Diplomacy. Development. Third track diplomacy. NGOs, Millennium Development Goals, state actors, fragile states, and stability.
Our world is full of unrest. Our world is also full of organizations and communities working to build more just and equitable communities. Maybe you’re like me, and you don’t know a lot about how diplomacy works. In this episode, Clare Magee gives us a fantastic introduction to these concepts, and helps us understand how religious and interfaith organizations participate in development goals.
Magee is the director of Academic Programs at the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship in Lexington, Kentucky, and studies nonprofit and transnational organizations and peace and conflict studies. In fall 2017, she was a featured panelist at the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Foreign Affairs at Claremont Lincoln University’s digital conference: Rethink, Reframe, Respond: Navigating a World in Transition: Creating New Maps for Foreign Affairs.
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Speaker 1: You’re listening to In Times Like These, a production of CLU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. In Times Like These explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialog and doubt.
Diplomacy. Development. Third track diplomacy. NGOs. Millennium Development Goals. State actors, fragile states and stability. Our world is full of unrest. Our world is also full of organizations and communities working to build more just and equitable communities. Maybe you’re like me and you don’t know a lot about how diplomacy works. In this episode of In Times Like These, Clare MaGee gives us a fantastic introduction to these concepts and helps us understand how religious and interfaith organizations participate in development goals. MaGee is the Director of Academic Programs at the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship in Lexington, Kentucky. She studies nonprofit and transnational organizations and peace and conflict studies.
In fall of 2017 she was a featured panelist at the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Foreign Affairs at Claremont Lincoln University’s digital conference Rethink, Reframe, Respond: Navigating a World in Transition, Creating New Maps for Foreign Affairs.
Clare MaGee: I am Claire MaGee. I am a recent graduate of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. There I majored in Diplomacy and minored in Development. I spent a majority of my work and my research focus looking on issues specifically related to diplomacy and development. Special interests for me, as part of that, included kind of the nonprofit world specifically related to development, so focusing in on the organizations who are involved in development work and the types of initiatives that are ongoing throughout the world, the things that they’re doing. As part of that, I explored recently, will look at transnational organizations and nonprofits that are cross-cultural or interfaith in nature, specifically religious NGOs and kind of looking at their place in the international community and in the world of development, the type of work that they can do, the opportunities that are available to them.
I kind of combined my interests in diplomacy and development and looked at spaces in diplomacy, peace building, and conflict resolution, and then development as a whole where these interfaith and religious actors have opportunities to create either new initiatives or to have further reach in the work that they’re already doing, whether that’s through partnership with pre-established large organizations like the UN or just in their own unique spaces that they have carved out for themselves.
Speaker 1: Great. Thank you. Help us understand. Give us some working definitions of diplomacy and development.
Clare MaGee: Sure. Diplomacy essentially is just relations. Basically, in a nutshell, it is relations. That can be relations between states, so you’ll hear a lot of people refer to diplomacy in two tracks, track one diplomacy being state-to-state or government-to-government relations. That’s how, you know you see in the news the president of the United States visits South Korea, or vice versa. That is track one diplomacy, state-to-state interaction.
Track two diplomacy is where nonprofits and these transnational actors operate, and that is a less formal type of diplomacy. It’s still relational and it’s still interactions, but it doesn’t have to happen from a state-to-state level. It can happen really between individuals, between organizations, so it doesn’t have that formalized heads of state meeting together type air to it, but it is still a relational interaction between people of different places or people working in different sectors.
The development, the way that I have studied it and understood it, is simply just the attempts of the global community really to create a more prosperous world, so development in agriculture, poverty, education, healthcare all of the things that you think about in the world when you hear countries described as more developed or less developed, the things that have to do with that. What creates a developed country? Is it their economics? Is it their healthcare system, access to education, the quality for women and girls? Then you look at less developed countries. What are they lacking in those areas and how can those things be developed to provide those opportunities and those spaces for their populations to grow and develop and have the same opportunities across the globe.
