IEF Approach to Social Action
The International Environment Forum is a Baha'i-inspired professional organization addressing the environment and sustainability, with international membership in over 75 countries. It focuses its work on participation in the discourse on the environment with the aim of offering perspectives arising from the Bahá’í teachings and the experience of the community; and collaborating with organizations and individuals involved in this area of endeavour who are like-minded and open to such perspectives. At the same time, it encourages its members and associates to engage in social action at the local level and supports them in their efforts by providing them with relevant information and a network of like-minded people.
The IEF recognizes the “centrality of knowledge to social existence,” as explained in the Ridván Message 2010 of the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá’í Faith:
The perpetuation of ignorance is a most grievous form of oppression; it reinforces the many walls of prejudice that stand as barriers to the realization of the oneness of humankind, at once the goal and operating principle of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation. Access to knowledge is the right of every human being, and participation in its generation, application and diffusion a responsibility that all must shoulder in the great enterprise of building a prosperous world civilization—each individual according to his or her talents and abilities. Justice demands universal participation. Thus, while social action may involve the provision of goods and services in some form, its primary concern must be to build capacity within a given population to participate in creating a better world. Social change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.
From a Baha'i perspective, social action is initiated from the grassroots. It originates from a consultative process in which the reality of the local community is assessed – its social and environmental problems as well as the human and material resources to address them. Scientific knowledge and practical skills, as well as insights in how to apply spiritual principles to social and environmental issues for community sustainability, are among the essential ingredients for social action. People become empowered by applying such knowledge and by learning from their experience, which they then can share with others.
IEF members and the general public can use the vast resources on the IEF website as well as the materials produced at the IEF Annual Conferences as sources of knowledge to assist them in their locally initiated social action. Members are also encouraged to share their experiences in environmental projects with others in the IEF newsletter, and as case studies on the website. Such experiences can include educational materials that were produced to address the needs in a local community or region.
In this spirit, for example, some IEF members recognized the lack of educational materials to assist youth immersed in a culture of materialism and consumerism. Therefore they created a 6-lesson curriculum about the Story of Stuff to help them apply spiritual principles to very practical actions in their lives which contribute to the protection of the environment as well as to the youth's personal spiritual development. These Baha'i-inspired materials were used with an interfaith youth group, refined after learning from the experience, and then posted on the IEF website. In such manner, others who also see a similar need for the youth in their community to turn away from consumerism can either use these materials as they are, or pick and choose from them to suit their specific local interests, needs, and circumstances.
A similar story is behind the interfaith study course Scientific and Spiritual Dimensions of Climate Change posted on the IEF website.
The IEF encourages its members from different parts of the world to share their experiences with social action in the area of the environment and sustainability. While the same spiritual principles are true everywhere, local environmental and social problems vary greatly, and different cultures will require different approaches to social action. Sharing your experiences and any educational materials you may have developed to address local needs will be inspiring and helpful for others.
Recently, the IEF became acutely aware of the tremendous need for knowledge about how to start projects with regenerative agriculture, especially in Africa. This is an important example of how the sharing of the experiences of a community could assist others in their local efforts. Is there a community who has had any experience with regenerative agriculture who could produce a toolkit from which other communities could get information, ideas, and inspiration?
A great need that is often overlooked at the local level is the protection of biodiversity. It would be wonderful if the IEF could share experiences of its members on how they were able to transform toxic chemical-laden monocultures into natural lawns, meadows, or community food gardens, or how they planted native trees and bushes to provide habitat for wildlife. Here, inspiration can be drawn from the IEF Statement Ethical Commitment to Protect Nature and its Biodiversity and some practical ideas are provided in Environmentally Sustainable Baha'i Properties.
The IEF does not execute local actions, but aims to build capacity in its members and associates so that they can take meaningful actions in their community. The Universal House of Justice wrote in The Prosperity of Humankind:
“The tasks entailed in the development of a global society call for levels of capacity far beyond anything the human race has so far been able to muster. Reaching these levels will require an enormous expansion in access to knowledge, on the part of individuals and social organizations alike.”
In closing, we wish all of our members, associates, and readers of these lines the very best in their effort to serve their community by protecting their environment! The Universal House of Justice wrote in its Naw-Ruz 2020 message:
“May your minds be ever bent upon the needs of the communities to which you belong, the condition of the societies in which you live, and the welfare of the entire family of humanity, to whom you are all brothers and sisters.”
Last updated 10 October 2021