IEF 3rd Annual Conference

Submitted by admin on 25. August 2010 - 15:47
1999 August 15-18
Sidcot, United Kingdom


A Conference on Social and Economic Development and the Environment

(Sidcot, United Kingdom, 15-18 August 1999)

Organized jointly by the
Bahá'í Agency for Social and Economic Development (BASED-UK)
and the
International Environment Forum (IEF)




This Bahá'í Development and Environment Summit, in the beautiful rural setting of Sidcot, brought together 44 participants from 13 countries on 5 continents, as well as Internet connection with an additional 70 "electronic" conference participants in 29 countries, for a total of 114 participants from 38 countries, including 8 in Africa and as far away as Nepal, China and Niue Island. The conference received a number of inputs from electronic participants. These included "Reflections on the Earth Charter: An Earth Charter Update" by Peter Adriance (available as a separate paper), which was requested by the organizers to provide an update on this major theme from the second conference of the International Environment Forum. Other questions and comments came from participants in China and the United States, and were read out in summary form to the meeting. This broad geographic representation, as well as the involvement of specialists in both social and economic development and the environment, was particularly enriching in what was a dense but very stimulating programme.

The conference opened Sunday evening with an introduction to the theme by Geeta Kingdon of the Bahá'í Agency for Social and Economic Development of the United Kingdom (BASED-UK). She asked what was the meaning of Bahá'í social and economic development and the environment, when over the years there had been so many fads and practices for achieving development. Lip service was now paid to broader development objectives than just maximizing GNP, but what strategies could achieve them? Strategies had focused on capital investment, project- or aid-based activities, macroeconomic stability, human development and poverty eradication. What was the role of government intervention, market effectiveness, competition, privatization and corruption? In general, the past and present prescriptions of development practitioners have not worked, and they acknowledge this with a new humility and openness to alternatives. The World Faiths and Development Dialogue organized with the World Bank in February 1998 illustrated this.

The Bahá'í writings do not provide direct technical prescriptions, but spiritual principles. What then are the distinctive aspects of the Bahá approach? How can we bring our experience in achieving participation to development challenges? What are the implications of the recognition that human nature is essentially spiritual? The conference will explore these questions through a combination of theoretical approaches and practical experiences.

Rethinking Social and Economic Development and the Environment

The introductory keynote address on "Rethinking Social and Economic Development and the Environment" was given by Augusto Lopez-Claros, a distinguished economist formerly with the International Monetary Fund, with Sylvia Karlsson of the International Environment Forum (IEF) in the chair. His talk was based in part on a paper available separately, and so will only briefly be summarized here. He highlighted the failures of the present economic system, and indicators like GNP used to judge its success. Rising GNP could be associated with declining human welfare, and a drop in GNP with positive social values. Bahá'ís argue for a broader definition of human well-being, distinguishing growth (a quantitative expansion in the economic system, from development (qualitative changes in the system and the environment). This implied economic approaches that focused less on quantity and more on quality and the welfare of the community that the economic system is meant to serve. GNP growth was good only in the context of social goals like equity, social justice, respect for human rights, environmental protection and the maintenance of natural resources.

How can we develop concepts to build an economic system from these ideas? Governance can be defined as the exercise of political authority in a society and the management of its resources for social and economic development. The quality of governance is a key component of a development strategy. Africa has been left behind because of poor government. How do you measure good governance? Objective, universally accepted criteria are needed. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been accepted by all countries, and captures in its articles all the components of good governance, so it can be used as a conceptual framework for political accountability. Bahá'u'lláh emphasized political accountability in his writings, for instance in the Tablets to the Kings. Governments need to be legitimized through popular choice (elections), respect the rule of law (justice), respect transparency to ensure accountability, and build consensus through consultation.

An article by Jeffrey Sachs in this weeks "Economist" demonstrates that good governance is not enough. The poor countries are in the tropics, a different ecological zone from the rich countries of temperate areas. The tropics have a dramatically different climate, with greater variability, more pests, and poor health conditions. Today's prosperity rests on modern science, and the gap in scientific output between rich and poor is even greater than the gap in income. The technological capacity of industrialized countries does not address major problems like malaria and low food productivity in the tropics because there is no market among the poor.

The challenge for a Bahá'í economics is to address both the material and spiritual natures of humankind, recognizing that our purpose is to acquire virtues. Where economics starts with present society and asks how we can maintain and increase it, the Bahá'í approach is to start with a vision of what human beings can be, and to ask what institutions and principles can lead us to that objective. This is a very pragmatic approach, but diametrically opposed to that of present economics, which seems to want to crucify humanity for the benefit of the economic system. Bahá'u'lláh teaches that the material world is an analogy for the spiritual world. We need to achieve spiritual progress not in a vacuum, but in the context of our family, our work and the marketplace.

