In August, the North America Regional Leadership Team attended the 25th Annual North American Interfaith Network’s Connect in Toronto Canada.
It was my 5th Connect since joining NAIN as a member in 2002 with my organization S.A.R.A.H. This year hosted by the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Toronto. Connects are the annual conference convening individuals, young adults and organizations working in interfaith and hosted by member organizations around North America.
Workshops range from A Journey to the Tent of Abraham, Models for Engagement in Post-secondary Education, Querying Religion: Interfaith Program Experience on Gender Identities and Sexuality, to the workshop I co-facilitated with Rebecca Tobias called Compassionate Community Building.
While the messages and speeches of “why” we need to continue our interfaith work were palpable and is often a bit over conveyed in any interfaith conference, this year I noticed two very clear memes emerge.
The first; a realization and appreciation that interpersonal relationships are essential in our work. We attend to hear about trends, share best practices, pick each other’s brains for solutions, and see dear friends we only see at NAIN Connects.
But it’s the hallways, mealtime, bus ride conversations where the real juice is. It’s where we dream and scheme and co-creates and come up with fancy-filled, very pragmatic and often serious projects, initiatives and even movements. It’s in the knowing one another personally that we can trust one another, and when we trust one another we can work more deeply together. When we work more deeply together, we can accomplish our collective goals more swiftly and most importantly; with lasting and enduring solutions.
At the 2009 San Francisco Connect while on a bus ride to Muir Woods, our host’s excursion trip, I sat next to Betsy Wiggins, a dear friend, who, along with our own Vice Chair of North America Danya Wellmon is co-founder of Women Transcending Boundaries (WTB) in Syracuse, NY. I was telling Betsy all about SARAH’s upcoming 1st annual interfaith weekend of community service. She took home my enthusiasm and started Acts Of Kindness weekend. SARAH learned from AOK Weekend and in an effort to support WTB without adding another weekend of service, we added a weekend of compassion in Southern California, and called it “AOK Weekend West.” The Compassion initiative led us to the Compassion Action Network and we are now creating Cities of Compassion throughout California. In our 5th Annual, we changed the name of our weekend to “Weekend of Compassion” and are now playing in the “Compassion Games, Survival of the Kindest.” Now Women Transcending Boundaries are playing in the 2013 Compassion Games too. We laugh that we are constantly slinging each other forward, a vision I am sure we can all appreciate.
Through personal relationships and supporting one another, we strengthen and deepen our own goals and visions, expanding our opportunities and development. Not only does this exemplifies the value of nurturing our personal relationships, but illustrates the second theme that was very evident at NAIN Toronto.
The Stanford Social Innovation Review sites Collective Impact is a dynamic whose time has come, necessary for advancement and improvement of all sectors of society. The problems and challenges of our world today are too big for any one approach. When diverse organizations can come together to bring their unique approaches to impact change, we all reach our goals more swiftly and more deeply.
“Mutually Reinforcing Activities lead to collective impact initiatives which depend on a diverse group of stakeholders working together, not by requiring that all participants do the same thing, but by encouraging each participant to undertake the specific set of activities at which it excels in a way that supports and is coordinated with the actions of others.”
Interfaith relations requires the very same qualities to exist in order to survive; to come to find the personal connection by focusing on common values, see the other as not separate from ourselves, and then honoring the collective power we have when we work together and/or to understand one another. More than qualities of our work, research and some personal experience have proven that personal relationships and working in a collective impact model are essential to the work we all have ahead of us.
I join the entire Leadership Council of the North American URI Region in congratulating NAIN on their 25th Anniversary and another stellar Connect. I encourage all of our Cooperation Circles and Affiliates to be sure to be at next year’s Connect in Michigan.