02/06/2012 11:39 am ET | Updated Apr 07, 2012

Youth Lead the Way to Interfaith Action for Development

A child dies every 45 seconds from malaria, a preventable and treatable disease, but what can I do about it?

As young interfaith activists, a Hindu Brit and a Christian American, we've been challenged in demonstrating how life in our communities, whether London or New York, can connect to global development efforts.

Making the case for youth in interfaith alone has been a difficult enough challenge. Up until the past decade, youth were little more than a sideshow at interfaith events led by a greying generation. This isn't to say that religious leaders aren't important. They are in fact vital to interfaith work. But when religious violence is most often perpetrated by the youth, we should invest our efforts equally in mobilizing them in action.

Yet, interfaith work can entail more than just working towards "peace." With some of the Millennium Development Goals such as maternal health hardly any closer to achievement than when they started, it's becoming increasingly clear that tackling issues of global health and poverty won't be possible without effectively engaging faith communities, particularly the youth.

Effectively engaging religious youth also requires reframing how development organizations view them. Rather than viewing religious youth as a target of such projects, more can be done to view them as an asset to such efforts. This has been a guiding principle for World Faith, which has been mobilizing religious youth locally in the developing world for four years.

For example, Nigeria's 78 million youth are often identified as actors in violence, leaving hundreds dead in religious clashes. Yet, while the British Council finds that Nigeria needs 25 million jobs over the next 10 years to slow the trend of violence, the youth are often left out of both peace and development efforts. We see this as a global trend, and it's time to not only engage youth in development, but to value religious youth as an asset in development. Religion plays a critical role in this paradigm, from becoming the source of violence to becoming the inspiration for social action.

But the question remains, can religious youth from the developed world be effectively engaged as an asset to supporting efforts in the developing?

That's where the Tony Blair Faith Foundation comes in. The Foundation makes the case for faith as a force for good in the modern world. Youth feature centrally in a number of their programmes including the Faiths Act Fellowship -- to which we belong as a Fellow and an interfaith coach respectively.

Innovative and ambitious, the program provides an international platform for 34 young interfaith leaders based in the US, Canada, UK, India and Sierra Leone to spearhead multi-faith action towards eliminating deaths from Malaria. With three of the main bases in developed countries, the Faiths Act Fellows are trained and equipped with the necessary tools to mobilize communities. It is through thinking globally and acting locally that faith groups truly unite to tackle this particular MDG.

Working in interfaith pairs, the Faiths Act Fellows are based at host organizations from which they organize grassroots malaria awareness campaigns and fundraising events. Organizations hosting Fellows this year range from faith based development NGO's such as Ve'ahavta and United Sikhs to secular NGO's such as Malaria Policy Center, Medshare, and Health Poverty Action.

This year is the second round of the Fellowship. In the first year alone, over £200,000 was raised through reaching out to more than 40,000 people through hundreds of interfaith events internationally. We're just over half way through the Fellowship now and it has been inspiring to see the results of countless interfaith youth initiatives that have already taken place. In London, one of us Fellows recorded and launched a multi-faith CD 'Tunes4Change' at a live concert. Performers from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Bahá'í and secular backgrounds came together to perform along the themes of social action, with all the proceeds supporting maternal health projects in Sierra Leone.

We've seen similar interfaith action across cities including San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington DC, and Toronto. Creative and engaging, the projects have proved hugely successful. Vital awareness and funds are being raised to tackle malaria worldwide through the solid partnerships forged between faith communities.

This year has also seen the introduction of four Faiths Act Fellows based in Sierra Leone. This has formed strong links between the work of Fellows in the developed cities. A challenge faced by many supporting development efforts, is connecting local communities in the developed world to global health issues in the developing. Being able to highlight how successful the interfaith public health messaging our colleagues are working on in Sierra Leone exemplifies how we can help by uniting in our local communities.

Our movement is all about ordinary young people, of all faiths and philosophical backgrounds, doing something extraordinary through taking the leadership role in engaging development work. This is vital because we create sustainable networks, initiatives and relationships. As long as young people of faith work as an asset of development work, the realization of a world where basic development goals like ending malaria and mass infant mortality becomes truly reachable.