In the discussion, issues were raised about how much more time was required to achieve good governance through consultation, when politics interferes with long-term strategies. It was noted that an international government was needed to be responsible for international public goods. With respect to the present tension between universal values and particular cultures or values, Bahá'u'lláh provided the standard for universal principles, on which we should be uncompromising. The difficulties of African governments in the face of international community pressures was described. The long-term solution would come with the world management of resources with just redistribution. In the short term, the unfairness of the present system was not going to change, but the quality and honesty of government could still make a difference, as a comparison between poor countries today would show.

The evening concluded with music by Judy Rafat and Petra Held from Germany, whose songs on most appropriate themes, including women and Agenda 21, enlivened several sessions of the conference.


The first full day of the conference emphasized social and economic development themes through presentations and discussions, workshops, and sharing of experiences with development projects around the world.

Guidance from the Universal House of Justice on Social and Economic Development

The first presentation was on "Guidance from the Universal House of Justice on Social and Economic Development" by Hasan Sabri, former head of the Office of Social and Economic Development at the Bahá'í World Centre, who summarized his 16 years experience with the issue.

The Universal House of Justice, the international governing body for the Bahá'í community, in its message of 20 October 1983, announced the establishment of the Office of Social and Economic Development, and provided guidance for the first ten years of Bahá'í social and economic development activity, supplemented by a new message in 1993. The message said that there are new horizons and the time was ripe for Bahá'ís to be involved in social and economic development (SED) work. The purpose of religion is to order all aspects of human life: spiritual, social and economic. Bahá'u'lláh desired the good of the world and the happiness of its peoples. There is a dynamic coherence of the spiritual and practical aspects of life. Everything that is not action is dead. The Mashriqu'l-Asqar, for example, is the spiritual centre of the Bahá'í community, but it is surrounded by dependencies for humanitarian, educational and scientific purposes.

'Abdu'l-Bahá applied this concept to society. He said in 1912 in Alexandria that every nation has days that are set aside as holidays and holy days - days on which commerce and work are not allowed. These days are to foster national unity. Such days should not be dedicated to mere pleasure without results. During such days philanthropic institutions should be founded that become noted for that feast day. For instance, if the community needs to improve morality, institutions should be founded that would improve the morality of the people. If the need is commerce, then appropriate foundations should be formed.

The Universal House of Justice called for the incorporation of development in daily pursuits, starting in the Bahá'í community itself, with the application of spiritual principles. Rectitude of conduct and exercise of the art of consultation is the basis for all Bahá'í endeavours. They allow us to uplift ourselves and become self-sufficient, which is the basis for human honour.

In a message in 1974 initiating the Five Year Plan, the Universal House of Justice wanted the friends to understand the station of the Local Spiritual Assembly (LSA). It said that the LSA was at the heart of the spiritual, social, educational and intellectual life of the community. It provided the pattern for future society as a whole.

When we talk about development, we are talking not about material progress, but the definite change that has to take place. We have to have the wisdom to recognise that today's assumptions are not applicable, and we must find new assumptions based on Divine law.

Bahá’u’lláh says that the object of every revelation is to bring a transformation of the inner and outer character of man, turning base metal or copper into gold. This is what is meant by a new creation. Bahá'u'lláh's civilization is for the whole world, based on justice, equity, understanding, harmony and unity.

'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote The Secret of Divine Civilisation in 1875 when he was 31 years old, providing divine guidance to the people and to the nations. When you read it, you realise that this guidance is relevant for today just as it was in 1875.

The nations cannot afford to remain divided. They must accept the concept that we are like one human body. If the rich nations do not export their wealth to the poor countries, the poor countries will be very happy to export their poverty to the rich world - and they are already doing it!

In its statement "The Promise of World Peace" in 1985, the Universal House of Justice offered the experience of the Bahá'í community to others, and invited them to come and learn from it. The guidance of Bahá’u’lláh is not just for Bahá’ís but for the entire human race.

The 1983 message called on Bahá'í communities to devise and implement plans for social and economic development within the constraints of existing resources. To serve is a sacred duty for every Bahá'í, and serving our fellow man is service to God. Charity is not development. In trying to reconcile Bahá'u'lláh's statements not to give to beggars, but to see the poor as God's trust amongst us, the solution is to help people to help themselves, e.g. teach them how to earn a living. To give a poor person fish is charity but to teach him how to fish is development.

