IEF and Social Action
Community - Environment - Learning - Local Realities - Case Studies
The International Environment Forum is a Baha'i-inspired professional organization addressing the environment and sustainability, with international membership in over 80 countries. It focuses its work on participation in the discourse on the environment with the aim of offering perspectives arising from the Bahá’í teachings and the experience of the community, and collaborating with like-minded organizations and individuals.
While IEF does not take part directly in social action, it encourages its members and associates to engage in social action at the local level following the distinctive framework of the Bahá'í community, and provides a network of like-minded people. This website includes tools to help individuals and communities explore their local environmental reality, to set their own priorities, to identify ways with their own capacities and resources that they might address local environmental problems or develop environmental resources, to agree in their community on a course of action, and to relate that action to their own ethical values, spiritual principles and community-building activities.
If you share your learning with IEF, we can make it available more widely to inspire other communities in similar situations.
THE BAHA'I FRAMEWORK FOR SOCIAL ACTION
Bahá’í communities around the world, together with social actors from all walks of life, have a unique approach to their material and social progress. An essential feature of this enterprise is an evolving framework for collective learning, rooted in spiritual principles from the Bahá’í teachings and the conviction that all human beings “have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.” The following are some key elements of this framework.
Principles and approaches
Over the decades, development has come to be recognized as a complex process that cannot be solved by materialistic approaches alone. Policymakers and practitioners have become increasingly interested in learning about the role of spirituality and religion in enhancing development practice.
Several concepts and principles are essential to the pursuit of Bahá’í efforts in social action, including: oneness and justice, calling for a reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society; harmony of science and religion, highlighting that “religion without science soon degenerates into superstition and fanaticism, while science without religion becomes merely the instrument of crude materialism”; and universal participation, requiring the widest participation of every member of the human family from all backgrounds.
Closely related to the aim of universal participation is the concept of capacity building at all levels of society, which views people, communities, and institutions as protagonists in marking their own path of development. An implication of this principle is that social change is not a project that one group carries out for the benefit of another. Rather, in recognizing that no nation or people have achieved a state of true peace and prosperity that can serve as a model for others to follow, what is required is a process of learning in every social and cultural context about the meaning and implications of development in all its dimensions—material, spiritual, and social.
Areas of action and spectrum of activities
Bahá’í development efforts range from small-scale grassroots projects to complex development programs implemented by Bahá’í-inspired organizations. These endeavours represent responses to local needs and are related to one or more areas, including education, agriculture, the environment, arts and media, health, the local economy, the advancement of women, and humanitarian relief. For the Bahá’í community, development is a process that necessarily involves community building and local action in every part of the world. By learning to combine the perspectives of religion and science in these efforts, new insights and pathways for the betterment of the human condition can emerge.
Ongoing process of learning
Learning as a central theme and mode of operation in Bahá’í social action endeavours. This involves ongoing study, consultation, action, and reflection, all carried out in light of insights from science and religion. This process is supported by evolving arrangements and structures at all levels, from the local to the international, to facilitate learning about development.
Through this learning process, insights from neighbourhoods and villages are connected to a broader body of knowledge by regional and national Bahá’í institutions, and the Bahá’í International Development Organization at the Bahá’í World Centre serves as a learning entity dedicated to synthesizing worldwide experiences in development. The systematization of learning enables communities worldwide to benefit from the growing body of knowledge about development and contribute to it.
Based on: https://news.bahai.org/story/1663/ (2023)
THE ENVIRONMENT AS AN AREA FOR SOCIAL ACTION
The word "environment" means everything around us, the land, water, air, living things, sunlight and other resources on which we depend for life, all of which may require social action. We are of course also surrounded by other people (the social dimension) and are part of productive systems (the economic dimension) that are also included in sustainable development. While these dimensions are not directly discussed here, they also need to be considered in actions for human and environmental sustainability.
The dimensions of the environment include:
Resources for basic needs: water, food, sanitation, shelter, renewable energy
Managing the environment to reduce risks: soil erosion, flooding, drought, storm damage, sea-level rise, vulnerability of agriculture to climate change, invasive species, disease vectors, etc.
Protecting and managing nature and the environment: biodiversity, ecosystem services, nature-based solutions, restoration of damage, cultural heritage, spiritual connection
Uses of the environment: sustainable agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy resources, building materials, means of transport and infrastructure, recreation, community gardens and landscaping, urban nature, land use, resource planning and management
Pollution from human activities that impact health and environment: human waste, water contamination, agricultural runoff, fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, air pollution, greenhouse gases, industrial pollutants, microbes and viruses, pharmaceuticals, plastics, waste disposal and management
The IEF recognizes the “centrality of knowledge to social existence,” as explained in the Ridván Message 2010 of the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá’í Faith:
The perpetuation of ignorance is a most grievous form of oppression; it reinforces the many walls of prejudice that stand as barriers to the realization of the oneness of humankind, at once the goal and operating principle of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation. Access to knowledge is the right of every human being, and participation in its generation, application and diffusion a responsibility that all must shoulder in the great enterprise of building a prosperous world civilization—each individual according to his or her talents and abilities. Justice demands universal participation. Thus, while social action may involve the provision of goods and services in some form, its primary concern must be to build capacity within a given population to participate in creating a better world. Social change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.
The IEF regularly reviews and reports on the latest developments in the science of the environment in its newsletter and on the Science page of this website.
