Many faith traditions have long been rooted in a relationship with the Earth—particularly indigenous traditions, but also others, such as Jainism. And some early advocates of the environment and animal welfare were inspired by faith—such as Francis of Assisi and Buddhist emperor Ashoka. Yet the concept of ecotheology has developed largely within the last half century or so as the world has had to come to terms with the ecological destruction wrought by human society. Ecotheology looks at the relationship between religion and nature and seeks to find solutions to the current environmental crisis.
Social innovation has developed largely as a secular field despite its deep historic roots in people and communities of faith that have quietly and creatively responded to human and societal needs over centuries. It is essential that the faith sector take a place at the table because of the many assets it brings to the goal of solving our world's most pressing problems. Here are a few:
Social innovation requires us to 1) believe there is a constructive way to change seemingly intractable problems, 2) rethink problems and opportunities, sometimes flipping accepted wisdom on its head, and 3) apply concepts or frameworks from different disciplines to spot potential new solutions. Which is why we love this article from Forbes about what Deborah Frieze is doing in impact investing in Boston.
During a recent layover, I was wandering the airport bookstore and spotted Yuval Noah Harari’s bestseller Sapiens. “Everyone’s reading this,” I thought. “Maybe I should, too.” But then I saw his follow-up book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, which I had never heard of but the title of which sold me immediately. … Harari makes some frustratingly sweeping and aggressive statements about religion that seem unnecessary to make his point. But behind them is a truth that institutions of faith need to confront: We’re becoming irrelevant because we’re not in the game. Our traditions may serve a purpose for a while - as sources of comfort in a chaotic world that we don’t really understand, where people like Harari are talking about the imminence of unfathomable things like superhumans and cyborgs. But if that’s the only purpose we’re serving, then we’ve already lost the long game.
The Trump era in the US has triggered a lot of angst over the state of our democracy. There is a lot of blame going around. Everyone expresses concern about our civil discourse. New efforts to understand, restore, and strengthen democratic institutions and the social capital that undergirds them emerge daily. At the same time, there is a lot of talk about the economic inequality that may or may not, depending on who you listen to, have led to our current political reality. … Could one solution lie in the centuries old concept of cooperatives—shared ownership/management organizations for workers, producers, or consumers—renewed for the modern era?
At innoFaith, one of our goals is to bridge faith communities to the social innovation ecosystem - the universe of non-profits, start-ups, education institutions, companies, government bodies, and others who are developing, studying, implementing new responses to persistent social problems. And vice versa. But for many in institutions and communities of faith, social innovation is a new term, even if not a new concept. … Both charity and advocacy approaches are essential to social change work, but what if there were a narrative that could free us from the limits of charity, on the one hand, and ideology, on the other? That is the potential of social innovation.
On January 29th, in the midst of a DC snowstorm, an interfaith, intergenerational group of friends and strangers gathered at Church of the Holy City to talk about the power of young people to lead change. Along with co-hosts Peace First, FaithJustice Foundation, and the Swedenborg Center, we were thrilled to welcome Eric Dawson, Founder and CEO of Peace First and author of Putting Peace First: 7 Commitments to Change the World, and Yasmine Arrington, Peace First Fellow and Founder and Executive Director of ScholarCHIPS, to share their wisdom.
With deep roots in economic migration patterns and organized crime, not to mention the manipulation of basic human needs and aspirations, human trafficking is a complex issue both very global and very local in its scope. The International Labour Organization estimates that 40.3 million people globally were in what they call “modern slavery” at any given time in 2016, about 60% of whom were in forced labor and the remainder in forced marriage. … While complex operationally, as a moral issue, human trafficking is about as straightforward as they come, which perhaps explains why it has been a galvanizing issue for faith communities. … Additionally, many secular organizations addressing the issue have been founded by faith-rooted social innovators. And there’s one that, unless you’re a trucker, you may not know about.
We’re excited to announce our first DC event, Putting Peace First: 7 Commitments to Change the World, in collaboration with Peace First, Swedenborg Center, and FaithJustice Foundation. Join us at Church of the Holy City on January 29 at 6 pm to talk about how DC faith communities can support young people to change our city. For 25 years, Peace First has been helping young people change the world. Come hear from Peace First founder Eric Dawson and DC’s own young changemaker and Peace First Fellow, Yasmine Arrington, about how young people can lead change.