There is a strong connection between worship and service. Work rendered in the spirit of service is worship. In Arabic the word service and the word worship have the same root. We can be worshipping 24 hours a day because we are serving. Many forms of service are needed. If each one works in a spirit of service, this should produce people who are different.

Progress does not come from the imposition of plans and programmes, but from the grassroots. We should be responding to the needs of the people. We can encourage them to think, and to decide for themselves what they need. Most villagers have never been asked. Before people become Bahá'ís, they are not faced with having to make choices in the way that they are when they sit on a LSA. When we do something not for our own reasons but for the sake of God, then it is sustainable. I have been to many communities in different countries. These communities were very different in so many ways - culture, attitude, language, etc., but I wouldn’t say that some were more developed than others. They all applied the same spiritual principles in an uncompromising way. The methods of application were different, and this is part of unity in diversity.

It is not easy to apply spiritual principles. We are still trying to decide how to teach the Faith, and we must also learn how to develop, with humility and sacrifice, in the interests of the whole.

There are a number of dimensions for Bahá'í community action on social and economic development (SED). These include:

- General education of the Bahá'í community in the principles of SED.
- Engaging communities all over the world in SED. The countries least prepared are undertaking SED because they need it. Developed countries are not doing it, but they should because they also need it.
- Building the capacity of Bahá'í projects. The youth year of service shows their worth and gives them tremendous capacity which they can use back in their own communities.
- Strengthening our institutional capacity in SED by training able practitioners (not professionals). All must serve. We should train people to train others.
- Systematisation of learning through campaigns such as literacy, primary health care, etc.
- Building the SED capacity of the Bahá'í world community to gain credibility and earn respect in developing countries. This requires a change in attitude among Bahá'ís in the west
- Learning how to integrate radio, institutes and projects together.
- Undertaking a greater number of systematic efforts. For instance, agricultural development is emphasised by Bahá'u'lláh and yet there is little at present by way of micro-enterprises and agricultural development.
- Preparing materials in various formats for Bahá'í communities.

A number of questions were asked of Mr. Sabri after his talk.

Some concerned the tension perceived by some Bahá'ís between their involvement in SED on the one hand and teaching the Bahá'í Faith on the other. Mr. Sabri replied that we do not teach the Faith through SED. Development is service, not with the intention to convert people to the Faith. Bahá'u'lláh said to serve all the people of the world; He didn’t say serve the Bahá'ís. Through our involvement in SED, we show another behaviour, and people will ask why. Then we can say it is because of the Bahá'í Faith. If we involve ourself in SED work, we don’t supplant our teaching activities. They must continue. Teaching the Faith remains the primary responsibility of all Bahá'ís. SED work is not an addendum to our teaching work but is integral to it. The 1983 message says that involvement in SED will ensure the consolidation of the Bahá'í community. Our SED work will reinforce our teaching work and manifest our Faith in action.

Another questioner referred to the statement that development is relevant to all countries, but asked if the focus of present development work should not be on schools, the attainment of basic literacy and the provision of minimal infrastructure in the poor countries. Mr. Sabri replied that economically developed countries need development also because their society is collapsing and they have their own set of problems: breakdown of marriage and the family, racism, substance abuse, lack of morality, lack of equality of men and women, inequity in the distribution of wealth, even some illiteracy.

In response to a comment on the high level of depression in the West and the fact that the elderly were cut off from the community, Mr Sabri noted that we are assured that things will be better. We are acting to achieve that, and can involve everybody.

A concern was expressed for the many people who are in hunger and poverty in Africa. Mr. Sabri said that the local sense of community responsibility in Africa does not allow anybody to be hungry when food is available.

A final question noted that there are many organisations in the world that are trying to work for development and to alleviate suffering. What is the motivation behind Bahá'í SED work? How is the Bahá'í approach to SED different? In response, Mr. Sabri said that we understand the nature of the human being as being noble and spiritual, and we work for the development of that in the individual. This is not a quick fix, but something to hang on to. The president of the World Bank admitted in 1984 that bank projects failed because they did not consider the needs of the people, only the advice of governments who thought they knew better than the people. We start with the needs of the people, and involve them in their own development work. The stirrings must be at the grass-roots, with people deciding what they need through their Local Spiritual Assemblies. We have a network of 40000 LSAs. The key to our approach is to put the spiritual before the material. Present development is a lamp that is not lit. Spiritual progress will give the lamp its light. At the moment we have tremendous material progress but are these well-off societies happy? No. Guidance for man to live on this planet has to be in accordance with the teachings of God. Agenda 21 is lacking because it doesn't have a spiritual focus. Bahá'ís can bring that focus to the work on Agenda 21.

