“Every person on the globe is an asset to the globe.”
The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton repeated this quotation several times at the beginning of a lecture held at the Toronto Baha’i Centre on “The Millennium Development Goals and Beyond: A Report from the UN High-Level Panel.” She was quoting Graça Machel, a member of the UN High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, whose recent meeting she attended as one of thirty representatives of global civil society. The High-Level Panel advises the Secretary-General of the UN on the parameters of the next Global Development Framework. Dr. Hamilton emphasized that “we are in the kind of … moment where a lot of things are starting to come together that have not come together before.”
Dr. Hamilton was addressing a gathering of several dozen participants from a cross-section of Canadian civil society and international development organizations. The event was convened by the Baha’i Community of Canada, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, the Canadian Council of Churches, and the Mosaic Institute. John Monahan, Executive Director of the Mosaic Institute, chaired the event. He opened the gathering by noting: “One of our overarching purposes we have today… is that the conversations we have collectively will start to break down a divide between organizations and individuals involved in development who come from a faith-based and non-faith-based or secular approach. The Millennium Development Goals cut across faith and gender and language, they are universal and cut across the population of the globe, so we are all concerned about them and have something to say.”
Dr. Hamilton observed that it is timely for Canadian civil society to coalesce around a conversation about the next Global Development Framework. “It’s really important that we build bridges and conversations at this time… Some of us have been living in silos for far too long.”
At the November 2012 meeting of the UN High-Level Panel in London, UK, Dr. Hamilton found herself to be the only religious leader in the company of foreign ministers and other eminent persons. While religion is often sidelined in official development discourses, she sensed a new receptivity to the values, principles and ethics religion offers.
According to Dr. Hamilton, it is impossible to ignore the insights and experiences of faith communities. “The vast majority in the world are people of faith. In the west, we’ve tried to pretend that’s not so, or to write it off as unimportant. But … the majority of the people in the world are of faith. [Even] … the Canadian landscape is changing. Almost everyone who comes to Canada brings a faith with them.”
Dr. Hamilton commented that the Swedish foreign minister had issued a challenge to overcome the barriers to collaboration erected by the false dichotomy between “the secular” and “the religious.” “We have to move forward from that, and the time of ’siloing‘ or fragmenting from one another is over – we need to forge partnerships,” she said. “The faith communities, secular groups, environmental organizations, etc. have all been part of that ’siloing,’ but that day is over and we have to truly live the fact that every person is an asset to the globe.”
The overarching message that Dr. Hamilton drew from the meeting in London is that “as we move forward we have to raise the moral and ethical bar.” She observed that the facts, figures and numbers are important, but “we have to raise the ethical horizon of our conversation about development.”
At the conclusion of the lecture, John Monahan facilitated a discussion among participants about how to stimulate dialogue about the Millennium Development Goals among their members. The meeting concluded with a resolution to develop closer lines of communication about processes to contribute to national and international consultations on the post-2015 framework.