Speaker 1: Wow. Those are very good definitions. Thank you.
Clare MaGee: Absolutely.
Speaker 1: How have historically, if you know, especially in the US, how have religious organizations participated in these two areas?
Clare MaGee: Sure. I looked a little bit at this for my recent paper, and religion, you know, religion’s been a part of public life for a long time. Obviously these religious traditions go back centuries. So in the United States there have been a few people who have tried to look at studies kind of categorizing when these organizations that are religious kind of got involved in diplomatic and development work. This typically takes the form in a religious nonprofit or a religious NGO, nongovernmental organization.
One study that I looked at in my research found that a lot of Christian NGOs, Christian and Evangelical in the United States, were founded before 1900. Jewish NGOs kind of came on the scene between 1901 and 1950, and then Muslim NGOs after 1976. This is from a limited study that I had come across during my research, but I think it kind of encapsulates that religion has been around for a while, but their involvement in the spheres is really a relatively new concept, when you look at the extended history. Just because states have provided services for populations for centuries, it’s been how it’s been, but as we got through the 20th century and are now into the 21st, you see just greater connectedness and around the world. And so organizations that were in the US, serving US populations, maybe have now seen oh, we’re connected via email, phone, telegram. The evolution of technology kind of revolutionized the way that religious groups decided to interact on the global stage.
Deciding to take the tenets of their religions, whatever that religion may be, that maybe promote peace, understanding, social justice, care for the orphan and widow, and taking that beyond their own populations into how can we apply this to make the world a better place? How can we get involved, and kind of institutionalizing that in the form of religious nonprofits.
Speaker 1: How often do religious nonprofits and religious NGOs, how often is the purpose to evangelize versus do development work that is not related to the confessional beliefs of those receiving the work?
Clare MaGee: Sure. That is kind of a big dividing line with religious nonprofits. There’s not really a set, there’s not one religious tradition that I’ve found that is only dedicated to just the one thing. What you do is you have organizations and it’ll be clear in their mission statement. Either the purpose of the organization is to spread their doctrinal beliefs and to gain converts or whatever it is that they’re seeking to do, and then others who say, “We want to be involved in this work of development or humanitarian assistance based on our belief in principles of our faith, of our doctrine, so our doctrine that says we should spend our life in service to others. We’re going to use that founding principle to establish an organization that does humanitarian work but does not put restrictions on the people who are receiving this work.”
There’s some data out there on this on what percentage of registered nonprofits that are religious focus specifically on spreading their doctrinal beliefs versus focusing on humanitarian or development work. Typically, you think in large organizations like a Samaritan’s Purse, or a World Vision. Those are large religious organizations that do the humanitarian work without necessarily promoting exclusively their doctrinal beliefs. Their foundational goal is to help people. I think in the process they hope that their doctrine will then spread, but that’s not their primary use, whereas you might have a mission organization that is sending missionaries to another country to gain converts.
It’s kind of a fuzzy difference that religious groups have to define in their mission statements in order to kind of understand what role they’re trying to play in the community.
Speaker 1: Are there any trends about how organizations have articulated their missions over time, as we become more diverse, as we become more sophisticated and are thinking about development?
Clare MaGee: That’s not a thing that I’ve spent a ton of time looking at. However, I do think there has been kind of a trending up of interfaith organizations. That was a little small piece of some of the work that I’ve done where single religious traditions find it difficult to separate, you know, what is it that we’re trying to do in development and what are we trying to do within our faith? You see this rise, I think especially really just with the 21st century, of a greater focus on we all have religious beliefs. We all have these things that we believe, but what we do have in common is this desire to help one another and this desire to make these relational person-to-person interactions and to and to help our fellow humans.
I think there’s been a trending up of why don’t we make this an interfaith operation, an interfaith initiative, so that it doesn’t become just this one focus of one tradition, but then becomes more about the individual and the person instead of a single doctrine.
