Our Impact in 2015
15 Mar 2016
The mission of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation is to provide practical support to counter religious conflict and extremism. This Impact Report sets out our contribution in 2015.
Around the world, we face threats from a powerful ideology that abusively uses religion to justify horrific acts of violence. For this ideology to be defeated it needs to be better understood, then discredited by those people with the power to do so.
Our ideas and work on the ground aim to counter religious conflict and extremism in order to promote open-minded and stable societies.
Defeating this extremism in the long term will require new policies and a sustained international effort. This is where we help, generating new solutions and promoting them to government and other partners that can bring them to scale. We think and we do. Our ideas inform our work on the ground, and vice versa.
This was an important year in the evolution of our work. The Foundation launched a new international affairs think-tank that aims to help policy makers understand the ideology behind the violence. Our work on the ground expanded into new areas and audiences. The Foundation's global schools programme continued to grow and our work supporting leaders benefited from new strategic partnerships with international organisations.
Prevention of extremism will only be effective if we build a strategy that deals with the ideas, of which the violence is a tragic symptom. The Foundation's work in 2015 helped both challenge these ideas and develop resilience within those targeted for radicalisation. Whether it is enabling educators to pass on vital skills to their students, equipping leaders to resist extremist narratives, or informing policy makers on the religious dimensions of conflict, we helped build capacity to do this.
Centre on Religion & Geopolitics
The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics (CRG) is our international affairs think tank. Starting as a web resource called Religion & Geopolitics in June 2014, the initiative grew and developed in 2015, holding events, roundtable discussions and briefing policy makers and the media. We launched as CRG in September 2015.
CRG presents informed analysis on the interaction of religion and conflict globally, offering policy responses to meet the scale of the challenge.
CRG has published two policy reports, both of which received widespread coverage and have been cited and used by political figures and decision makers around the world. Inside the Jihadi Mind: Understanding Ideology and Propaganda conducted analysis on the propaganda of three jihadi groups: ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda. The release of the report was marked with a keynote speech by the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York. Our second report, If the Castle Falls: Ideology and Objectives of the Syrian Rebellion studied a selection of rebel groups in Syria.
When tragic events, like the attacks in Paris and Mali, require a nuanced analysis on the interaction of religion and conflict, our analysts have been able to provide it. Our expertise has been featured in a range of global media outlets, including The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, CNN, Fox News, BBC and Sky News, as well as being publicly cited by leading third party experts.
CRG also worked hard to ensure their coverage included emerging issues not covered by global media outlets, such as the plight of the Rohingya Muslim community of Myanmar.
On top of these reports CRG's daily news brief provides thousands of subscribers with the latest updates and insights and our private policy discussions convene diplomats, politicians and other policy makers to discuss key global challenges.
Extremism and Policy Options
In December we released the second volume in our Global Perspective series. A range of global experts wrote chapters for How to Prevent: Extremism and Policy Options. This presented options for policy makers to consider in constructing a full spectrum response to preventing extremism. It featured a lead essay from a former UK Cabinet Minister, the Rt Hon Hazel Blears, drawing on her extensive and first-hand experience of devising and delivering government counter-extremism policies.
Writing in the volume Dr Khalid Koser, Executive Director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund said, "This second volume in the Tony Blair Faith Foundation's Global Perspectives series is therefore published at a critical juncture. Awareness has been raised, politicians and policy makers are mobilising, and a new sub-discipline for research is emerging. What is now required is to translate this flurry of activity into action... combining academics, policy-makers, practitioners and religious leaders and applying a variety of disciplinary lenses – the volume begins to give meaning to the prevention concept."
Equipping Young People to Navigate Difference
The Foundation's global schools programme, Face to Faith, equips young people around the world with the knowledge and ability to respect diversity and difference.
In 2015, we worked with teachers to enable students to gain the crucial skills of dialogue, critical thinking and religious literacy. Our programme also provides the opportunity for young people to practise these skills through facilitated videoconferences, or in online dialogue in a secure, moderated community. Using this technology, students engage directly with their contemporaries around the world. These skills, and often life-changing experiences, break down religious and cultural prejudices, reducing the risk of conflict.