Applying Bahá'í Principles in Education in Latin America

This paper on "Applying Bahá'í Principles in Education in Latin America" presented by Michael Richards is available in written form, so it will only be summarized here.

Mr. Richards started by giving a new definition of development: cultivation of the limitless potentialities inherent within the human being. He described the System of Tutorial Learning (SAT), which has been developed in Colombia by FUNDAEC: Foundation for the application and teaching of the Sciences, and is now being implemented by the Bayan Association for Indigenous Social and Economic Development in northern Honduras and supported by the Bahá'í Agency for Social and Economic Development (BASED-UK).

Some Bahá'ís in Colombia noticed that development projects were creating dependence, making the beneficiaries more dependent on outside aid. The projects were making the people poorer rather than richer. There was high drop out from primary school. There were problems with rote learning, and with urban bias - tending to look down on rural living. Conventional development projects tend to have very little participation of people in their own development. Farzam Arbab said that it could be claimed that people are in-charge of their own development only if they are learning systematically about changes that occurred in their society, and were consciously incorporating in their continuous learning process appropriate elements from the universe of knowledge .

The SAT project is a non-formal system of education, taking place at times that are convenient for students, e.g. evenings, and with no school uniform, etc. There are local tutors. It is a 6-year education programme, with three levels, each of two years. Important features of the SAT programme are: service to the community, eg. each student has to take part in service projects such as adopting 5 families and doing literacy work with them; integrated learning - so the same learning module say on running a chicken farm will involve learning about science, commerce, and maths. There is a micro-enterprise component and an agricultural component.

In FUNDAEC they have gone right through the educational process, including not only the secondary education course but also a bachelors and a masters course, and now a PhD course. There are 35,000 people currently studying through the SAT system. All costs are now paid by the Colombian government, not from abroad. The only costs that are met from outside are particular micro-enterprise projects, etc. The SAT project model is now being replicated in several Latin and Central American countries such as Costa Rica, Honduras, Belize, and Nicaragua.

The Bayan-SAT project in Honduras was initiated by the Bayan Foundation, founded in 1986 when two Bahá'í families pioneered to the most remote part of Northern Honduras. The men were medical doctors. There were no medical facilities in this area, so they set up a hospital as a service project. Soon it was realised that this area needed secondary schooling as there was no government provision of this level of education in such a remote area. It was decided that the SAT non-formal education system was the right answer and this project has now been initiated there.

Some of the problems faced by the SAT project are:
- Occupation structure of the population in the region: the men are away deep-sea fishing, so 80% of the SAT students are women.
- The Moravian church is opposed to the SAT project.
- It is difficult to retain staff brought in from the outside, such as an agronomist.
- The communities are dispersed so that communication and movement between tutors and coordinators is difficult.
- People’s perceptions of what schooling is are different; they associate it with wearing a uniform and attending school from 9 to 4.
- There has been a high level of drop-outs.

However, some of the successes have been:
- The Honduran government has formally recognised the SAT curriculum and will grant a diploma to graduates of SAT equivalent to the secondary school diploma. This has lent great credibility to the project.
- The government has said that at some stage it would be interested in funding the project and in extending it to other parts of Honduras.

An appeal was made for funds for this project, which is presently funded half by the UK government’s department for International Development and half by the UK Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly. It would be desirable to replace the latter by funds raised from elsewhere.

The exciting thing is that the SAT development model is being replicated in many countries and there is a sharing of experiences through a continuous learning process. The SAT approach needs to be adapted to the particular circumstances of each country. Some countries are further along that process of adaptation than others.

Governance in the 21st Century: Theory and Practice

Augusto Lopez-Claros presented a second paper on "Governance in the 21st Century: Theory and Practice", based in part on his written paper available separately.

Crises like Rwanda and Kosovo, global environmental problems, human rights abuses and the economic problems in Indonesia, Thailand, Russia and Brazil really should not be happening at the end of the 20th century. They create a gap in our self-image as peaceful, cooperative and hard-working. The crisis of our age is whether we should do anything about them. Should we try to take preventive measures? There is a sense of impotence among leaders. We can do nothing to prevent such crises because of the inadequate institutional arrangements in place. We are all interdependent and globalized, so the next crisis could affect us. This nearly happened with the crisis in Russia, but a few countries intervened in time. This may not be possible the next time.