Speaker 1: You mentioned transnational organizations that are interfaith or cross-cultural. Can you give us an example of one and how it works and the kind of work it does so we can picture an example that exemplifies that category?
Clare MaGee: Sure. Absolutely. One example, I think at least of a good interfaith one, would be there’s a couple that operate in the Middle East, specifically in Israel-Palestine. There’s a bunch of different Israeli-Palestinian alliance, or the alliance for, I know it’s something with like Judeo-Muslim values. But these organizations that operate in that space specifically, where not only are they trying to bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians as these nationalities, but also looking at the predominant faiths that are clashing in that region, Judaism and Islam, and trying to build the borders across that. Transnational being that Palestine and Israel, the definitions of their statehood or their sovereignty, have a lot of interpretation.
But what these organizations try and do, and say, “We’re not concerned with the borders. We’re not concerned with these things.” What we’re concerned about is building these relationships among these different cultures and different religious groups to hopefully try and find peaceful situations and try and create more peaceful opportunities for the people in that region.
Speaker 1: How common is it for governments or government actors to work with religious or interfaith organizations?
Clare MaGee: That is something that, again, it varies by government and it varies by what the interfaith or religious actor is doing. Recently there’s a constraint with that being that governments, typically, separation between state and religion has grown I would say, especially you see that a lot in the United States today. You see this kind of should church and state be separate? Yes. People believe that also that means doctrine religion doesn’t necessarily, maybe it shouldn’t have a role in government. Governments have to be very careful about what they’re supporting or what they’re involved in just based on these are elected officials who may or may not be representing the views of everyone in their country by whom they choose to support.
It also differs by an authoritarian government versus democracy and things like that. But specifically kind of see on the, not at the individual state religious NGO level, but rather on states broadly to NGO level. The UN has recently initiated their new Sustainable Development Goals, which is their agenda for development work for the next 15 years. It was established in 2015 and will go until it’s 2030. The SDG are kind of the guiding principles for the development community for states as well as private sector organizations to kind of dictate what are we going to be doing in development work? What are our goals? So poverty eradication, clean water access, sanitation, things like that.
In this process they decided to include, in the development of the Sustainable Development Goals, religious groups. They had working groups in consultation with nonprofits and with religious transnational organizations that may already be involved in this work and said, “Hey, what are you doing? How can what you’re doing inform what we want to build as these Sustainable Development Goals, and how can we partner to achieve this?” Because the goal for all of these disparate organizations and entities is development for the world and for populations.
The UN has kind of, as a collection of state governments, has kind of taken and turned a new page, and turned a new leaf in terms of looking at how can we partner with religious organizations to achieve this work. I think you see it more at the broad level of multiple governments interacting with an IGO, which is an intergovernmental organization such as the World Bank or UN, compared to just a single government interacting with a single NGO or religious nonprofit.
Speaker 1: Are there specific categories of development or relief that you think governments themselves do the best job tackling this issue? Or are there ones that you think, you know what, religious groups have historically, and right now in current examples, they do a really good job, better than maybe governments can with this issue?
Clare MaGee: Again, it varies by issue. I think something that is a limit to religious NGOs, and just NGOs in general, is state sovereignty, and so something that’s very specific to a state. Something that happens within a state’s borders and is the responsibility of that government, I think governments are better at providing that service. An example might be disaster relief. Take, in the United States, Hurricane Katrina or the recent hurricanes in Houston and Puerto Rico, those things. I think in terms of first response you see governments have these, governments have plans. They have FEMA. They have the Federal Emergency Management. They’re the ones who can go in and really take care of the humanitarian needs in situations like that, so I think governments really do have a leg up.
