Strategic Partnerships for Growth and Service
Interviews with:Genine Babakian—Civil Society Partnerships, US Fund for UNICEF
Alex Palacios—GAVI Alliance Special Representative to Donors and Institutions in the United Nations’ system, Washington, D.C.
Leila Nimatallah—GAVI consultant on Faith-Based Organizations and Relationships, Advocacy and Public Policy Team
Global partnerships can provide funding, materials, and other resources to United Methodist mission ministries, but more importantly, partnerships link the grassroots served by the church to a larger global community. “For UMCOR, the most important value of global partnerships is that they provide critical links for United Methodists in communities they serve to a larger global health strategy,” explains Shannon Trilli, director of UMCOR’s Global Health Initiatives. “Our efforts are synergized and multiplied when we work together and share a larger vision on how to combat issues of poverty and health. Partnerships also help us to raise our voices and represent people we serve in concert with organizations with high visibility and larger, excellent programs.”
New World Outlook asked a few of these partners what they receive from faith-based organizations in return.
US Fund for UNICEF
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) seeks to provide health care, immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, and emergency relief for children in 190 countries and territories. The US Fund supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States. In 2012, the US Fund expended nearly $450 million in grants to partner organizations (US Fund for UNICEF 2012 Report). Grants went to fund programs of government, civil society, and faith-based organizations (FBOs).
Genine Babakian, who works in Civil Society Partnerships for the US Fund for UNICEF, explains why UNICEF invests in FBOs representing many different religions. “Nearly every major religious tradition views life as a sacred gift from a divine creator or creating force,” she observes. “Promoting and maintaining good health in children is both a universal priority and an obligation in many religious traditions.” Babakian points out that UNICEF partners with both FBOs and local and national governments, each with different strengths.
“Religious actors have deep and trusted relationships with their communities and strong connections with society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable members,” Babakian continues. “They are particularly well placed to address inequity that affects access to services or fuels discrimination and deprivation. They protect the rights of the most disenfranchised.
“With religious communities counting almost 5 billion members,” she adds, “their potential for action is great. From the smallest village to the largest city, and from local to national and international levels, they offer various networks for the care and protection of children and the safeguarding of children’s rights.”
When exploring opportunities to work with faith-based groups, UNICEF considers not only mutual interests but complementary strengths that each organization brings to the partnership. “Faith-based groups often have the broad reach and authority to educate their parishioners and encourage positive behavioral change,” she notes. UNICEF offers technical support and capacity-building for religious leaders seeking to address certain issues within their communities.
UNICEF has a long history of working with religious communities across the globe to reach children with lifesaving services. During the Civil War in El Salvador, for example, the Catholic Church negotiated a ceasefire to allow UNICEF to immunize children on both sides of the conflict. In Ethiopia, UNICEF partnered with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church so that, when children were baptized, the church would encourage their caretakers to complete the vaccination schedule within the child’s first year.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNICEF is working with the Country’s five major religious groups, including The UnitedMethodist Church, to address child survival. The five groups were strategically selected based on their representation of the majority of the Congolese people and their capacity to promote behavioral and social change. “Together,” Babakian says, “their networks have the potential to reach more than half of the DR Congo’s estimated 65 million people.”
The GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) is a public/private global health organization committed to saving children’s lives and protecting people’s health by increasing access to immunization in poor countries.
Leila Nimatallah, a consultant with GAVI on Faith-Based Organizations and Relationships, sees FBOs as one key to reaching the world’s most vulnerable children. “Faith-based organizations have a particular and unique strength,” she said. “They have a lot of very close ties to communities and are part of their communities for the long-term. They are not leaving. There is trust there, and community members will follow the lead of their religious leaders. Reaching communities through FBOs has proved to be a long-term sustainable strategy.”
While 75 to 80 percent of GAVI’s funding is awarded to government organizations—based on applications for vaccines in 58 of the world’s poorest developing countries—Alex Palacios, GAVI Alliance Special Representative to Donors and Institutions, says there is a small window for financing civil society organizations, including FBOs. “We seek to address circumstances where national ministries of health lack the infrastructure to reach significant portions of the population,” Palacios explains. Where governments cannot go, faith communities are already present.
“The strategy of the United Methodist Church—to train local health workers—is critical to the success of programs like ours,” Palacios continues, referring to vaccination introduction programs and public health interventions. “Local faith-based health workers ensure that communities have a well-prepared health workforce,” he adds, “one that can be found in areas where governments do not have services.”
Faith-based organizations also excel in their ability to mobilize large groups in the United States to advocate around specific issues. Nimatallah says: “I have seen firsthand the power of the UMC when I was working at an organization called Global Action for Children—UMC advocacy had a huge impact in moving Congress forward on the HIV/AIDS issue. Without the leadership of the UMC and other faith-based organizations and leaders, the Global AIDS, TB and Malaria bill (which authorized the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the US contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and GAVI) would have never been passed by Congress.”
These interviews were conducted by Christie R. House, editor, New World Outlook.
United Methodist registrants arrive for
the Imagine No Malaria conference in
Washington, DC, December 3, 2012.
Photo: Jay Mallin / UMNS
In Zanzibar, Tanzania, a mother has just finished
attending the health meeting sponsored by the
GAVI Alliance. She waits outside the rural health
clinic for her son’s turn to be immunized.
Photo: Leila Nimatallah