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Aid questions: Secular vs religious organisations

Friday, October 23, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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This is the second post in a series answering your questions about aid and development organisations. If you have questions you'd like me to answer then email me, comment here or tweet me @fridaworld. Also new today – you can now subscribe to this blog using the link in the side bar to the left or register to get posts by email using the form  – also in the side bar to the left. Because making your life easier makes me happy. Here is the next question:

I prefer supporting secular aid / development organisations, is that bias unhelpful in some situations?

Some of the best development work I saw in Afghanistan was being supported or implemented by organisations closely affiliated with religions or churches. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), for example, was one of the only organisations bringing resources in to support community level development initiatives in Ghor. They supported women's livelihood projects and helped Afghan women who were establishing women's centres in many villages, places where women could gather to talk, learn and plan their contribution to the development of their communities.

There is a very big difference between professional development organisations that are affiliated with and have a strong supporter base from a particular religion, on the one hand, and missionary groups, on the other. Organisations like CRS are not engaged in proselytizing and make no distinction in their work between people of different faiths. They operate on the same principles of development best practice as do secular development organisations. Missionary groups are a different matter and since I wasn't asked about them I can avoid opening that can of worms.

Having said that, there are plenty of people out there whose personal preference is to support organisations that are affiliated with their religion or church. So I see no problem with others, like yourself, exercising your personal preference in the other direction. There are plenty of really effective secular development organisations out there (Oxfam, Care and Mercy Corps for example) so I think you should put your money where your heart is.

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2 Responses to "Aid questions: Secular vs religious organisations"

  1. amy says:

    very sensible advice, thank you. the proselytising and distinctions made between recipients of services on the basis of faith are probably the two things that did concern me in thinking about this issue. a lack of familiarity with the way in which individual aid and development organisations work in practice probably leads me to assumptions not based in fact.

  2. marianne, you are such a gift to this world.
    thank you.
    xx lisa

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