Systematic social development investigated

17 January 2007

ORLANDO, United States — In recent years, Baha'is around the world have been engaged in an increasingly systematic approach to community development through what they regard as "core activities" – classes for children and junior youth, study circles, and devotional meetings.

At the annual Baha'i Conference on Social and Economic Development, participants sought to understand how these core activities also can lead to larger programs of social and economic development.

"Providing spiritual education for children is a fundamental part of social development," said Rebequa Murphy, a Baha'i counselor. Her comments came in a talk titled "The Preservation of Human Honor," explaining how human progress will organically spring from core activities.

Some 685 Baha'is and like-minded individuals from more than 20 countries gathered in Orlando, Florida, for the conference, which had the theme "Addressing the Challenges of a World at Risk."

Held 20 to 23 December 2006, the conference was the 14th such event sponsored by the Rabbani Trust, a Baha'i-inspired foundation.

"This conference is a demonstration of the strong desire on the part of a multitude of Baha'i believers to address the social and material ills of the world, effectively and sustainably as a means of alleviating the suffering of much of the world's population," said Douglas W. Paik, a member of the board of trustees of the Rabbani Trust.

The gathering focused on how individual Baha'is, their communities, and Baha'i-inspired organizations can address the problems faced by humanity.

Ms. Murphy, who is a member of the Baha'i Continental Board of Counselors for the Americas, which plays an international advisory role in Baha'i community development, said the primary development task at this time for Baha'is is to lay the foundation for world unity.

Workshop participant Susan Tower outlines the Heart of Humanity Gardening Game she has used at various events in the Columbus, Ohio, area.SLIDESHOW
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Workshop participant Susan Tower outlines the Heart of Humanity Gardening Game she has used at various events in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

"Baha'u'llah says the well being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established," said Ms. Murphy. "So nothing we do, no amount of money, no amount of research is going to guarantee the security of mankind unless its unity is firmly established. So that's what our job is – to lay the foundation [for development], which is the unity of the world."

William E. Davis, chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States, gave a talk titled "Key Values That Shape a Community for Growth and Development." He said Baha'is should place particular emphasis on work focused on assisting young people.

"No activity is more vital ... than the spiritual education of children and junior youth," said Mr. Davis.

In addition to plenary sessions, the conference featured two days of workshops that focused on specific topics such as racism and its relation to materialism, sustainable development, the importance of service to humanity, and the critical role of education in development.

Also at the conference, a new Baha'i publication titled "In Service to the Common Good" was released.

The 20-page monograph, subtitled "Aligning Development with the Forces of Progress," takes readers through a discussion of why traditional social and economic development projects have fallen short and why recognition of the oneness of humankind will help people act as partners in their own development.