LinkedIn recently published 50 Big Ideas for 2019: What to watch in the year ahead. The list is full of interesting predictions regarding the economy, workforce, tech, leadership, and a couple on social movements. Underlying many of the predictions are issues of values, ethics, and inclusion. As society seeks better solutions to the challenges that confront us - climate change, the potential effects of artificial intelligence, inequality, political polarization, shifting workforce trends, and more - what role will faith communities and institutions play? And what would these predictions look like if offered by faith leaders rather than business leaders? We’re going to find out in the coming weeks by seeking the input of our network. We’ll report back on what we hear, but in the meantime, here are a few recent faith trends that we expect will continue to grow in 2019.
It’s hard to walk around Washington, DC, these days without finding a church that has been or is in the process of being converted into luxury condos. In a city struggling to provide enough affordable housing and other services to keep its lower income residents, the idea of community institutions being turned into housing for the wealthy can be discouraging, to say the least. And DC is not alone. … Fortunately, various groups are emerging to re-imagine the problem and find solutions.
Impact investing, the practice of leveraging private capital for social and environmental gains by making investments that produce social and environmental returns in addition to financial returns, has gained significant steam in the last several years. It has also begun to make inroads into the investment and mission strategies of faith-based institutions and investors.
For millennia, faith traditions have been innovating, adapting worship, theology, and social engagement to bring God to the people of different eras in a changing world and to meet the social needs of the times. Yet how rarely we talk about innovation as faith communities. We tend to consider it a value and expertise of the business or technology sectors, sectors we also tend to view with some skepticism. But the world is changing more rapidly than ever before, and the challenges driving social needs today are becoming more complex. We can’t afford not to talk about this. And, well, innovate accordingly.
Burke’s movement went viral last year when #metoo caught fire on social media. Few may know or suspect that like many social movements before it, this one, too, emerges from the vision of a faith-rooted leader. Few may also be aware of the systemic change work at its core - empowering survivors to lead change in ending sexual violence. Burke calls it “empowerment through empathy.” When the hashtag becomes an artifact in social media memory, that hard work will continue as it started, quietly and powerfully in the efforts of survivor leaders to eradicate sexual violence.
One of our favorite stories is that of teenager Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, who, inspired by his Aztec heritage, became an environmental leader at age 6. Through Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl has been empowering other young people to become leaders in the proactive defense of our planet. He not only inspires us that we can change the course of climate change but reminds us that supporting young people means rooting them in community and faith but also giving them the space and encouragement to lead us with their ideas and passion.
The world is a complex place, and the problems we face do not have easy solutions. Yet one simple thing proves over and over to be the source of powerful change: relationship. So simple that we perhaps underestimate its true force to transform individuals and society. But as people of faith trying to help, we sometimes build one-way relationships, where we seek to bring our resources to bear to change the life of someone less privileged. There can be great value in such transactions, but they are, indeed, transactions. These are rarely the relationships that drive sustained impact. Only when we bring our gifts and brokenness to a table where others can, equally, bring their gifts and brokenness do we create the possibility for transformation. Here are three local initiatives that brilliantly leverage this power to create true, dynamic change in the lives of at-risk young people, and those of the community members who step up to build relationships with them.
We don't often tell them as innovation stories, but history is full of examples of faith communities and institutions developing new ideas for addressing social problems. All the destructive things done in the name of religion or by religious people and leaders notwithstanding, when one looks to where good is happening in the world, one will often find people of faith. From building social movements to building schools and hospitals, faith communities have been innovating solutions, often quietly, for the good of humanity for millennia. And they are still doing so today, though the scale of these efforts sometimes feels small under the weight of today's complex problems.
Until one learns about Akshaya Patra.
Even while we as faith communities look outward to engage in social change in our societies, we also must confront the challenges within our own ranks - from racism to violence to sexual crimes by clergy and more. Social transformation always begins at home. We cannot ignore the destructive things done in the name of our religions or under the auspices of our religious institutions. But we also cannot just lament. We need new approaches to confronting these demons. In India, Basit Jamal, is setting an example, empowering young people to take Islam back from those who use it to promote extremist ideologies. Learn more about his empathy-rooted work in this article and video by Ashoka India at Youth Ki Awaaz.
As cities have experienced a renaissance in recent decades, many have taken up the economic, social, and moral questions surrounding the process of gentrification. As residents that have called their neighborhoods home for generations face economic displacement, and low-income workers who make the growth of cities possible cannot find affordable housing near their jobs, faith communities and others have taken up the cause in many forms - services to low-income neighbors, advocacy for affordable housing, and more. One particularly creative approach is gaining steam - using land owned by faith institutions to increase the stock of affordable housing. Read about how churches in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area are forging multi-million dollar partnerships with private developers and government to build housing on their land in this article from the Washington Post.