The Extent to Which Working with Faith-Based Organisations Can Undermine or Promote Positive Social Change

OKPENE, Godwin Adie


Much of development literature observe that there is growing recognition of the role of religion in development thought and practice. The recognition of the importance of religion in the lives of beneficiaries of development is increasingly shaping policies and strategies deployed by development institutions in recipient countries. However, while there is little disagreement on the need to engage with religious actors to achieve the right development objectives, there is little evidence that attempt is being made to understand faith-based organsations in terms of their underlying motives and political agendas, in order to design appropriate models of engagement required to produce the right development outcomes. Rather, a great deal of the discussion on engagement with religious institutions has focused on the need for development actors to be sensitive to local customs and traditions in order to produce positive social change. Not enough attention has been paid to political organizations within religious communities. This paper argues that the existence of such groups presents one of the greatest challenges to contemporary development policy and practice. The paper argues that while the objectives/agenda of these groups are often more political than religious, they have nonetheless found religion a very effective tool for promoting their particular worldviews. Using the polio immunization programme in northern Nigeria as a study case, the paper demonstrates how alternative modes of engagement with such religious actors can produce the right or wrong development outcomes for entire populations. In order to find the right strategy of engagement between development institutions and religious actors, it is necessary to recognized that different groups exist within each religious community. The paper found that political groups within faith communities are more likely to contest than aide development. They also present the greatest challenge for engagement, with potentially adverse consequences. I recommend that political movements within faith communities should be given serious consideration in negotiating development agenda and in managing development processes. In negotiating with such groups, the challenge is to seek means of engagement which carry a higher probability of positive outcomes: not just for the negotiators but, more importantly, for the beneficiaries.

Keywords: faith-based organisatons; religious actors; positive social change; identity politics; polio immunization; faith communities; development diplomacy;

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