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:
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.
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.
Faith communities, historically, have been responsible for some of the world's most significant social innovations. Many people today are asking, "what happened?" In this article in America Magazine, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry examines the Catholic Church in particular and doesn't hold back. What happened to the Church that introduced social welfare, the hospital, agricultural technology, and more world-changing innovations in Roman times and beyond? Have we lost our boldness of vision? Have we become complacent? Have we settled for good intentions? We are children of an abundantly creative God with a mandate to advance the transformative work of God here on earth. Are we acting like it?
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.
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.