On October 5-8th, 2020, USAID held its first Evidence Summit on Strategic Religious Engagement (SRE) — the Agency’s 12th summit since 2010 and the first to focus on religion in development. USAID welcomed nearly 300 individuals from the NGO community, the U.S. Government, universities, and other institutions from around the world. Participants presented papers and abstracts, reported on a wide range of emerging research, and shared their perspectives on the impact of collaborating with religious communities and partnering with faith-based organizations in their work.
Hosted by USAID’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives and co-convened by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, United States Institute of Peace, and Templeton Religion Trust, the Summit provided an opportunity to explore evidence on partnering with local religious communities and faith-based organizations in development, and the possible implications for USAID policy and practice.
USAID will draw on these discussions to build the Agency’s operational capacity to integrate SRE, when and where it is appropriate, to achieve our development goals.
What is Strategic Religious Engagement and how does it support USAID's mission?
Strategic Religious Engagement (SRE) is the process of collaborating with religious communities and/or partnering with faith-based organizations to advance shared development goals. SRE is applied — if, when and where appropriate — with the goal of building our partner countries’ commitment and capacity in their journey to self-reliance.
SRE supports USAID’s Journey to Self-Reliance policy framework in two critical ways. First, as part of civil society engagement, it can help to engage local actors as co-designers and critical partners of USAID programming. Second, SRE can support USAID’s strategy for diversifying its partner base by encouraging partnerships with new and underutilized organizations with innovative ideas, especially locally-established NGOs as well as national and international nonprofits.
Why Strategic Religious Engagement?
In many societies around the world, religion is an increasingly important force in public life impacting political discourse, social attitudes, institutions, and policy outcomes—both for good and for ill. U.S. foreign policy makers, development professionals and implementers face these dynamics in their global work.
In 2013 the U.S. Government adopted the framework of the U.S. National Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement, which encourages U.S. diplomats and development professionals to engage and deepen relationships with religious leaders and faith communities as they carry out their foreign policy responsibilities. Since then, the U.S. Government has included religious actors in its civil society engagement around the world, a priority again underscored in the 2020 Presidential Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom.
Strategic Religious Engagement (SRE) is conducted in full compliance with and respect for the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. USAID regulations (22 CFR 205.1) detail how the Establishment Clause is applied in USAID’s work.
In preparation for the Summit, USAID conducted an Agency-wide survey to understand how the Agency’s workforce currently perceives SRE and applies it in the field. Agency professionals communicated a need for a relevant policy, better guidance, more research evidence, as well as resources and training on effective collaboration with religious communities. In the coming months, USAID will be drawing from the conclusions of the Summit to develop evidence-based principles, tools, training, and a potential policy, to provide staff with guidance that they need.