Many compilations are available here with the Bahá'í teachings about the moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions of the environment and sustainability, and about social action itself.
One way to plan for social action is through Community Conversations for Global Solidarity, for which we have developed some initial materials.
Community Conversations: Introduction for the Public
Community Conversations: Introduction for Baha'i-inspired Public Discourse and Social Action
Part 1: Assessment of Reality - Questions for Local Community Assessment
Part 2: Consulting and Deciding about Actions
Download Introduction, Parts 1 and 2 as pdf
Our Prosperous World is also developing beautiful materials for Local Action inspired by this approach, including a Community Wealth Inventory (also now in French) and a module on Food Wealth, with others planned.
Go to Environmental course materials page
This website has educational materials that were produced to address the needs in a local community or region, but might be used or adapted elsewhere.
In this spirit, for example, some IEF members recognized the lack of educational materials to assist youth immersed in a culture of materialism and consumerism. Therefore they created a 6-lesson curriculum about the Story of Stuff to help them apply spiritual principles to very practical actions in their lives which contribute to the protection of the environment as well as to the youth's personal spiritual development. These Baha'i-inspired materials were used with an interfaith youth group, refined after learning from the experience, and then posted on the IEF website. In such manner, others who also see a similar need for the youth in their community to turn away from consumerism can either use these materials as they are, or pick and choose from them to suit their specific local interests, needs, and circumstances.
A similar story is behind the interfaith study course Scientific and Spiritual Dimensions of Climate Change posted on the IEF website.
If you live in a rural area, there is a simple Rural Environmental Management training programme that can help you to read the reality of your local environment and give you the knowledge to take action on local problems and to manage your environment and natural resources for long-term sustainability. You can pick and chose the parts of the materials that are relevant to your own community, and study them yourself or together with others.
Go to Case Studies page
The IEF encourages its members from different parts of the world to share their experiences with social action in the area of the environment and sustainability in the IEF newsletter, and as case studies on this website. While the same spiritual principles are true everywhere, local environmental and social problems vary greatly, and different cultures will require different approaches to social action. Sharing your experiences and any educational materials you may have developed to address local needs will be inspiring and helpful for others.
Recently, the IEF became acutely aware of the tremendous need for knowledge about how to start projects with regenerative agriculture, especially in Africa. This is an important example of how the sharing of the experiences of a community could assist others in their local efforts. Is there a community who has had any experience with regenerative agriculture who could produce a toolkit from which other communities could get information, ideas, and inspiration?
A great need that is often overlooked at the local level is the protection of biodiversity. It would be wonderful if the IEF could share experiences of its members on how they were able to transform toxic chemical-laden monocultures into natural lawns, meadows, or community food gardens, or how they planted native trees and bushes to provide habitat for wildlife. Here, inspiration can be drawn from the IEF Statement Ethical Commitment to Protect Nature and its Biodiversity and some practical ideas are provided in Environmentally Sustainable Baha'i Properties.
READING YOUR OWN LOCAL REALITY
From a Baha'i perspective, social action is initiated from the grassroots. It originates from a consultative process in which the reality of the local community is assessed – its social and environmental problems as well as the human and material resources to address them. Scientific knowledge and practical skills, as well as insights in how to apply spiritual principles to social and environmental issues for community sustainability, are among the essential ingredients for social action. People become empowered by applying such knowledge and by learning from their experience, which they then can share with others.
No two communities are the same, so you need to read your own local reality. The information the IEF can provide must be considered for its relevance to your local situation, and will not be appropriate everywhere. Consider how community types and situations differ by factors such as:
SIZE: rural villages, small towns, urban neighbourhoods, dense slums, suburban communities
LOCAL ECOSYSTEMS: coastal, desert, mountain, forest, savanna/plains, river basins, lakes, tundra, coral reef, mangrove, degraded
LIFESTYLES: hunter-gatherer, subsistence cultivation, small family farms, intensive agriculture, community gardens, suburban, fully urbanized, consumer culture, slums, refugee camp
LEVELS OF MATERIAL DEVELOPMENT: poor, displaced migrant, just getting by, developing, materially advanced, wealthy
The IEF does not execute local actions, but aims to build capacity in its members and associates so that they can take meaningful actions in their community. The Universal House of Justice wrote in The Prosperity of Humankind:
“The tasks entailed in the development of a global society call for levels of capacity far beyond anything the human race has so far been able to muster. Reaching these levels will require an enormous expansion in access to knowledge, on the part of individuals and social organizations alike.”
The Universal House of Justice wrote in its Naw-Ruz 2020 message:
“May your minds be ever bent upon the needs of the communities to which you belong, the condition of the societies in which you live, and the welfare of the entire family of humanity, to whom you are all brothers and sisters.”
In its Ridvan 2023 message, the Universal House of Justice wrote:
"In place after place, the initiatives being pursued reveal a population learning how to take increasing responsibility for navigating the path of its own development. The resulting spiritual and social transformation manifests itself in the life of a people in a variety of ways.... ...increasing attention needs to be given to other processes that seek to enhance the life of a community — for example, by improving public health, protecting the environment, or drawing more effectively on the power of the arts. What is required for all these complementary aspects of a community’s well-being to advance is, of course, the capacity to engage in systematic learning in all these areas — a capacity that draws on insights arising from the Teachings and the accumulated store of human knowledge generated through scientific enquiry. As this capacity grows, much will be accomplished over the coming decades."
Last updated 1 May 2023