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.
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.
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.
Did you know only a third of Americans have documented their wishes for the end of their lives? And only 19% of black adults over 64 have done so. Faith leaders, trained to spiritually support and counsel the dying and their loved ones, have a better vantage point than most on the stress, anxiety, guilt, not to mention financial challenges and pressure on both families and the medical system that this lack of preparation creates. We don't like to talk about death, but not doing so has numerous ramifications on our well-being as individuals, as families, and as a society.
Understanding available assets is the first step to opening up new opportunities for innovation. Technology continually makes mapping of such assets easier at scale, putting critical data at our fingertips. And speaking of scale, the Catholic Church is one of the largest private landowners in the world. Recognizing the latent potential in this massive resource, Molly Burhans is leveraging new technology to map the land assets of the Catholic Church and create new ways to channel them for social good. Read more about her bold work in this article from The Boston Globe.
Baltimore pastor Rev. Heber Brown is sparking a movement with his Black Church Security Network, an initiative he started after seeking to do "something beyond prayer" to support his community members wrestling with health and diet issues. Rev. Brown is engaging churches in planting fresh produce on their own land as well as connecting them to black farmers, ultimately seeking to position churches to further equity in the food system.
Social innovation requires an enabling ecosystem, and one of the key players in that ecosystem is the philanthropic sector. Innovative philanthropists can help empower individual organizations to take risks while fostering collective impact in the process. With their faith under attack, one group of American Muslims and their allies are organizing to support Muslim change-makers who are creating solutions in their communities. In the process, they're reshaping perceptions of Islam in America. Read about Pillars Fund and their new approach to faith-based philanthropy in this article from Buzzfeed.
Social innovation requires deep contextual understanding to shape solutions that will have a sustainable impact. In this story in the Huffington Post, listen to Nick Tilsen talk about how he rooted himself in his home community on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and is helping the community create its own future, deeply connected to its own history and spirituality.
Faith communities have often stepped in when government welfare systems fail to support people in need. The role and responsibility of government in social welfare is a worthy and critical debate. But what happens if we engage faith communities to collectively create a solution rather than just react to system failures. In the case of Safe Families for Children, you get an alternative to the perpetually troubled foster care system for temporary family separation situations. Read this story from Forbes.com to learn more.
Crisis migration caused by violence and persecution has sparked a wave of new ideas and approaches as the world seeks to respond to the challenge of a growing global population of forcibly displaced persons and refugees - over 65 million persons according to UNHCR. This story from the National Catholic Reporter discusses a recent report released by FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities), which looks at how Catholic groups are using social innovation approaches to address this challenge. The report illustrates how a 2,000-year-old institution like the Catholic Church can connect tradition with innovation to bring new ideas to bear on today's global challenges. Spoiler alert: Catholic sisters are driving much of the innovation.
Urban faith institutions often find themselves on the front lines of issues of homelessness and affordable housing in their communities. This story from Faith and Leadership about the innovative work of a congregation in Detroit shows how an asset-based perspective can change the focus from reacting to a need to creating a transformative solution. Stay tuned for more stories of how faith institutions are reimagining their role in the housing sector.