We worked with young people in over 20 countries in 2015, including in some of the world's most challenging regions. Our classroom materials were taught to over 50,000 students and 482 videoconferences took place.
We also worked closely with governments, through formal agreements with both the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, and the Education Ministry of the Palestinian Authority. Through these, we work in partnership to embed the programme's values, teaching methods and resources within their national curricula to help protect future generations from radicalisation.
We have continued to explore innovative new ways to connect students all over the world, including our first Live Story with Snapchat.
Our work promoting online dialogue expanded this year. As part of the Face to Faith online community, classes from around the world were grouped together to participate in carefully created Team Blogging opportunities that challenged them to engage positively with difference. These four-week online projects allow students to dialogue through written blog posts with their peers from different cultures.
As always, we are looking to provide an even better experience for students and began the development of a new online learning community that will launch in 2016.
Continuing to test our methodology and improve our approach, we are working in partnership with the University of Exeter to assess the attitudinal and behavioural change brought about by Face to Faith. The study will determine the change experienced by young people in a wide range of countries and educational systems, as they participate in the programme.
Supporting Leaders in Nigeria
Nigeria faces a number of challenges. A major jihadi insurgency has led to widespread outbreaks of violence. The country also had elections in 2015 and in the past there has been post-poll tension and rioting driven by appeals to religious identity and by hate-speech.
In 2015, we worked with a new group of mid-level and campus religious leaders from both Christian and Muslim faiths to counter hate-speech and extremist narratives in the run up to, during, and beyond the elections. Participants were drawn from campuses in the north, including those in some of the most conflicted states. The five day course for these campus leaders provided a safe space away from the pressures of daily life in which to reflect, discuss and develop plans for how they would work together to counter negative stereotypes and help build social cohesion on campus and in local communities. The course focused on the theological underpinning of reconciliation and mutual respect and on the core skills necessary to communicate this effectively.
Since returning to Nigeria participants have been implementing their action plans, by establishing local groups, engaging with the media and undertaking community action. They have addressed over 2,500 campus students and staff at public events, secured thousands of signatures appealing for peaceful elections, recorded faith based appeals for peaceful elections and been featured on major radio and TV broadcasts with audiences in the millions.
This work has benefited from funding by the GHR Foundation whose support enabled this programme. We will continue to work with the GHR Foundation to formulate our plans for 2016 and beyond.
Supporting Leaders in Egypt
Highly respected around the world as a centre of learning for over a thousand years, Al-Azhar is one of the world's oldest universities. Under the leadership of The Grand Imam, it is also one of the leading authorities within Sunni Islam. In 2015, the Foundation formed a strategic relationship with the World Association of Al-Azhar Graduates. This partnership establishes a collaborative relationship to deepen understanding and the communication of mainstream religious thinking and co-operation in a globalised world, in order to support cohesive and stable societies. The first initiative under this agreement was a ten-week course for 53 Al-Azhari Islamic Studies graduates selected from countries across Africa. The course equipped participants to play a leading role in promoting positive narratives of inter-religious understanding and engagement to counter the narratives of hatred and division within their home countries.
In his speech at the Graduation Ceremony, the Vice President of the World Association of Al-Azhar Graduates, Sheikh Muhammad Abdul-Fadil al-Qawsi, said that, "Anyone who calls for Islam in a bloody manner, with intimidation and killing, is entirely missing the correct teaching of Islam." A course participant added that, "the most important ideas are those that enable us to address and counter the threats of extremist ideology and interpretations... We must now be responsible for spreading this understanding, and benefiting all societies around the world."
Supporting Leaders in Sierra Leone
Our Malaria prevention work in Sierra Leone was put on hold during the Ebola crisis but we were able to continue to provide support to those in our network. In September 2015 we restarted the project, training faith leaders and supporting community volunteers who will work together in 2016 to conduct household visits in five key districts with messages of malaria prevention.