Faith as a Competency in Development

Hope, community, complexity– these were some of the words that participants used to describe the connection between faith and development at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation’s virtual event on Faith as a Competency in Development. ACT Alliance was pleased to join World Vision Canada and Islamic Relief Canada as speakers at the event.

Faith is deeply rooted in the cultures of many of the communities that ACT Alliance serves. It shapes identities and informs worldviews. “Faith is a critical element with the potential to build relationships, solidarity, and inclusive communities that can transform cultural systems. Through faith, we can address stereotypes and stigmas. Faith actors and communities have a role to play in promoting hope, social cohesion, and community resilience,” said Dr. Rev. Elaine Neuenfeldt, ACT’s Gender Justice Program Manager.

Rev. Neuenfeldt explored the role of faith in ACT’s Gender Justice work, noting ACT’s potential to harness faith as a positive element to build networks, connect local to global initiatives and to transform policies practices, and attitudes. She shared the case of ACT member Presbyterian World Service & Development (PWS&D) whose work with the Presbyterian Church in Ghana has been successful in addressing traditional practices that had previously discriminated against and oppressed women.

Maereg Tafere of World Vision Canada noted that faith competencies can facilitate a holistic approach to problem-solving. He explored World Vision’s Channels of Hope Approach (sensitize, strategize, empower), noting that development is about challenging world views and that, “faith leaders have the moral and spiritual authority and potential to set and transform world views.”

Tafere also expressed that integrating faith in development work can bring a quicker and more sustainable change as it is driven by local leaders who have the ability to navigate sensitive issues.

The panelists recognized that while awareness and sensitivity to faith could enhance the effectiveness of development practices, a lack of understanding could hinder positive development outcomes.

Reyhana Patel of Islamic Relief Canada noted that faith is often one of the factors that people use to justify acts of violence against women and girls and that a challenge has been in the interpretation of religious texts.

Patel shed light on Islamic Relief Canada’s approach and success in informing faith leaders about alternative interpretations of texts that counter acts of violence against women and girls. “We found that when people are properly informed about religious texts and debates around it, we see a profound change in attitudes and beliefs.”

Rev. Neuenfeldt further explored this issue, expressing that the interpretation of texts also has the potential to promote agency. “Agency is promoted by faith when sacred text interpretation is provided in a manner that deconstructs cultural and traditional values that are limiting women’s agency, and critically addresses the elements that faith leaders have been educated in.”

In order to ensure that development initiatives can continue to benefit from faith competencies, the panelists identified the following next steps:

  • A greater acceptance of the expertise that FBOs have on specific issues including their unique relationship with communities, often allowing FBO’s to work in sensitive situations.
  • An acceptance that FBO’s have the language and understanding of faith literacy and have the potential to identify the common ground that is needed to transform societies.


ACT Alliance Members in Canada:

Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR)
Presbyterian World Service & Development (PWS&D)
Primates World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF)
United Church of Canada: Justice, Global and Ecumenical Relations Unit (UCC)
World Association for Christian Communication (WACC)
World Renew