But then at the same time, you look at organizations like the Red Cross, who are also operating in these same spaces. While I think maybe governments have a little bit of an advantage or do a little bit of a better job in terms of maybe emergency management and emergency response with development and humanitarian assistance, those partnerships with nonprofits that are also doing that work, I think really make government successful. I don’t know that NGOs operating alone without the support of government agencies could be as effective in an emergency type situation.
But, then when you look at maybe fragile states or states where the central government is not doing its job, take Sudan or Somalia, countries around the world where maybe the central government isn’t as focused on its population. I think that’s an area where you see nonprofits and religious nonprofits that are part of that as providing greater service than the government. And they’re providing better work than the government just because the government, for whatever reason, is unable to provide that for their citizens. I think a lot of it depends and varies by context.
Speaker 1: Okay. That’s really helpful to think about, the responsibilities of a central government and its people, but the limitations of that. I appreciate you giving those examples.
Clare MaGee: Sure.
Speaker 1: So give us some context for understanding the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. For a layperson or someone, just a teacher or a nurse or a parent, why does the UN do something like this and what are the expectations? Are they recommendations or are they also tied to budget or tied to strategies that the UN actually acts on when they come together?
Clare MaGee: Sure. The Sustainable Development Goals, like I said, they were initiated in 2015. However, they are a replacement set of goals for what was known as the Millennium Development Goals. In 2000 the United Nations said, “As a global body, a body that represents the entire world, all of the governments in the world, we want to set an agenda for this new millennium that says these are the things we’re going to work on. We’re going to try and get people above poverty level. We’re going to try and eradicate levels of hunger that are below the poverty line. We’re going to try and do all of these things.” They set those for 15 years.
In 2015 they’d seen some progress on those goals. Some were thrown off by development in large companies countries like China and India where large populations, there were some small gains and then it affected the overall numbers. So in 2015 they came back to it and they said, “Okay. The Millennium Development Goals’ our vision for a better world in the new millennium. We saw some progress but what we want to do is we want, again, to dedicate a set of principles for the world to look at and say these are areas where we are trying to progress as human society.” That led to the implementation of the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals.
These are, they’re guiding principles for UN agencies, so you think of UNICEF or the UN Refugee Agency. All of the organizations that operate under the UN that you think of, those really big humanitarian organizations that you see in the news a lot, the SDGs kind of dictate those agencies’ agendas for the next 15 years. The UN Refugee Agency, when planning hey, what’s our refugee strategy for the millions of refugees that we have coming out of Syria, what’s our strategy with them, they will look to the Sustainable Development Goals and say, “Well, we want to focus on refugee education because education is part of the Sustainable Development Goals and we want to make sure that just because these people have been forced to flee from their homes, they’re still getting high levels of education. So how do we implement refugee education?”
UN agencies will look to the goals as little markers for what they’re doing over the next 15 years. For just your average teacher, whoever, the Sustainable Development Goals kind of, they’re not as much of guiding principles, I guess you’d say. You won’t see the effects of the SDGs in your everyday life. Governments fund the UN, and so any US funding that is going to the UN will go towards implementation of these goals. You hear a lot about “Oh, is the United States government going to cut funding to the UN?” If so, that would cut funding to global programs that are working to address these issues.
But the UN also though, like the goals are very broad things. Some of them involve sustainable use of energy. Some involve clean water initiatives, and so if you go to the UN website and you look for Sustainable Development Goals, they actually have a pretty fun graphic that they developed, that it’s just a simple, I think it’s four steps on how you can implement the SDGs in your everyday life. They’re simple things that you would think of as being your standard kind of social responsibility thing. Maybe you walk to work if you live within walking distance instead of driving, to cut down on carbon emissions. This will contribute to the sustainable development goal of halving a greater, a healthier atmosphere. Or maybe it’s if you bought too much food, save some for dinner, like trying not to be wasteful, which will also contribute to just a healthier world and we’re not using up our landfills, which creates problems.
