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Interfaith Collaboration – Walking the Talk

By Sally Mahé


Principle 11 of the United Religions Initiative (URI) Charter says that “we seek and offer cooperation with other interfaith efforts.”  The diverse community that met during URI’s formation in the late nineties envisioned that URI would be a different kind of organization in many respects. 

Masanko Banda leads the parade in Pittsburg in 2000 as hundreds of people gathered to sign the URI Charter.  – Photo: URI

Masanko Banda leads the parade in Pittsburg in 2000 as hundreds of people gathered to sign the URI Charter.  – Photo: URI

One acclaimed difference was that URI would practice “cooperating with other interfaith organizations.” Competition within the emerging interfaith movement or ignoring other efforts simply seemed contrary to the whole notion of being a bridge-building organization that aimed to encourage people of different religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions to respect and cooperate with one another. If URI was to promote cooperation across religious and cultural differences, it followed that cooperative spirit and practices should permeate all aspects of the organization. Thus, Principle 11 smoothly took its place as one of URI’s 21 core principles.

Cooperation and collaboration both aim at getting people working together for shared goals. Wikipedia says, “Collaboration is more than the intersection of common goals seen in co-operative ventures, but a deep collective determination to reach an identical objective.”

In its early years URI jumped in, embracing cooperation and collaboration. We made some efforts.  But we also found that “walking the talk” of collaboration – to develop ingrained organizational habits and practices of collaboration – didn’t come so easy.  

What gets in the way? What different choices are available?

Here are some statements that I have said to myself or have heard others say over the years:

 “We are building and investing in our organization. Taking time and making effort to collaborate with other organizations takes too much effort and distracts us from our own goals.”
“We’re already spread thin – there is no overflow time and energy or funding to develop collaborative ventures.”
“We like our way of doing things … if we collaborate, we might have to give up some of these ways.”
“Working out fair, collaborative agreements that provide trustworthy partners and win-win results is tricky and challenging.”
“It’s easier to talk about collaboration than to do it.”

Breaking away from old patterns and achieving new organizational habits of cooperation and collaboration takes vision, intensified commitment, and creative ideas.  Our spirit and intuitive sensibilities know the value of collaborative actions – but old patterns die hard.  Unified staff commitment and daily practices that integrate “inner work” as well as “outer work” is needed.

Here are some ideas to try:

Graphic: adrants.com

Graphic: adrants.com

  1. Identify groups or organizations where collaboration could be beneficial. Find photos of their staff. Place photos in central place in your organization.  Send good intentions or offer prayers for their successes on a regular basis. See what happens.
  2. Be on the lookout for the benefits that like-minded organizations (potential collaborators) are providing. Send them appreciative notes. See what happens.
  3. Dedicate a staff person to look for and vet opportunities for collaboration.  Quarter time, half time, or full time – the staff person seeks out potential ventures and develops possible strategic plans to implement for mutual benefit.
  4. Look for best examples of very successful collaborations among organizations that you admire Spend staff time analyzing what were keys to their success.
  5. Develop a personal practice of observing in oneself choices toward “evolutionary love” – when we as individuals embody through our thoughts and actions wanting the best for the other. Look for ways to make this practice of “wanting the best for the other” alive in all aspects of our lives – at home, work, and community.  Periodically check how you are doing.
  6. As a staff, reflect on the ideal that: acting in concert we do make a difference. Acting apart we fall apart even farther.  Look for studies and articles showing positive impact resulting from collaborations. Gather quotations lifting up the value of cooperation and collaboration and make these quotations visible in your work place – make staff time to talk about articles and quotations.

At URI, I would say that we have not scored high in our efforts at collaboration with other interfaith organizations over the years, nor have we failed miserably.  The stakes are higher now. Like most of you reading this article, we know getting good at collaboration is essential to achieving our deep collective goals.  Getting good at collaborating may not only be something good to do but something essential for survival.  We know we will stumble as we try to walk in these bigger shoes…but, let’s give it a try! Hope to collaborate soon.

Help your brother’s boat across and your own has reached the shore.

                                                      – Hindu Proverb