In 2010, the title of the statement issued by the G8/G20 Interfaith Leaders’ Summit in Canada, just prior to the G8/G20 political leaders’ Muskoka and Toronto summits, was A Time for Inspired Leadership and Action. It continues today to be a time for inspired leadership and action. Last year’s G20 leaders’ meeting occurred in a context in which the global economy continues to be challenged and the refugee crisis in Europe, with its ramifications for much of the world, is the worst such crisis since the First World War. Violent conflicts continue in many regions and bombings kill and maim in many countries – including Turkey itself, the host of both the G20 political and interfaith summits in 2015.
Cognisant of Turkey’s priorities for strengthening the global recovery and lifting potential, enhancing resilience and buttressing sustainability as host of the G20 2015 political leaders’ summit as well as the current context, the objective of the 2015 G20 Interfaith Summit was to facilitate peace and harmony among people of all religious and philosophical traditions while exploring ways to work together to strengthen economic development. It highlighted the key role that religion plays in contributing to sustainable development, peace and the achievement of the United Nations 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was about consistency and persistence.
The world’s faith traditions have millennia and centuries of being called by divine imperative to inspired leadership and action in the name of care, compassion and justice. Sometimes the call has been faithfully answered, sometimes less so. Since 2005, faith traditions have been engaging with the G7/8 and G20 political leadership, speaking and acting with a moral, ethical voice and concrete specifics on poverty reduction, climate change, and peace and security. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and their profound importance for the lives of the most vulnerable, have always been a crucial theme of that engagement.
Fostering civil society dialogue
Last year’s summit was the second in what will be an ongoing series of interfaith summits in direct conjunction with the G20 political leaders’ summit. The 2015 G20 Interfaith Summit in Turkey built on the networks, research and actions born in 2014’s Australian G20 Interfaith Summit. The Turkey Interfaith Summit, in turn, laid the foundation for the work of this year’s Chinese summit. The 2015 interfaith summit brought together not only faith and interfaith leaders from around the world, but also academics, lawyers, economists, media, professional and political leaders. This was done in the belief that, to engender harmony and contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, there must be broad civil society discussion and action from grassroots to policymaking levels. The G20 Interfaith Summit is a way to shape the vision of these goals and to drive their attainment. It is a way both to witness and enact the belief that all sectors of society must be in dialogue and engaged in common action for the advancement of a whole, inclusive and just global society.
Last year’s G20 Interfaith Summit, involving all sectors of civil society, addressed crucial topics in the world: religion; human rights and economic development; how interfaith collaboration builds sustainable economies; religion, environment and sustainable development; the economic impacts of Islamophobia and other forms of intolerance; women, faith and sustainable development; religion, poverty alleviation and refugee relief; spiritual capital and economic development in China; and the ethics of sustainable development, including religion and corporate compliance policies and the social responsibility of entrepreneurs.
Of particular note, given Turkey’s important creation of the Women 20 (W20), promoting gender-inclusive growth and women’s leadership in business and the public sector and women’s entrepreneurship, is the Interfaith Summit’s focus on the impact of women of faith on sustainable development. Women who are both academics and practitioners of faith traditions will speak to the reality of women’s engagement in local contexts. What success has been measured in the partial fulfillment of the MDGs and the hope for the fulfillment of the SDGs is attributed to several diverse but interconnected factors. One of those factors, sometimes overlooked in the analysis of their efficacy, is the role that faith communities play in delivering the goals. In many local contexts, faith communities are the only bodies with both capacity and the connection with individuals and groups. The role of women of faith in such context is particularly strong.
All of the G20 Interfaith Summit discussions that form the basis of research and action took place in the context not only of the move from the MDGs to the SDGs, but also, as is always the case with interfaith and civil society summits, in the context of the priorities of the host country of the political summits. The Turkish priorities of low-income developing countries, climate change, migrants and immigrants informed the work and witness of the summit participants as they engaged during the summit itself, as well as in their local, national and international contexts. Those Turkish priorities continue to be crucial in ways that are not entirely foreseeable.
The need for inspired leadership and action will remain crucial as global events continue to develop. Interfaith leaders’ summits in proximity to G20 political summits, such as the last one in Istanbul, which took place a day after the Antalya Summit, build foundations of dialogue and relationship that encourage and enable persistency and consistency of speech and action. Dialogue and relationships among faith leaders and, very importantly, among all sectors of society strengthen the economic and sustainable development for all of the world’s people.