G20 Interfaith Forum: Handing over from Saudi Arabia to Italy as President of the 2021 G20

By Katherine Marshall, G20 Interfaith Association Vice President, World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD), Berkley Center

As the torch passes from our 2020 Saudi Arabian G20 hosts to Italy, we, as the G20 Interfaith Association, affirm our renewed commitment to this vital process. Our long-term focus—both as an organization and as multilateral partners—is centered on the challenges of building a better, more just world. My remarks today focus on four questions that arise as we look to 2021 and the Bologna Forum.

Bologna, Italy – The host of the 2021 G20

Why focus on the G20?

The G20, conceived as a global crisis body, has never been needed more than now.

The extraordinary global crisis that the world faces demands multilateral approaches. It also demands the G20’s agility and commitment to action in times of crisis.

To make the difference that it needs to make, the G20 needs the engagement of diverse stakeholders: it is about leadership, but also efforts to bring together women and youth, civil society, science, labor, ideas, and business. The many interreligious networks that are focused on global agendas are a part of that process. They bring insights from far corners of the world, alongside the mandate and often the courage to speak truth to power.

Why Interfaith? What does interfaith bring?

The G20 Interfaith Forum fulfills a vital role by bringing together those wide-ranging networks that focus on global agendas, especially those whose spirit and work centers on people and the planet.

Each of the 17 overarching goals and 169 targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has religious dimensions.

Interreligious work brings both practical and ethical insights. To illustrate, religious groups focus on building peace, ending hunger, facing climate change, combating domestic violence, improving water and sanitation, and resolving the terrible plight of refugees.

Interfaith networks and actors offer different, often prophetic voices, and they thus enrich the G20 global agenda in countless ways.

How did the G20 Interfaith Forum come into being? How has the Forum evolved?

The G20 Interfaith Forum has grown to its current stature from a core group of people committed to excellent analysis and focused on issues specific to religious roles and rights.

Against a history of engagement through the G7 and G8, the G20 Interfaith Forum began to meet in 2014 and has met every year since then—in Australia, Turkey, China, Germany, Argentina, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Each year the scope, size, and ambitions of the forum have broadened.

Two G20 Interfaith Forum panelists meeting at the 2019 Tokyo Forum.

Today, the Association brings together an ambitious community reflecting the burgeoning interreligious networks across the world.

They share a vital commitment: They are bound and determined to contribute to the demanding global agendas of our times: acting on the inequality that all lament, changing the narrative on refugees, and looking the climate crisis in the face.

The healing that is the central challenge of our world today demands such practical interfaith collaboration.

What is ahead for 2021?

We face immediate, urgent issues. Many relate to the COVID-19 crises, especially regarding distributing vaccines and care for those afflicted in effective and ethical manners. There are also critical humanitarian needs that demand urgent attention, notably for refugees and communities left behind.

The longer-term challenges of our time center on rebuilding a better, fairer, greener world. Among the many challenges are translating ideals for peace into reality and addressing inequalities in meaningful ways.

The G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna in September 2021 holds great, special promise. It will bring diverse and creative voices to focus on today’s urgent global agendas. It will keep the spotlight shining constantly on people across the world who too often are forgotten and left behind. It underlines the urgent need to reach across divides with new commitments to listening, hearing, and healing pain.

Hope, ideas, and courage are hallmarks of the continuing G20 Interfaith venture. The Italian presidency of the G20 offers unprecedented possibilities to link political, social, economic, and interreligious insights in a dynamic dialogue where different perspectives can make their voices heard at the policy tables.

The future of multilateralism and hopes for rebuilding depend on precisely that kind of new creative synergy.

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Professor Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. She serves as the executive director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue and worked at the World Bank from 1971 to 2006, tackling development issues in the world’s poorest countries.