Baha'is play big role at UN conference

March 3, 2005

UNITED NATIONS, United States — Baha'is played prominent roles last month at the 10-year review of the ground-breaking World Summit for Social Development.

Baha'i International Community representative Bahiyyih Chaffers chaired one of the main panel discussions at the one-day Civil Society Forum held 8 February 2005 in association with the review, which ran from 9-18 February.

On 10 February, Haleh Arbab Correa, representing a Baha'i-inspired development organization, participated in a high-level panel on "Promoting Full Employment," sitting side by side with ministers and ambassadors from more than 20 countries. Dr. Arbab Correa was one of five civil society representatives invited to participate on the panel.

In 1995 more than 250 Baha'is from some 40 countries joined 5,500 delegates of non-governmental organizations at the World Summit for Social Development, reflecting the worldwide Baha'i community's concern about the global social issues addressed by the Summit, which was held in Copenhagen in 1995.

Known sometimes simply as the Social Summit, it was one of a series of ground-breaking United Nations global conferences in the 1990s that set an international consensus on post-Cold War issues concerning sustainable development, human rights, and the advancement of women. The Summit called for a more compassionate and people-centered approach to development.

The 10-year review was conducted under the auspices of the UN Commission on Social Development. Government delegates to the meeting focused on discussing whether the goals of the 1995 meeting had been met -- or whether they had been displaced by other concerns, such as terrorism and global security issues.

Baha'i International Community representative Bahiyyih Chaffers chaired a discussion at the civil society forum held in conjunction with the UN review of the Copenhagen Social Summit. Slideshow
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Baha'i International Community representative Bahiyyih Chaffers chaired a discussion at the civil society forum held in conjunction with the UN review of the Copenhagen Social Summit.

The two Baha'i delegates were among more than 150 NGO representatives gathered at the Civil Society Forum. Ms. Chaffers chaired a morning discussion on "Why Copenhagen Matters for the Millennium Development Goals." Those goals commit the international community to an expanded vision of development, one that vigorously promotes human development as the key to sustaining social and economic progress in all countries, and recognizes the importance of creating a global partnership for development.

A member of the executive committee of the NGO Committee on Social Development, Ms. Chaffers set the tone for the discussion by stressing that the "age-old dream of global peace" cannot be established without "a galvanizing vision of global prosperity" marked by the "material and spiritual well-being" of all the world's inhabitants.

Dr. Arbab Correa also brought up the importance of taking into consideration humanity's spiritual reality in her comments at the high-level panel on employment.

Dr. Arbab Correa represented FUNDAEC, a Baha'i-inspired, nonprofit, non-governmental organization with 30 years of experience in rural Colombia. (Its name is a Spanish acronym for "The Foundation for the Application and Teaching of the Sciences.")

Saying that education was the key to promoting full employment, she emphasized the importance of training young people with the skills and capabilities they will need to create a better world.

"As a Baha'i-inspired institution, we emphasize the importance of spiritual and moral values," said Dr. Arbab Correa. "Our program focuses on the spiritual, intellectual, and social aspects of the human being."

She said also that a key motivating factor in such training is to focus on the importance of service to humanity, more than merely self-enrichment.

"If we want to train human beings to participate in the construction of a better world, it is important to emphasize the service aspect," she said.

Dr. Arbab Correa also participated in a side event about international success stories in the fight against poverty where she presented the experience of FUNDAEC.

"People should not be looked at as problems," said Dr. Arbab Correa, who is rector at FUNDAEC's University Center for Rural Well-being.

"People are resources. Development requires participation. People can take charge of their own development with proper education."

Too often, added Dr. Arbab Correa, people are viewed as consumers, simply part of the market. But society is not a jungle, and development programs should aim at cooperation instead of competition.

"Human beings have a noble, spiritual aspect," she said. "The role of education and development is to bring out those potentialities."