There’s 17 goals that have these different principles that they’re trying to achieve, and there’s not really a mechanism for measuring the achievement of them. Again, it’s not like the UN General Assembly is sitting saying, “Give me the data. How many people are no longer living under the poverty line? All right. We’ve got 15 million. Let’s get 10 million more.” It doesn’t really work like that. They’re kind of just more like a company has a strategic vision for their next five years. The UN has the Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years, and it’s going to kind of dictate how things go.
Speaker 1: Oh, that’s a good example.
Clare MaGee: Sure.
Speaker 1: Are these controversial? Do you know, are these … When they came up with the Millennial Goals, is it easy to get consensus around yes, we’re going to look at education, at women and girls’ rights, at refugees? Or is there any kind of contentious thinking about, “Well these seem like Western goals. These seem goals that are privileging one culture over another. You haven’t taken into account the fact that we’re still using wood and coal.”
Clare MaGee: Yeah. The Millennium Development Goals, there were only eight of them and that’s part of why the Sustainable Development Goals, there’s 17. They doubled, plus one, to become more inclusive. The Millennium Development Goals were pretty, they weren’t basic. They weren’t simple. These are hard issues that … Like the number one was eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Two was achieving universal primary education, but then you got to three, which was promoting gender equality and empowering women. In some societies there was no, you know, “Why should we focus on empowering women? Women are fine here.” You kind of saw that a little bit.
With the Millennium Development Goals, I’m not sure at the time if there was much backlash, but the UN does, in the creation of the MDGs as well as the SDGs now, they do a lot of work in groups and include a lot of voices. They’ve done a very good job doing that with the Sustainable Development Goals of including more voices, of including religious groups, of including what you would consider your fringe, maybe, environmental groups, whoever it might be that you think maybe weren’t represented in the MDGs are represented in the SDGs. There’s still gender equality included in the SDGs, but you also see affordable and clean energy. You see protecting our oceans. You see reducing economic inequality. So I think the SDGs tried to capture a broader array of these are the issues that are really affecting the global population, and trying to tap into different working groups and trying to get as much input as possible on what should these goals look like.
Under each of the 17 goals there are dozens of different smaller points of okay, what does no one living in poverty look like? They did a very good job of breaking down the SDGs to look at what are the nuances within these things to kind of cover what people might assume to be lapses in others’ voices.
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Great. How does this actually work? If you and I are founding or working in a nonprofit and we want to educate girls, and we’re very goodhearted, we have lots of funding, we have a big plan and we go to a small government, or a county, in a country in India, how do we match up our ideas about what education looks like and the rights of girls and women without being imperialist or colonizing or patronizing when we go to the founders of the city or the people who are actually working in that place? What kinds of questions should we be thinking about and what kind of posture can help us be successful?
Clare MaGee: Sure. That’s a really good question, and that is a question that a lot of organizations struggle to answer. It’s a question of we think, a broad we, a generic we, we think we know what’s best for other people. I think just in my studying and in my research, and just hearing from different people, I think the number one question if you say, “I am passionate about the education of women. I’m passionate about the education of women in India and I want to go there and spend time investing in this.” I think your number one thing that you need to do when you arrive is go to the community. Figure out who are the community leaders, who, if I’m working in a small village, spend some time. Figure out okay, who’s in charge here? What’s the hierarchy of the structure here? Go to people and understand what they think is valuable.
If it were to come to something like education, if you’re starting from a place of we don’t think this is needed here, you’re going to have a hard time. But if you go somewhere and say, “Yes. We would like to see more education and more initiatives in our school.” I think you have to listen to the population you’re trying to serve. Instead of coming in and saying, “We use common core in the United States of America, so we’re going to use common core in this little town in India.” I think what you have to do is you have to go and you have to say, “Okay, we want to educate women so that they have opportunities. Where do you see women stalling out and not having opportunity? Is it because they don’t have a certain set of skills so they can’t get a certain type of job? Let’s build those skills. Is it because they have to work on their family’s farm so they don’t have time to go to school? Well, why are they working on the farm? Is it because they just need help around? Okay, well how can we create agriculture that’s more efficient so that this girl can come to school and still work on the farm and help the family.”
