An interfaith soup kitchen run by a couple in Peru working with Religions for Peace, where volunteers bring basic necessities to children living in extreme poverty and in informal settlements. Photo by: RfP

From behind the dim glow of a computer screen, a young Muslim student in the Philippines began her own fight against COVID-19. Enlisting the help of her Christian and Buddhist friends, they messaged houses of worship, identified families struggling to provide for themselves, and organized the delivery of hundreds of emergency food boxes.

Supporting and cultivating similar interfaith action lies at the core of the Multi-religious Humanitarian Fund, an initiative forged during the pandemic — but built to outlast it.

The fund — which is managed by Religions for Peace International and supported by GHR Foundation, the Fetzer Institute, Rissho Kosei Kai — aims to deliver aid wherever it is needed, following the prescripts of one simple truth: that before organized government, there was religion, not only as a system of beliefs, but a system of societal organization. The enduring value of interfaith action is multiplied by the existing global networks of religious actors, which must be tapped to address both immediate and long-term needs in the wake of the pandemic.

Focus on: Faith and Development

This series illuminates the role faith actors and their communities play in strengthening global development outcomes.

Religious actors were and are social service providers and first-responders. They establish hospitals and schools. They’ve outlived every pandemic, policy, government, and institution. Their work today draws from millennia of experience responding to humanity’s most urgent needs.

Since they are not tied to formal structures, they are able to leverage their position as trusted leaders operating close to the ground. MRHF is built on an understanding that rooted institutions can help communities more potently when they don’t isolate but work together in unison with faith leaders to leverage their connections, relationships, and unique gifts.

MRHF funds interfaith projects across the world in pursuit of such unison. For example, on the front lines of the pandemic, a couple in Peru working with Religions for Peace started an interfaith soup kitchen for people on the move who, due to their immigration status, could not receive benefits from the government. With the help of MRHF, they fed 700 children in just one month, working across denominations and ethnic barriers to reach those in need.

In Uganda, an interfaith coalition of women developed and grew a network of community leaders across informal settlements into an organized force over WhatsApp, enlisting them in the fight against gender-based violence. Making use of the influence many religious leaders have among their communities, they formed the engine of a targeted campaign to systematically educate people on gender bias and stereotypes while helping provide on-the-ground aid to women who have suffered from gender-based violence.

These projects find their strength in being focused locally and operating at the grassroots level, exploiting organizational structures older and more deeply embedded in the collective conscience than national governments might be.

Our experience in the field has shown us that when faith-based and civil society organizations are brought together with partners in government agencies and multilateral institutions, they become vastly more effective at saving lives and solving problems. In short, their efforts can be amplified, and this is a truth that Religions for Peace prioritizes in our MRHF-driven initiatives.

For example, in just one week our MRHF-supported project in the Philippines bought thousands of pounds of rice, noodles, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant and scheduled the preparation and delivery of those goods to the wider community. The process of delivering that aid, from beginning to end, was made more efficient, faster, and much wider-reaching by the support given to organizing grassroots and multifaith communities together and encouraging them to pool expertise and resources of all types.

Every day, people around the world find themselves in intense and sudden need, and it is in this space that MRHF operates, plugging holes to keep innocent lives afloat. In many cases, it operates where no one else can. When central authorities lack will or capabilities, MRHF is there to bridge the gap and mobilize robust, faith-driven communities into action for the common good.

It is a paradigm shift to recognize that, in many places, the word of the pastor may mean as much as the word of the president. It is odd to think that, in places far-removed from capital cities, the ivory halls of government are replaced by simple temples and mosques. But it is very much a reality, one that RfP is aware of and utilizes — making MRHF unique, flexible, and successful.

The investment case

Investing in the fund has demonstrated impact. Investments are exponentially more beneficial than support for just one cause or religious community, with their value being two-fold; helping to deliver immediate aid while building bridges between different religious communities that have a lasting effect after the predicating need has passed.

MRHF currently finances 20 projects in 20 countries, but as its impact becomes increasingly evident, more individuals, organizations, and foundations are choosing to invest in the idea that we can accomplish more together than apart.

Recognizing that faith actors are leading a growing effort to do development differently, GHR has worked to resource innovative faith leaders through the Multi-religious Humanitarian Fund. This is part of our long-term commitment to bringing diverse religious leaders, communities, and institutions together in collaboration.

Our investment is driven by the belief that faith leaders are central to effective crisis response and prevention, especially for those most vulnerable. By tapping into the global network of multireligious actors, we are working to address immediate, urgent needs while ensuring long-term preparedness.

Religion will, yet again, outlive this pandemic, and so too will the fund. This unprecedented challenge for humanity has clearly shown us that no community is safe while others are unsafe, and no future global challenge will be solved if we continue to work in silos. The Fund provides a framework for impact in our shared, interconnected future. The only way forward is together.

Learn more about contributing to the fund by clicking here or emailing mrhf@rfp.org.

Devex, with support from our partner GHR Foundation, is exploring the intersection between faith and development. Visit the Focus on: Faith and Development page for more. Disclaimer: The views in this article do not necessarily represent the views of GHR Foundation.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the authors

  • Azza Karam

    Prof. Dr. Azza Karam serves as the secretary general of Religions for Peace — the largest multireligious leadership platform with 90 national and six regional interreligious councils. She also holds a professorship of religion and development at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
  • Amy Rauenhorst Goldman

    Amy Rauenhorst Goldman is CEO and chair of the GHR Foundation, a philanthropy of service to people and their limitless potential for good. Rauenhorst Goldman steers the foundation’s direction with optimism and a background in diplomacy, governance, and investment.