If you only read one thing this week…

Faith-based Organizations: Questions and Sources of Identity by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
August 10, 2009, 10:56 am
Filed under: Development theory, If you have 30 mins, Uncategorized

A few recent articles in Praxis, a journal published by The International NGO Training and Research Center (“What is Distinctive about FBOs: How European FBOs define and operationalise their faith”, “Faith-based Organisational Development (OD) with Churches in Malawi,” and “Capacity Building and Islamic FBOs: Insights from Malawi,” ) highlight various issues that FBOs (faith-based organizations) face in defining their organizations. As NGOs and other humanitarian organizations confront questions about their field as a whole, FBOs additionally juggle their religious identity. Stirring the fire for these FBOs are issues concerning donors and funding, both private and institutional. Both Christian and Islamic FBOs have built-in communities of donors.  How this affects FBOs is illustrated through their means of receiving funds and their choice of partnerships. As noted in “Capacity Building and Islamic FBOs,” the zakat donation is often intended for Muslim beneficiaries, and because Islamic FBOs often receive fewer public grants, these organizations may face parameters on who they provide assistance to.  Some organizations have addressed this tension by dividing donations into zakat and non-zakat funding.
Similarly Christian FBOs can also impose restrictions on their funding sources and partnerships as they may choose to work with or for organizations or groups that share their same belief set or practices. For faith-driven donors, this move may reassert the FBO’s commitment to their belief system. As Rick James points out in “What is Distinctive about FBOs,” many donors “are asking agencies to clarify their values,” and organizations that fail to provide a clear definition may lose support. As such, the choice of partnerships and areas of focus may say more about the identity of the FBO than its methods.
However, this can be difficult as secular aid organizations and governments have increased efforts to engage and partner and fund FBOs in the past decade in recognition of the important role they play in humanitarian work. Two trends seem to have emerged in the past decade: the resurgence of faith in shaping aid and animating traditional donor institutions (e.g. DFID), along with global intra-faith partnerships that serve to combat extremism and promote global accord. Post 9/11, many prominent organizations have made efforts to engage FBOs and include matters of spirituality into the concept of aid-giving. While organizations such as the World Bank promote an active incorporation with faith-based groups through increased funding and partnerships, this heightened attention doesn’t come without issue or cost. Paradoxically, FBOs may downplay their religious affiliation to secure both legitimacy and funding outside of their donor-base, a cyclical problem. This returns FBOs to the question of balancing internal donors and religious identity and coherent mission with beneficial external partnerships and funding.


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