Seeing capacity for meaningful contribution in all populations

February 12, 2017

BIC NEW YORK, United States — It is vital for aid agencies to see the populations they work with as protagonists of their own advancement. This message formed part of the opening address of a representative of the Baha'i International Community at a recent conference on social development at the United Nations.

"Relationships of mutual support and assistance will increasingly be seen as our greatest source of strength," said Daniel Perell, BIC representative and NGO Committee for Social Development chairperson, in his opening remarks on 1 February 2017 at the 55th UN Commission for Social Development, held this month in New York.

"Whether wealthy or poor, rural or urban, a doctorate or illiterate, we all depend on each other, and we all have much to learn about a functioning society," Mr. Perell continued.

The idea that all populations have the capacity to contribute to their own development was one of the central themes of a statement shared by the BIC at the UN Commission.

The statement notes that while international aid organizations increasingly acknowledge the "agency of low-income communities," the people in them are "rarely embraced as capable and equal partners in a collaborative enterprise."

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The BIC delegation to the 55th Commission for Social Development. Left to right: Aaron Dahm, Yasmin Roshanian, Eric Farr, Rodrigo Lemus, Bita Correa, Mark Scheffer, Nava Kavelin, Arash Fazli, Saphira Rameshfar, Daniel Perell, and Serik Tokbolat.

It is "vital for the United Nations system to develop its ability to see capacity and strength in populations that, at times, may have been given labels such as 'marginalized,'" reads the statement.

Bita Correa, a member of the BIC's delegation to the Commission, noted in particular the role that youth can play in building communities when their contributions are supported and encouraged.

Ms. Correa shared the example of the work of FUNDAEC (Fundacion para la Aplicacion y Ensenanza de las Ciencias), a Baha'i-inspired agency in Colombia.

In her remarks on 3 February at an event hosted by the BIC on the topic "Rising Generations: Youth as Drivers of Prospering Communities," Ms. Correa told the story of a group of young people on the north coast of Colombia who undertook a service project to promote better practices in garbage and waste disposal-an effort that ended up transforming the habits of their entire community.

These youth had been engaged in a study program that emphasized their own agency, stressed the importance of learning together, and encouraged projects of service to the whole community. They decided to focus on environmental issues, and over a period of six months, they analyzed the patterns of consumption in the community, identifying specific measures they could take to address the issue. Ultimately, said Ms. Correa, this lead to the community re-organizing its entire approach to the matter, thanks to the initiative and example of young people.

"One thing we have observed in the various programs that are being offered by the Baha'i community worldwide has been the willingness and energy with which youth have engaged when given the chance," she said. "They want to participate. They want to see that their actions actually have an impact."