We need to introduce reforms in the system. There is a widening gap between our interdependent world and the institutional structures to support it. The present international institutions do not have the jurisdiction, resources and expertise, and cannot cope. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was limited to the requirements of 1945, and its resources were suited to 1945. They are now ten times smaller that 1945 in relation to the world economy. We must reshape the skeleton of world order before it is overwhelmed, which could be costly in human terms.

Let us assume that the three recommendations of the BIC statement "Turning Point of All Nations" were adopted in 1995. (i) The Security Council is made representative, giving all nations a voice, perhaps through clusters of countries. (ii) The veto is done away with or its use curtailed. (iii) An international force is created to implement Security Council decisions. If we replay the Kosovo crisis, what would have happened? The signs of ethnic cleansing would have been brought to the Security Council and debated, and the vote would have been for intervention (there are higher principles to be defended than national sovereignty; we cannot stand indifferent before injustice). The decision would have had more credibility, and the worst destruction would have been avoided.

Is this utopian? It ignores "real world" politics, but we must say enough is enough. Today idealists are becoming the new realists.

A recent author has asked if major war is obsolete. There has been a dramatic increase in the price of war and a decline in its benefits. Before war destroyed huts and killed people with a short life expectancy. Now there is enormous infrastructure to rebuild, and we lose a much greater human contribution to GNP. There is no more loot, glory or honour; we can make more money in business.

Today there is grotesque income inequality in the world. The three wealthiest people have wealth greater than the GNP of the 700 million people in the 42 poorest countries. If the 200 richest people contributed 1% of their income they could pay for all of the world's primary education.

The presentation by Mr. Lopez-Claros provided the introduction to a set of workshops after lunch on governance, with discussion centred around three issues:

- The role of culture in development: what should be the balance between cultural differences and the universal value system (Declaration of Human Rights; Bahá'í principles)? should we be tolerant or try to change? should we be sensitive to ruler's preferences? are there dangers to over-centralization?

- 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in the Secret of Divine Civilization, says that true civilization will unfurl its banner when a few high-minded sovereigns champion the cause of universal peace, establish a union of nations with a binding treaty, and obtain the sanction of the entire human race. What is this vision of the future? Is it valid to say that the scenario depends on a few heads of state? What is our role?

- Is war really obsolete? Are their wars worth fighting? Should we shed the blood of another human being? When is the use of force justified?

All three workshops led to a rich exchange of views too difficult to summarize here.


The next sessions allowed a number of participants to share their experiences with practical development activities in the field, some of which are described below.

Laurence de Closets (France) described a campaign for the advancement of women in Africa, focusing on the equality of men and women. If we do not let women attain their full potential we will not bring about development. The approach developed in India and the Middle East is being tested in Côte d’Ivoire. The campaign involves men as well as women ( will not attain their greatest potential...). One exercise was to ask the men to talk about all the activities their wives do in one day. The campaign not only empowers women but also strengthens the family as well. There are eight modules, one per day, with drama, music, role playing, lots of exercises and using the powerful creative word of God. The women realised that part of their spiritual mission was to develop themselves in other fields as well such as literacy, health, etc. Everything has to go together; application of the spiritual principles has to go together with other issues. Unless you build up self confidence and apply consultation, etc., literacy will not work. The campaign is under the authority of the Local Spiritual Assembly of each village. First they strengthen the Local Spiritual Assembly.

The EcoAg Service and its agricultural apprenticeship programme was described by Nancy McIntyre (USA). In the Tablet of the World, Bahá'u'lláh gives five principles conducive to the reconstruction of the world, including that special regard must be placed on agriculture. The EcoAg program aims to help Bahá'í youth to pay special regard to agriculture. Youth are sent out to the farms to apprentice for some time. Since apprentices have some difficulties in the process, they are given an orientation in the Bahá'í writings to motivate them and to guide them on how to overcome difficulties. They learn the principles of the community development process and the importance of agriculture.

Gunnar Lange-Nielsen (Norway) described the partnership between the Baha'i communities of India and Norway in support of the New Era Development Institute (NEDI). 80% of the support comes from NORAD. The starting point was the sharing of objectives at the same moment in time between motivated local Bahá'í communities in villages, the NEDI training centre, and the interest of the Norwegian Bahá'ís at the time to support pilot projects. The development programme has gone through four phases and is now becoming sustainable. The first project (1989-92) was for Community Development Facilitators (CDF), the agent of change facilitators trained at NEDI. The focus of the project was to build up human resources in the field of community development. After the training they would go back and serve in their local communities. The second phase (1992-95) was for a Community Development Network (CODENET). Twelve regions were chosen where there was a network of Bahá'í institutions, involving 320 villages. There was a mushroom effect in the local communities. The Lotus project (1996-99) has tried to create more regional capacity and to establish regional learning processes in four key areas through the decentralisation of NEDI. The next phase (2000-01) aims for programme sustainability. It includes collaboration on educational development and teacher training, including aspects such as pre-school, peace education and environment.

