward the advancement of civilization and to learn with and from other like-minded individuals and groups in a range of settings around the world.
Contributing to Development Discourse at Various Levels
At any given moment, and in social spaces at all levels of society, there are ongoing conversations concerned with various aspects of humanity’s well-being and progress. At the local level, the involvement of Bahá’ís in conversations relevant to social progress is a natural part of their community-building efforts. Bahá’í-inspired development agencies also contribute to discourses pertinent to their work. While such an orientation is generally present from the earliest stages of an agency’s efforts, opportunities to participate in relevant conversations and fora grow naturally together with an agency’s accumulating experience (for examples see here >).
" Religion . . . is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore, it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive.” — ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
At the international level, the Bahá’í International Community (BIC) has for decades been engaged in several discourses related to the betterment of society within the United Nations (UN), and in more recent years in fora associated with the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the European Union, and other supranational groupings. These discourses include those concerned with development, equality of women and men, peace and security, the role of religion in society, human rights, the environment and climate change, the role of youth, and global citizenship education. In this regard, the BI C regularly participates in international conferences and nongovernmental fora such as the U N Commissions on Social Development and on the Status of Women.
Over the years, the BIC has also published numerous statements addressing concepts relevant to the discourses mentioned above. One major document that continues to assist Bahá’í communities and agencies to contribute to conversations under way at various levels is The Prosperity of Humankind. The document examines the concept of global prosperity in the context of the Bahá’í teachings. It presents an exploration of essential matters such as the nature and purpose of the development process and the roles assigned to its various protagonists. Among the more recent statements released by the BI C, Rising Together: Building the Capacity to Recover from Within, was published for the U N’s first World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul, Turkey. The document—which drew on the experience of several national communities including Vanuatu, Haiti, India, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, and Togo, as well as on the specialized knowledge of Bahá’ís involved in international relief work—discusses how Bahá’í endeavors at the grassroots, aimed at raising capacity within populations to take charge of their own development, have fostered greater resilience in the face of natural disasters.
As the twentieth century drew to a close, Bahá’í institutions reached the conclusion that a permanent forum was required for ongoing, in-depth exploration of concerns relevant to the advancement of civilization. The result was the creation of the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, whose first initiative involved sponsoring a series of colloquia on science, religion, and development in several countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. As a continuation of its earlier work, in 2013 the Institute initiated a line of action concerned with “areas of inquiry.” In areas where the work has advanced, it has collaborated with like-minded individuals and institutions in exploring such vital themes as peace and justice in societies in transition, the global movement of populations, the role of religion in migration, and growth and development of cities.
No serious observer can fail to appreciate the need for the massive investments of human and material resources that governments and organizations of civil society dedicate to promoting the well-being of the human race, nor indeed to value the intelligence and spirit of idealism that animates this work. Committed to the further advancement of its own development endeavors, the Bahá’í community continues to refine its vision that learning and capacity building lie at the heart of successful development. Such a vision calls for engaging people everywhere, from all walks of life and representing the full diversity of the human family, in the generation and application of knowledge. Spiritual principles and the methods of science, together, can mediate such engagement. It is in sharing the insights thus acquired, as a result of systematic experience, that the community believes its most useful contribution to the discourses on development must ultimately lie