Across the world, faith-based organizations (FBOs) play an integral and influential role in political and social spheres, and broadly in development. Although the role of FBOs in development has in some contexts been regarded as contentious, they have emerged as a strong, although understated, partner with a high commitment to development and peace.
FBOs are diverse and dynamic and offer a number of benefits for collaboration with other stakeholders. Their presence in and strong ties to communities has allowed them to earn the trust of citizens, mobilize grassroots support, and influence cultural norms. This has been coupled with their capacity to deliver critical social services to hard-to-reach communities, where government services may be lacking or inaccessible. They offer significant development experience and take a long-term approach to ensure the sustainability of their interventions.
The advocacy and networking capacities of FBOs are extensive, which provide good channels for catalysing information sharing and learning and bolstering financial resources to complement development efforts. The widespread reach of FBOs across large cross-sections of society has often translated into greater legitimacy and public policy influence of FBOs, which is showcased in their abilities to facilitate cross-sector and partner engagement and cooperation.
The case for recognizing FBOs as a key development actor is equally strong in Zambia. There is a great importance placed around faith in Zambian society, which contributes to the favourable response and appreciation of FBOs. Zambia is constitutionally a Christian nation. However, citizens and residents have the right to practice other religions. Approximately 95 percent of the population are Christians, nearly 2 percent are Muslim, and there are smaller numbers of Hindus, Baha’is, and those who follow other religions and belief systems.
The scope and scale of the work of faith based organisations and groups is enormous in Zambia. Historically, FBOs have played a very instrumental role in advancing development, reaching places that are too remote for government to effectively reach. Being well connected to communities on the ground and playing a key role in service delivery in hard to reach areas, particularly in education, health and well-being, FBOs are complimenting Government’s efforts in delivering inclusive development and ensuring that no-one is left behind, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. Recognizing this role and the already existing partnerships of FBOs with foundations, the SDG Philanthropy Platform has recognized FBOs as key stakeholders and partners in the advancement of the well-being of children in Zambia.
FBOs in Zambia are well integrated in communities due to the longevity of their presence, but also because of their impact in terms of service delivery and partnership with government and other stakeholders. A good example of the impact that FBOs are having on improving the well-being of children and bolstering government’s efforts is the Zambian Anglican Council Outreach Programme’s robust Early Childhood Development (ECD) program that is supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Episcopal Relief and Development. This program takes an integrated approach to support ECD and aims to leverage the assets of the Church nationally and locally to focus on young children’s cognitive, psychosocial and physical development. The integrated rural program is based in churches and schools which serve as ECD centres and the program has served as a catalyst for community organizing and development in marginalized areas.
The SDG Philanthropy Platform in Zambia has recognized the essential role that FBOs play in development and the potential they have for scaling up successful interventions for impact. With this in mind, the in-country team has conducted strategic outreach to various FBOs. Using a network approach, the SDG Philanthropy Platform in Zambia has established relations with the FBOs as a collective, facilitating knowledge and experience sharing among the organizations and providing opportunities to collectively identify issues requiring collaborative engagement with government ministries, relevant to their areas of activity, and especially, with non-traditional partner ministries that are critical to advancing development, such as the Ministry of National Development Planning.
An Innovation Challenge was recently held by the SDG Philanthropy Platform in Zambia to select top-notch solutions that sought to address four challenge areas including: changing attitudes of traditional leaders and communities to reduce teenage pregnancies and prevent child marriages; real time service tracking and response for child services at the community level; supporting young mothers to meet their economic needs to improve their investments in their children; and using community-based service delivery models to improve the wellbeing of children. The successful innovators that emerged from this challenge to implement high impact, innovative development initiatives with potential for scaling up were three faith-based organizations including The Young Women’s Christian Association, The Council of Churches and The Norwegian Church Aid. Their emergence as winners of the challenge further solidifies the role that FBOs are already playing in communities to improve the well-being of children, but also highlights their drive to create and implement innovative solutions.
The Young Women’s Christian Association will implement an integrated approach to empower young mothers in rural communities of Mongu district in the Western Province of Zambia to improve their livelihoods, tackle food and water insecurity, thus ultimately positively impacting the well-being of young children.
The Council of Churches in Zambia will form Children’s Welfare Hubs in communities through the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) member churches which track and respond to child protection issues by providing basic primary care and protection services.
To address the high prevalence of child marriage and teenage pregnancies in Zambia, Norwegian Church Aid will centre their innovation around the family unit with community members mobilized into Community Advocacy Groups (CAGs) as support structures and catalysts of change.
Over the course of the next 5 months, these FBOs will implement their innovative initiatives. Keep following us to see what results they produce.
By Ceri Davies, SDGPP Zambia
Episcopal Relief and Development. Zambia. 2012-2017. Retrieved from: http://www.episcopalrelief.org/where-we-work/country/zambia
International Religious Freedom Report - Zambia. 2016. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/268954.pdf
Lindsay Morgan – Center for Global Development. Faith and Development in Zambia. 2008. Retrieved from: https://www.cgdev.org/blog/faith-and-development-zambia
United Nations Development Progamme. UNDP Guidelines on Engaging with Faith-based Organizations and Religious Leaders. October 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/documents/partners/2014_UNDP_Guidelines-on-Engaging-with-FBOs-and-Religious-Leaders_EN.pdf
Photo Credits: Evan Schneider/UN Photo