The presentation by Gisle Grimeland (Norway) on child education is available as a separate paper "Hands on Nature". Children have a spontaneous and natural need for knowledge, and to build concepts. Their experiences through the senses are the first steps to learning. When children learn through their experience with nature these skills can assist them to understand words and help solve their problems in reading and writing. A healthy and secure child is inquisitive, and will investigate details, build concepts and learn relationships. Children learn through play in the environment and exploring nature. The aim of the program is to assist children through the exploration of nature to appreciate the environment. These approaches were tried out in India at the NEDI institute. The children wrote letters back which showed what they discovered and gave birth to new thoughts. These experiences are critical to teaching about proper environmental practices and the other elements of holistic natural living. When children are able to explore the natural environment and to draw and write about their experiences, they are able to respond and develop concepts. As teachers we need to bring children closer to nature to understand how it works.

Richard Hainsworth (Russia) shared Russian experiences with social and economic development. Projects there have started through individual initiatives. Three have received support from the Baha’i World Centre. The first is a moral education programme started by William Hatcher. Using his book "Love, Power and Spirituality", universities are giving courses on authentic relationships aimed at young people to teach them about moral decision-making. Another project is a set of books on moral education, using writings and works of art from different religions, which draw parallels of how people are spiritually connected. Training seminars have been set up to teach teachers to use this material. The Happy Hippo Show has brought the teachings into a talk show format, with small plays on social issues that are halted in the middle, while the audience is asked what should happen next. A year was spent training facilitators for such programmes, and an NGO has now been established to expand the work. Another project just beginning focuses on preserving ancient arts and encouraging transcultural art, with a foundation being created to exchange experiences and to provide a place for young artists.

Kazim Samandari (France) described and showed a video about a project under the Royaumont Process which promotes stability and good-neighbourliness in South-Eastern Europe by promoting positive messages through the media. The Royaumont Process aims to build up civic structures and establish effective channels of communication across national boundaries at bilateral and multi-lateral levels. It calls for the re-establishment of regional and trans-border cooperation and dialogue in the fields of education, culture, religion, science, technology, and sports between the diverse groups of civil society. The Dayton peace agreement signed in Royaumont after the end of the war in Bosnia in 1995 sought non-military solutions to problems. For two years nothing happened. Luxembourg took over the Presidency of the European Union and the Ambassador was asked to come up with some proposals. The Bahá'ís searched for proposals for how this was to be done, and Shamil Fattakhov, a Russian Bahá'í who is a television journalist, and who had already developed a concept called the Happy Hippo show, suggested it for the Bosnia situation. The delegates were shown a video of the show, which demonstrates how positive messages of tolerance, understanding and cooperation were conveyed through the media using drama and participative methods. The four principles on which the Happy Hippo show is based are: (1) understanding that positive solutions are indeed possible; (2) searching to define a highest moral principle involved; (3) focusing on practical ways to solve problems; (4) leading the audience through a shared experience of different cultures and points of view. Through the project, the concept has now been spread to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Yugoslavia, the FYR of Macedonia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Russia, Turkey, USA as well as the EU member countries. It is funded by the Luxembourg government and is a project of the Bahá'í International Community. For further information contact the Office of Public Information of the Bahá'í International Community, 45 Rue Pergolese, 75116 Paris, France, tel +33 1 45017838, fax +33 1 40671502, e-mail


The second full day of the conference included a full programme on environmental themes, plus a parallel session on social and economic development while the members of the International Environment Forum were meeting in their General Assembly.

Living within Environmental Limits: Implications for Baha’i Principles for Sustainable Development

The first presentation by Arthur Dahl on "Living within Environmental Limits: Implications for Baha’i Principles for Sustainable Development" is available as a separate paper. It summarized the Bahá'í approach to sustainable development, and then explored the environmental limits to development. It analyzed what was unsustainable in present society, and explored some of the Bahá'í alternatives. Finally it suggested some of the implications for development projects.