It’s talking with the community, and it’s figuring out what are the specific needs for the population that I want to be involved with, and what is it that I can help them with? Less say, coming in and saying, “I know what’s best.” and more coming in and saying, “What do you think is best?” And then trying to go from there and developing a partnership, giving and taking along the way, because understanding that literary education and literacy is important. It’s just as important as having skills. If you were spending your whole time on skills, you’re still going to end up with someone who’s slacking in a piece of their education. So kind of giving and taking on both sides, but really going in and saying to the community what is it that you see are the needs, and then trying to address those.
Speaker 1: Wow. That takes a lot of time.
Clare MaGee: Yes.
Speaker 1: That could take years.
Clare MaGee: Yes.
Speaker 1: That could take years.
Clare MaGee: Yes, and that’s a problem within nonprofit work and with NGOs. Especially just in the 21st century, people want to see results and they want to see action. When donors are looking at organizations, they always ask, “So what are your metrics for success? How many girls are you sending to school? What are their testing scores?” That can become a problem for nonprofits because if they’re really trying to do the work where they start at that relation level and they start at that foundational level, a little bit of intellectual humility of okay, what can we do the work here, and then you have donors who are saying, “Well, we want to see results.” They can lose funding.
Funding is probably a number one issue for nonprofits just because unless you have people who are willing to buy into your idea and to what you’re doing, it can really become a problem because it can take a long time. People get frustrated in the work if you don’t feel like you’re seeing results or you feel like it’s going to take a long time. Sometimes it can feel like it’s not rewarding work because you never get to see the fruit of all this work that you’ve put in. It’s the nonprofits that are willing to take the time, to invest the time and spend it, and to understand that the payoff may not be an immediate thing, there may be no immediate gratification, that really do have success and that are successful in the communities that they’re trying to serve.
Speaker 1: Right. I just think about, even for myself, my own intellectual development, my ideas about God, my ideas about gender, my ideas about marriage have changed from when I was 16, 17, to now my 30s, and now I’m 40. And yet when I think about, oh, I’m going to go to this place and teach the women how they should think about their marriage, it’s hard to resist not wanting to say, “You should think like I do right at this moment in time.” I don’t remember all of the years of college, and friendships, and jobs, and seminary, and heartbreak, and reevaluation that shifted my own thinking about these issues. So I love the phrase intellectual humility. It’s like we give ourselves the chance and the resources to think about how we change and develop over time, but when we’re trying to fix somebody else we want it to happen very rapidly.
Clare MaGee: Absolutely. Yeah, and that’s part of it is we do think we’re fixing something. In reality, we’re trying to come alongside someone, and not pull someone out, but come alongside and work together to make progress. I think it really is, I mean humility is what it takes in this kind of work if you want to do this work well and you want to do work that’s effective, is understanding you’re not the do-gooder coming to save anyone. You are someone who cares, who’s willing to invest and come alongside people who are forgotten by others, come alongside people whose governments have not given them what they needed, or coming alongside people whose communities have rejected them. I think if you approach it that way, it really can be rewarding work, and I think that’s when you see it be so successful.
But yeah, you’re right. I mean, the evolution of change that you experience as an individual should be accorded to everybody in all places, and so allowing that space for that change to occur naturally takes so much patience, but it’s worth it.
Speaker 1: When you look at your Twitter or Facebook news feed, when you look at the New York Times and Al Jazeera and the Daily Mail, you’re reading national, international news, what issues … Use your expertise as someone, as a scholar, who thinks internationally and thinks globally. What issues give you the most pause right now? What do you think about and you think wow, this is something that we really need to be giving more thought than this and resources around?
