The G20 Interfaith Forum took place at Hotel New Otani Makuhari in Chiba prefecture from June 7 to 9. Speaking at the conference, Haruhisa Handa, Chairman of Worldwide Support for Development (WSD), a nonprofit organization that co-hosted the event, stressed that cooperation among religious, political and private sectors is crucial to the realization of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This year’s sixth annual G20 Interfaith Forum was the largest to date, attracting an audience of 4,000 over the course of the two days, with sessions open to the public. Discussions covered a range of local and global issues, and the forum’s agenda focused on how religious leaders can point the way forward and inspire people around the world—particularly in regard to SDGs—targets adopted by all U.N. member states in 2015 to achieve a better and more sustainable future.
The 17 SDGs are based on the philosophy that “no one should be left behind.” As all are linked, a breakdown in the process of achieving even one goal hinders the success of the entire agenda for sustainable development.
One of the major factors slowing down the movement is the lack of progress toward ending poverty—a target defined in goals one and two. The forum’s main mission is to highlight issues gathered from the global network of philanthropists and charitable organizations of various faiths that provide support in impoverished areas, and to make policy recommendations to G20 leaders.
Also attracting attention to the forum was key organizer WSD. The group offers humanitarian assistance to victims of conflict and refugees, and has established a neonatal hospital in Laos and a free medical emergency clinic in Cambodia. WSD also holds various international forums to promote the spread of peace around the world. It hosts the annual Global Opinion Leaders Summit, which has welcomed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, among others, to present guidelines on how developed countries should tackle increasingly complex societal issues.
In addition to his leadership of WSD, Handa is President of Misuzu Corp., which runs the Handa Watch World event. Handa, who is well known for his numerous charitable activities and achievements, has named John Key, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Enda Kenny, former Prime Minister of Ireland, as honorary chairs of WSD.
At this year’s G20 Interfaith Forum, 300 leaders in the fields of religion, politics, economics, education and the sciences gathered in Japan to exchange ideas on topics ranging from poverty and the refugee crisis to education and environmental degradation. The lineup included prominent speakers such as former British Prime Minister David Cameron; Graca Machel, the first Education Minister of Mozambique and Chancellor of the University of Cape Town; and Nobel Peace Prize winner Denise Coghlan. Discussions on the second day of the forum began with remarks by Koichi Hagiuda, Executive Acting Secretary-General of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, who delivered greetings from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
WSD Chairman Handa opened the forum on June 8, stressing the need to include faith leaders in policy decisions: “As 85% of the world population has a deep connection to religion, politicians must include [a network of religious leaders] in addressing global problems,” he said.
Religious leaders, including Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, gave messages to the forum about the shared care and concern across diverse religious communities for underprivileged children and others. Professor Osama Al-Azhari, adviser to the Egyptian President on religious affairs, echoed this sentiment, noting that the principles of the SDGs match the teachings of the Koran—a view shared by Muslim leaders.
Innocent Children Are the Biggest Victims
Most of the speakers touched on the problem of poverty. Estimates from the World Bank show the number of people in extreme poverty—those living on less than US$1.90 a day—remains unacceptably high. According to U.N. data, most of the world’s poor live in developing countries, and one in nine are suffering from starvation. University of Cape Town’s Machel, who was married to late South African President Nelson Mandela and is a staunch advocate for women and children, spoke on the issue. “Due to conflicts and the effects of climate change, 6.5 million people are refugees, of which 52% are children,” she said, describing how the weak become targets of criminal networks engaged in human trafficking and illegal organ harvesting.
Machel also emphasized the necessity of providing education for refugee children, who are half as likely to attend elementary school as non-refugee children.
“Children are treasures. If given a chance, they will contribute to the economic growth of developing nations. Without [education], they will grow up without morals and creativity, and as adults they will be unable to fully participate in society,” she observed, urging collaboration among academic, religious and private sectors to come up with innovative solutions.
About 90% of refugees flee to developing countries, where they are vulnerable to the worst human rights violations. It has been reported that criminal organizations impersonating humanitarians infiltrate refugee camps, kidnapping children and selling them into sex and labor trafficking.
What can we do? First, we must accurately grasp the situation, and then act upon our natural human emotions. The evolution of technology has made it possible for anyone to speak up and send a message all over the world.
WORLDWIDE SUPPORT FOR DEVELOPMENT (WSD)