In the discussion period, questions were raised about genetically modified foods, empowering local people to counter global processes, reducing over-consumption, and the lack of private motivation to fund research and the need for international arrangements in this area. With respect to genetic engineering, Dr. Dahl responded that most development in this field is in the private sector and therefore driven by the market. Agricultural multi-nationals are reducing biological diversity in the interests of profitability. We are caught between wide-ranging technology possibilities and institutional/market forces that determine how technology is used, with the primary motivation to generate profits rather than to be of service to society. There are great risks from new, unproven technologies that we do not yet master. There are also important moral issues arising from companies buying up traditional intellectual knowledge and patenting genes. The great social and moral issues arise from the fact that present institutional structures are unable to respond to larger social needs. On empowering local people, he suggested that the answer is in making science and technology accessible to everyone. We need to look at science in new and different ways.

Building Environmental Awareness in Bahá'í Communities

The next talk by Irma Allen on "Building Environmental Awareness in Bahá'í Communities" launched the theme of environmental education that was continued in workshop sessions. She reviewed the environmental crisis the world is in, and noted that Bahá'ís do not realize how serious things are. Environmental education is a process to help people acquire skills, attitudes and values for a better environment. Why not start in Bahá'í communities, build a framework for action based on Bahá'í ideals, picture where we are now and where we want to be, and draw up a strategy. To do this, we should (1) have a common vision, (2) identify resources, (3) ensure participation, and (4) use a rational and systematic approach. To be successful we need to follow simple steps, not just grandiose plans.

Dr. Allen launched the general discussion with the following questions. Do you think that building environmental awareness and developing environmental education materials is a feasible thing for Bahá'í communities to do? What do we need to do an environmental assessment? What would you look at? The responses suggested we should find out people’s perceptions about the environment, and who is most interested in working on environmental issues. Individuals may already be making efforts to lead a more ecological lifestyle, e.g. riding a bicycle to work, recycling, etc. Focus groups could be set up on practical issues. It was pointed out that "environment" means many things to many people. Thus we need to have a comprehensive understanding of environment. There is an important distinction between environmental actions by adults and environmental education for children. The key is to generate love for the environment, especially in children. The problem is that very few Bahá'ís seem to link environmental issues to their religious "duties". It was suggested that we should be more activist, and not just sit around and talk about it. The ecological crisis results from the lack of unity in the world; we need to become points of unity. We should put all Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings into practice, and tell people about Bahá’u’lláh.

One participant questioned the 'everything is spiritual' approach, suggesting that we need to specifically analyze each problem, and work out the best response. Otherwise our response is likely to be ambiguous. In response it was suggested that the two approaches come together if we can learn to see the spiritual in the material. We need to integrate our thinking, and be inclusive, reaching out to work with everyone. We should look not just at Bahá'í actions, but study more what the outside world is doing, e.g. Agenda 21 implementation.

Workshops on development of environmental education materials

After the general discussion, three workshop groups were formed to make suggestions on the development of environmental education materials for children and youth, adults, and the international community. The groups then reported their results back to the plenary.

The workshop on children and youth noted that in Norway, a handbook in English for teachers at primary and secondary level integrating environmental issues in the curriculum has been developed, and is available on a web site. There is a need to build awareness in children’s and youth classes, linking the Bahá'í Writings with environmental issues. Exercises and materials should be developed for children and youth on the application of environmental teachings in their own lives, family and community. Some ideas were suggested for children to get involved in environment: get involved in Agenda 21; service projects for youth in environment; children’s classes (nature trips); get involved in World Citizenship project; Bahá'í literacy campaign.

The workshop on materials for adults asked who needs to be targeted? consumers, businessmen, etc. Good materials exist in some areas, such as fair trade. It discussed what kind of settings or forums we can get involved in, e.g. consumer umbrella forums, Agenda 21, and the Earth Charter.

The workshop that considered materials for the international community looked at the model of human rights education being developed by the Bahá'í International Community with national and local communities, including strengthened external relations with governments in such areas as health, environment, education and women. We should support these initiatives. Tools such as environmental audits and impact assessments can help to educate people on environmental issues and change their behaviour. The 'ecological footprint' approach (see last year's conference) can help people to become aware of the environmental consequences of their consumption patterns. The International Environment Forum (IEF) can serve as focal point to develop and distribute materials internationally. Case studies of Bahá'í projects that bring out the interconnectedness between spiritual principles and development would be useful to give practical guidance. These should be written in a professional but accessible way for aid agencies and policy makers. This needs prior research on Bahá'í environmental projects.

IEF General Assembly

In the afternoon, the International Environment Forum held its third General Assembly (see separate report), while a parallel session was organized on social and economic development.