Clare MaGee: Sure. Yeah. That’s a great question. There are a lot of things. I think just a broad survey is I think through the world and I think through, you know, when I go to the news I can click on the different regions of the world and click what’s happening in Latin America, click what’s happening in Europe. Something that I think that you see is a common thread among all these regions of the world is just these gaps that are forming. And so you have these generational gaps. You have this whole generation of young people who are growing up, who just seem very disillusioned, or very kind of disadvantaged, or just in different place than the generation before them.
So specifically in refugee communities, you have a whole generation of people who don’t have the memories of the Middle East from the 1950s where it was colonized, and who in 20 years may not have a Syria, buildings and places to remember, because they’re all gone. You have kind of this group of young people, I would say between small children up to around 25 years old who’ve just been through a lot. In Columbia, you see a generation of people who grew up knowing the FARC, this rebel group that was a problem in their country, and now there’s been reconciliation, but there’s just this gap between those.
Then in China, you see this new generations that were just children when Tiananmen Square happened and who now are, they’re seeing democracy around the world, and they’re seeing this rise of China, but they’re still not sure if they have that they are. You just see these things across the world. In Africa, you see generations of children who fell maybe right between wars, of these huge civil wars in Africa, and maybe there’s been a little bit of a softening, and then there’s been transitions of power, but there’s just a lot of uncertainty.
I think, to me, something that we really need to pay attention to is how are we communicating across generations within just these different cultures, and how are we trying to understand one another. Are we taking the time to go back and say, to children of Columbia who grew up thinking the FARC … Members of the FARC were the scary guy in their bedtime stories. How do we go to them and say these people are integrated in your society now and you can move forward together so that this doesn’t happen again? How do we approach the children of refugees and say you may not remember the state that you came from, but there’s a place for you in the world? How do we integrate these people? In China how do we equip this new generation, who’s trying to navigate their role in this global powerhouse in figuring out, “What do I want for my state? Do I want democracy? What I want?”
I think just really tapping on to these young people the idea of the importance of connections, and for older generations, a responsibility to these younger generations to communicate understanding and to communicate this is what’s happened in our past. We’re going to let go. Or, we’re going to hold onto it, if it’s good. You know?
I think you see when that doesn’t happen, it’s when you see what they call youth bulges in countries where people have nowhere to go, so that go to whoever’s offering what is best. In the Middle East, that’s taken the form, in a lot of places, of terrorist groups, going to what’s best, or rebel groups, whatever it might be. So really focusing on the world’s youth populations and how we can educate them to find their places in society. I think you see it happening everywhere around the world where there’s these gaps, and if we can fix the gaps, or if we can at least push them a little closer together before they stretch out too far, we can prevent a lot of conflict and misunderstanding for the next generation.
Speaker 1: That’s so interesting. I’m so glad I asked you that because I’ve never thought about it that way before. When I look at news globally, it’s so much easier to see shooting, violent, hunger, water, criminal tribunal. But to think about that longer-term process of reconciling the generations and providing holistic integrative movement forward, I think about stable places and unstable places. What you’re describing is giving large groups of people, entire generations, the tools to become stabilizing, right?
When you think about a region of the world that is stable, give us the key ingredients for what makes that so.
Clare MaGee: Sure. It’s hard to pick a place in the world that seems stable. I mean, when you look at it, you look at … I mean, in even in Europe, traditionally stable Europe, the EU. It seems to be like it’s falling apart. Where is England going? Who are these nationalist groups? I mean, in the US we say, “Oh, we’re a stable society.” But you look at these fissures on race, and gender, and political ideology and it’s just what’s stable anymore? But I think you see it in communities and you see it on smaller levels where there is a willingness to listen, and there’s a willingness to engage in dialogue that’s constructive. And so small levels, you see it in communities where, again, everyone is trying to display a little bit of intellectual humility. Everyone is trying to listen and is willing to compromise, and where you see inclusive dialogue.
