Global Change through Commitment to Simple and Profound Acts:  The Parliament of World Religions

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions is an organization whose core mission is to enable religious and spiritual communities worldwide to make constructive and effective contributions to a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.  The Council hosts an international conference every five years where people from all around the world converge to engage in inter-religious dialogue and address critical issues of our times.  The Council approached us in 2003 to help them design and develop a large group engagement process to be used by the Council in meetings before and after the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions.

We worked with Council, and a small group of authorities in changing very large communities, to create a new design for engaging large groups of people in a way that draws forth practical and transformative responses to four critical, global issues: supporting refugees worldwide, eliminating external debt burden in developing nations, guaranteeing access to safe water, and overcoming religiously-motivated violence. The engagement process needed to be scalable and portable so that it could be used anywhere in the world, by any group, organization or country, with few resources.  It also needed to be acceptable for use in and across different cultures.

The design, which is now known as Values Into Action, was prototyped and refined during large group meetings held in Israel and Kenya. The most important meetings were held in Montserrat, Spain with a gathering of 350 leaders of religious, spiritual organizations from around the world, and in Barcelona for people attending the 2004 Parliament for the World’s Religions. 125 facilitators, logistics experts, and graphic recorders were recruited and trained to support these meetings.

More than 600 people from over 45 countries participated in this process and made commitments to act on the issues and to engage others in their home communities in taking action.  A system is now in place to follow up and help support them taking actions, and to connect them with others who could assist them over time.

One participant from the World Bank said that without the engagement of religious and spiritual communities in developing nations around the world, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals will never be more than nice targets.  This is an entirely new position for the World Bank and this participant proposed that the Council work in partnership with the World Bank and the UN to bring the local faith communities into the conversation about the Millennium Development Goals.

In one example of action, a group of attendees formed a nonprofit organization to take teams of executives to areas where they provide tangible services such as building a school for a Masaai Village in Kenya and dig wells to provide safe water to another village in Africa.

Related Materials:

Scherer Center Website

Download PDF - Learning To Change The World

Download PDF - The Change Handbook

Download PDF - The Handbook of Large Group Methods


© Ingrid Richter, Ray Gordezky