Takeaways from the New Delhi G20 Interfaith Forum

By Maria Lucia Uribe, Executive Director of Ethics Education for Children at Arigatou International

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Last month, I finished a two-day meeting of the G20 Interfaith Forum in New Delhi with the participation of around 100 people coming from different parts of the world. The purpose of the meeting was to reflect on the role of faith in addressing the current crises, identify critical areas where religious actors can contribute to the work of key policy makers and advance strategic issues and agendas, and identify mechanisms that can support religious actors to address global issues and push forward innovative solutions.

During the meeting, we discussed issues of education, children, social protection, cultural heritage, climate change, technology, peacebuilding, health, women, vulnerable communities and human trafficking, and looked at the importance of partnerships, networks and multi-partner approaches.

The G20 Interfaith Forum working meetings in New Delhi were held at the breathtaking Baha’i Lotus Temple

Some Food for Thought

Some takeaways I bring with me as I make connections with my own work, and reflect about the criticality of some of the issues discussed are:

  1. Our interconnectedness and its connotations for our day to day actions. Even though the importance of interconnectedness is the main principle of the work I do in ethics, I reflected about it from a different perspective: the perspective of consciousness to bring about change. Often in our dialogues we think of interconnectedness as the oneness of humanity, and that’s very much so, but here I have connected it to an inner conscious process that can bring about change – individual and collective change, which is critical in a time when we need to address the challenges that our humanity faces.
  2. The ethical leadership vacuum. The more we discussed about the role of religious communities, the role of the G20, the lack of action of governments, the decisions that are made that negatively impact our well-being, as well as what needs to be done, the more clear it becomes that it is only ethical leadership that can make a difference. For instance, the climate crisis can be addressed, as we have the solutions and tools and we know that human activity is majorly responsible for it, and yet we face an education, policy, political will and investment gap, as shared by Maja Groff, the Convener of the Climate Governance Commission.
  3. The moral call to collaborate and to reimagine the success matrix. Vinu Aram really articulated well the call to stand together, to build bridges and to rise above identities. What does success look like and what are new ways to look at success? As we talked about partnership building, we discussed the need for more dialogue among different groups, among networks, among partners, to evolve our thinking and work on building more equitable relationships.
  4. Asymmetry of partnerships. This was not discussed directly, but raised through some questions by Fred Nyabera: we should not shy away from discussing the rising competition between networks in the interfaith field, the lack of collaboration despite the call to collaborate, the duplication of efforts when other platforms already exist, the influence that funding plays in duplicating spaces, ignoring other key partners, and even setting the agenda. Even though duplication might always exist in this field, collaboration should be the norm rather than the exception. I firmly believe that if we sat together across networks and partnerships, then identified strengths, gaps, challenges and common causes, our impact would be much higher.
  5. Accountability. Azza Karam spoke about this in her video intervention: The importance of being accountable to ourselves, to the people we serve, to keep governments accountable and to be accountable to our own use of resources (i.e. excessive organization of meetings without a clear purpose). She asked ‘where all our initiatives lead to?’ This is probably the question we should all ask ourselves in our work, and when the answer is not there, we should also ask ‘who do I need to work with to make it happen?’
  6. The most vulnerable. Across the discussions we talked about the role of faith communities serving the most vulnerable, challenging stigma, prejudices, discrimination and exclusion. The role of faith communities was discussed broadly in terms of advocacy, training, raising their voices, collaborating with other faiths, and working with governments—and more specifically the importance of self-examination of practices in their own communities that stigmatize the other, that condone violence against the other, and that exercise cultural violence to justify structural violence that permeates systems and normalizes exclusion. Opor Opal bravely spoke for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, and she pleaded for bringing them to the table and to reflect about the many ways we exercise exclusion by action and omission.
Maria Lucia Uribe (second from left) speaks in the Education panel discussion.

Discussions on Education

I participated on the panel about education, where we discussed issues of access and interfaith learning. I spoke about the challenge of promoting interfaith education in formal education settings, the opposition that at times is faced from religious communities, and the politization of education to promote nationalistic agendas that discriminate minority groups, try to promote one religion, and violate the right of freedom of religion and belief in countries. I highlighted the role of ethics education as a key avenue to work with formal education actors to promote social cohesion and work to foster interfaith learning. Other panelists included Dr. Alpha Amirrachman, Vice Chair of the Council of Primary, Secondary and Non-Formal Education of the Central Board of Muhammadiyah, who spoke about their model to promote openness towards people of other religions and the spirit of inclusivity in their students. Dr. Brinder Singh Mahon spoke about their work in education through the Sikh Community in Birmingham to promote values, virtues and ethics to fill a gap in the education system in the UK focused mainly on academic achievements.

We had fruitful discussions with other panelists who spoke from the Buddhist perspective, who brought the voices of young people and the example of the social-emotional curriculum in New Delhi.

We missed touching sensitive issues, particularly in a country like India where interfaith and religious issues are not to be mentioned in the public arena. Yet, I do think we brought up important discussions and hopefully the recommendations coming out of this Forum can find their way to the G20 Summit in September.


Thank you to the organisers – the G20 Interfaith Forum – to Katherine Marshall for her reflections on the insider/outsider perspective in the G20 discussions, for her reminder to look at systemic issues, and go beyond slogans and cliche phrases to identify what is really needed to move this agenda forward. To Cole Durham for his consistency, for creating and holding space for others, and for his reflections. Thanks to Dana Humaid and the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities for recognizing the issues that affect children, for keeping it high in the agenda, for giving visibility to the dignity of the child in discussions where normally those are not considered, and for highlighting our responsibility to act now for their present and for their future!

Thanks to the Bahai Community for hosting us and to Bani Dugal for representing the experience of interconnectedness that Vasudheiva Kutumbakam reminds us of.

It was great to see many friends and colleagues and make new connections with many people.

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Maria Lucia Uribe Torres is the Executive Director of Arigatou International Geneva. She heads the strategic implementation and expansion of the Ethics Education for Children Initiative as an International Knowledge and Action Hub, with partners in more than 30 countries, providing expertise and technical support to global and grassroots organizations. Before this appointment, Maria Lucia was Coordinator and Deputy Coordinator for Education and Fragility for the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE). She served earlier for five years as Program Officer for Arigatou International. She is currently the convener of the International Consortium on Nurturing Values and Spirituality in Early Childhood for the Prevention of Violence, launched in 2018 by Arigatou International. She serves on the Steering Group of the International Partnership for Religion and Development – PaRD and is the Co-convener of the Working Group on Children and Violence of Child Rights Connect. Maria Lucia holds a Master in Peace and Conflict Transformation from the University of Basel, with a specialization in Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Finance. She is a national of Colombia.