I think in the small spaces and in states or regional levels, the communities, the feel-good stories that you see at the end of the news, after the this is bad, and this is bad, this is bad, they highlight a community or a group that’s doing really good work, and it’s why can’t we have this on a big level? Why can’t we have it nationally? And it’s because these conversations and these tools are not being adopted nationally. But I do think it’s are we listening to one another? Are we willing to be humble and say, “Maybe I’m not right?” And are we willing to compromise and say, “You know, I disagree with you on this point and I disagree with you on this point, but we kind of both sort of agree here, so why don’t we focus on that?”
That kind of attitude, I think, is what it’s going to take. That’s what creates stability, is just a more compromising society, and a society that’s willing to listen to one another. That’s what creates stability, when you’re not just trying to either shove someone out the door so they can’t be heard, or slam the door in their face every time they try open their mouths.
Speaker 1: Thank you. That’s a great set of learning outcomes. As a teacher, as a religious leader, as an interreligious leader, as a community activist, that’s rarely my agenda, honestly. Usually my agenda is let’s get something done. Let’s clean this up. Right?
Clare MaGee: Let’s get it done.
Speaker 1: Right?
Clare MaGee: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Speaker 1: That should be the overarching learning outcome. How am I helping members of my community take a posture of openness and listen?
Clare MaGee: Yes, and that, just like we were talking about in the work of nonprofits, it takes a lot of time and it’s counter intuitive to a lot of people. That’s another area where I think faith groups and interfaith groups are so unique, and have such a unique opportunity, because inherent in so many different traditions are these emphases on understanding one another, and are these emphases on all the good things that we want to see in the world. I think if faith groups and interfaith groups can really tap into that, they can really be a catalyst for a lot of change, and that’s something that they have that’s different from just a traditional nonprofit trying to do development work, and from a national government. They have this niche opportunity, I think, where they can really start those conversations really effectively, because they’ve got a common ground to start with more often.
Speaker 1: Right. Many religious and spiritual teachings remind us to be humble, remind us to look for the good in our neighbor, remind us to be open to things that we can’t expect. So then how do we translate that into not just our personal actions, but our organizational actions?
Clare MaGee: Yeah, and that’s part of it is how do you institutionalize that-
Speaker 1: Institutionalize.
Clare MaGee: … without cheating it, if that makes sense, where it stays genuine it stays, we’re going to take this that we say we believe or we say we feel on a personal level and we’re going to make it bigger, and we’re going to make it broader. And sometimes it’s starting at the individual level, but again, that takes patience and there’s not immediate results. There’s not data that you can show a board to say, “Look at the work we’ve done. Please continue to fund us.”
Speaker 1: Right. That’s good. That’s very good.
Thanks for listening to In Times Like These, where we explore issues of politics and faith, and learn from one another how to navigate difference for maximum flourishing. In Times Like These is a product of CLU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. For more, subscribe, share, and visit us at ClaremontLincoln.edu.
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Mentioned on the episode:
Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Foreign Affairs : https://csrcfa.claremontlincoln.edu/digital-conference/
Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship: http://www.henryclaycenter.org/site/
The UN Sustainable Development Goals: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/
More about the UN Millennium Development Goals: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Development_Goals
The effects of “youth” bulge on civil conflicts and development: http://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/youth-bulge-a-demographic-dividend-or-a-demographic-bomb-in-developing-countries
Samaritan’s Purse International Relief: https://www.samaritanspurse.org/
World Vision: https://www.worldvision.org/
How to connect with Clare: www.linkedin.com/in/claremwilliams/
You can connect with me on Twitter here: @SVarnonHughes.
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About the Podcast
In Times Like These explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt. We talk to voices from the field, in law, activism, civil rights, and from places of struggle and places of deep learning. In Times Like These, we unpack the most troubling issues of politics and faith we face, together.
In Times Like These is hosted by Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes and is a CLU Live production by Claremont Lincoln University.
Claremont Lincoln University offers a social entrepreneurship master’s degree program called Social Impact.