Growing Complexity of the approach to Social and Economic Development
Updated: Apr 11, 2019
Prepared by the Office of Social and Economic Development
In addition to tens of thousands of grassroots initiatives, Bahá’ís— often working shoulder to shoulder with friends and other like-minded individuals—are engaged in over 1,400 ongoing projects that are larger in scope. Some emerge from smaller efforts at the local level, while others are established as structured projects in the communities they serve from the outset. Sustainability is a natural feature of a project that emerges organically from a grassroots effort. Where a project is introduced into a community, particular care is taken to ensure that its scope does not exceed local capacity to sustain it.
Bahá’í projects, like all development work, have as their primary concern the visible improvement of some aspect of life, and taken together they cover a wide range of areas. Some examples of such efforts may include a community school providing education to children in a locality or a larger academic school reaching a broader cross-section of a region; a local health clinic offering basic health services to the surrounding population; a community garden in an urban neighborhood that provides nutritious food for the local area and strengthens bonds of friendship; a simple language program being offered to newcomers in a country to help them participate more meaningfully in community life; a radio station producing programs for the surrounding population; or a cooperative group that shares resources and provides various types of assistance to each member. Depending on the size of the endeavor, its objectives may be modest or relatively far-reaching. As action unfolds, and increasingly greater challenges arise, those involved must be capable of learning from experience in order to bring about enduring change. While it is appreciated that concerted action should lead in time to concrete results, success is measured chiefly in terms of the impact the action has on building the capacity of individuals and their communities to address development issues at progressively higher levels of complexity and effectiveness.
As Bahá’í development projects grow and the lines of action they pursue increase in number and complexity, organizational structures evolve to ensure long-term viability and to meet expanding needs. In some cases, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization may be established by a group of like-minded individuals. Operating according to the principles of the Bahá’í Faith, it is generally referred to as a “Bahá’í-inspired organization.” Such an organization has as its aim the application of the Faith’s teachings to one or more aspects of the process of civilization building. To this end, it systematically raises human resources and promotes the generation, application, and diffusion of knowledge about development in a country or region. Typically, such an organization will begin with one primary line of action and will allow its efforts to increase in complexity as needs require and resources permit. Over time, it may develop the capacity to pursue a number of lines of action to address challenges of local communities and entire regions in a coordinated fashion. As such an organization systematizes the knowledge being gained through action and reflection in diverse fields, the learning that is a prerequisite for meaningful transformation is generated. Today there are over 130 Bahá’í development organizations worldwide with relatively complex programmatic structures and significant spheres of influence, each at a different stage of evolution.
The map above contains a subset of these organizations and shows their geographic spread. Ten such organizations are briefly profiled in the pages that follow, and the experience of one agency in the Central African Republic is described in greater depth.