April ushers in spring and also a new financial year. At 3FF we have been busy pulling together our plans for the next 12 months. The contextual background to this work includes several interconnected issues and trends that both shape our plans and point to the outcomes we are working towards.
In a previous blog I pointed to some of the long range contextual issues that I feel those of us in the inter-faith world need to consider. The close range picture depicts Europe struggling to deal with an array of issues that feed fears about physical and economic security.
A cessation of hostilities in Syria was announced four weeks ago, reducing violence but not halting the fighting as peace talks take place in Geneva. The deal does not include al Qaeda or Islamic State militants. Talks are designed to oversee the formation of a transitional administration as the country seeks to move beyond a civil war that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions. No deal yet.
At the same time, European leaders have brokered an EU-Turkey deal they hope will persuade Syrian refugees in Turkey to stop trying to reach Europe as they flee the violence. However, as spring approaches and the weather warms, the flow of migrants may not decrease substantially, and may increase.
And in Brussels last week 31 people were killed in two bombing attacks, with responsibility claimed by Islamic State. This week violence in Lahore in Pakistan grabbed the headlines with 73 killed at a public park by a suicide bomber from a Taliban splinter group.
It is right to abhor the violence. We also need courage. Such courage is not to be found in burying our heads in the sand or running form the threat. But neither is it in further violence. Violence leads to violence. We must persevere in seeking a solution through other means. And this does not mean trying to cut ourselves off from all ‘outsiders’. Our global village will not thrive with such division.
So what are we, 3FF, planning in response to this context we work and live in? We believe that productive and lasting relationships between different faiths, beliefs and cultures are best achieved and sustained when the following two conditions are present:
- Opportunity to explore and understand lived faith and belief, particularly where power dynamics are problematic and levels of trust low, and;
- Leadership and influence that harnesses the potential residing in the diversity of faiths and beliefs for productive societal change.
Our work is, therefore, directed towards establishing these conditions, in education, the workplace and wider community. Over the coming 12 months we plan to expand our education work, deepen our ParliaMentors leadership programme, engage more intentionally where power dynamics between different faiths and beliefs are problematic, and develop an offer targeting the workplace. The latter will operate alongside our well established work in schools and universities whilst we will continue to harness the arts to draw in new community based audiences. More specifically;
- September 2016 marks the beginning of the tenth year of ParliaMentors. This is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of hundreds of leaders, thousands of people in local communities, and key Higher Education institutions in the UK.
- Our schools work will focus on Faith School Linking and our Schools Workshops – and this year we seek to add a Further Education scheme to offer the 16+ age group.
- Our engagement in the workplace will build on our successful ParliaMentors’ programme which provides leadership training for undergraduate students, many of whom will move onto careers in business.
- And out in the wider community space we will strengthen the capacity and reach of our community choir, the Mixed Up Chorus, and deepen our work on gender. Engaging with the arts and artists will be important in creating the spaces needed to open up difficult conversations at the community level.
We hope that our plans are sufficiently ambitious to seriously tackle the challenging context we face, but not overly ambitious so as to be unrealistic. I am confident we have the balance right, but would very much welcome comments and feedback from those who subscribe to our newsletter, read our blogs and in this way act as supporters and critical friends.