Case Study in Social and Economic Development at the Local Level: Pershore Baha’i Community, UK
Education of Women and Socio-Economic Development

In the parallel afternoon session, two papers were presented. The first was a "Case Study in Social and Economic Development at the Local Level: Pershore Baha’i Community, UK", by Adam and Lindsay Thorne, and the second was on "Education of Women and Socio-Economic Development" by Geeta Kingdon. Both are available as separate papers and are not summarized here.

Community-based Environmental Management: Empowering People with Environmental Understanding

In the evening, Arthur Dahl gave a second paper on "Community-based Environmental Management: Empowering People with Environmental Understanding" illustrated with slides drawn from educational materials which he used for this purpose in the South Pacific. The paper, which is available separately, discusses and illustrates ways to make the science which is necessary for environmental management more accessible to people everywhere.


The final morning of the conference included two paper presentations and closing forum and panel discussion.

Stirring-Up the Grassroots: Investigation for Community Development

The paper by Lesley Casely-Hayford (Ghana) on "Stirring-Up the Grassroots: Investigation for Community Development" is available separately. It described how local Bahá'í communities at the grassroots can learn to apply Bahá'í principles to achieve a higher level of development, using the case of two villages in Ghana. The cases showed the importance of spiritual development preceding the material, the value of consultation, the significance of rectitude of conduct.

Influencing Processes towards World Peace: The External Affairs Aspects of SED and Environmental Activities

The written text of Barney Leith (UK) on "Influencing Processes towards World Peace: The External Affairs Aspects of SED and Environmental Activities" is available separately. He described the important role of the Bahá'ís in moral leadership and in providing concepts for the advancement of civilization. External affairs and social and economic development activities reinforce each other, and increase the credibility of the community. The networks of contacts that are built through practical activities are very important for external relations as well.

In the discussion, it was noted that external affairs required adapting examples to the interests of the listeners. Moral development and citizenship are presently topics of great interest in the UK, and Bahá'ís have much to contribute. Involvement in local Agenda 21 initiatives is a good way to engage with civil society and local governments.

Closing Forum and Panel Discussion

The final session consisted of general discussion with a panel consisting of Arthur Dahl, Geeta Kingdon and Samantha Reynolds, chaired by Sylvia Karlsson. Questions that were asked included: Should we be involved in the spiritual processes, or more immediately in building the lesser peace? What can individual Bahá'ís do outside of organizations like IEF and BASED? What can IEF and BASED do? How do we involve men in womens' issues? Should we be organizing south-to-north assistance, instead of north-to-south? What can individuals do in their own local circumstances, and what can BASED and IEF do to support the efforts of the individual? Some contributions from electronic participants were also read.

In the limited time available, both the panel and the audience responded largely to the last two questions, while trying to cover some of the others as well. On what individuals can do, it was suggested that by living a Bahá'í life, we end up in social and economic development without noticing it. We have to understand our Faith at a deeper level, and do things in our local communities, getting to know our neighbours, having firesides, organizing our own local projects, etc. It is not what we decide, but how we decide that is important. People do not know what social development and economic development are, or that they are not only for the developing countries; we have to educate them. We should give the Bahá'í teaching so that they can be applied to social issues. Each individual can work to apply the teachings in their own professional field. Youth can learn through their year of service.

On the role of organizations like BASED and IEF, it was proposed that they match functions and needs, and help to focus on priorities, since we cannot do everything. They could give seminars and training courses on Bahá'í teachings that may have outside applications, like the Huququ'llah as a new form of voluntary taxation. They can write materials, and prepare proposals for occasions like the Millennium General Assembly in 2000. They can collect materials or videos that show the Bahá'í community as a viable example, and a possible model for the future. They can also help showing others how to think in terms of process, as explained in "The Prosperity of Humankind". We need literature in secular words, conceptualizing the world in terms of systems theory and process, and making people aware of social and environmental linkages. Scientific approaches will help us. We already have materials available on the web. We can offer organization, provide a window, give case studies and illustrative examples.

The conference closed with some final remarks from Hasan Sabri, who noted what a fruitful and useful conference it had been in every sense. Next year it might be good to have fewer topics, to allow time to go more deeply into each of them. He expressed gratitude to BASED and IEF for their collaboration. We should promote the revelation of God for this day, and build the kingdom of God. Development comes from service. We do not need to define development, but should move with the spirit of faith, and with the collaboration of all the institutions, to achieve the prosperity of humankind.

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International Environment Forum - Updated 18 October 1999