The World Bank and global faith leaders are joining together to end extreme poverty around the world by 2030.
The effort brings together the influential faith community with a major U.S.-based institution that has committed billions of dollars to development work and can leverage billions more from private sector sources to continue a 25-year trend of declining poverty in the world's poorest nations.
"The most important thing is that faith leaders and now the World Bank Group share a common goal," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said during a teleconference Thursday announcing the partnership.
As the alliance was announced, the faith leaders released a statement outlining their commitment to ending extreme poverty within 15 years, calling such action a "moral and spiritual imperative."
"This is an historic moment for us because it now is possible to end extreme poverty by 2030," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, one of seven faith leaders present for the announcement from the World Bank. "This is an example of the love of God who has made a priority of the poor."
The parties face a tremendous challenge. Kim said the World Bank estimates that a bit fewer than 1 billion people live in extreme poverty, which is defined as having an income of $1.25 or less per day. That's about half of the 1.9 billion people the World Bank estimates were living in extreme poverty in 1990.
Of that 1 billion, 77 percent live in 10 countries -- India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Congo, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya. A third of those are in India.
So while the number of people living in extreme poverty continues to fall, reaching the next level will be difficult as those remaining in poverty are in more isolated communities and not as easy to reach.
The Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran pastor and president of the anti-hunger organization Bread for the World, said faith communities must be involved in ending extreme poverty.
"Now that it has become clear that it is feasible to end extreme poverty, faith communities are committing ourselves to ramp up our advocacy and to help build a global movement that will translate this wonderful possibility into political commitment," Rev. Beckmann said.
"The unprecedented progress the world is making against poverty is an example of our loving God moving in today's world, and I think God is inviting us to get with the program."
Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha'i International Community, welcomed the initiative, saying it will help poor people themselves to participate in their own development.
"We believe faith has the deepest capacity to tap reservoirs of human motivation," she said. "All individuals have a responsibility to assist people living in poverty, but society and its institutions have a responsibility to create conditions where poverty can be eradicated.
The collaborative effort emerged from a roundtable discussion involving religious leaders hosted by the World Bank Feb. 18. It was the first high-level meeting between religious leaders and Kim.
The religious leaders' statement called poverty an affront to human dignity and that their traditions each call for uplifting the poorest people. The statement said the effort must confront underlying issues such as preventable illness, lack of access to quality education, joblessness, corruption, conflict, and discrimination against women and ethnic minorities.
Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, are among the 33 faith leaders who had signed the statement as of Thursday. Others included representatives of Jewish, Islamic, Sikh, Buddhist, Protestant, Anglican, evangelical, indigenous and nondenominational religious groups.
Kim outlined details of the World Bank's plan to address extreme poverty at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Tuesday.
The World Bank's strategy includes working to make economic growth more inclusive by creating jobs, investing in basic services, health care and education, and ensuring that social safety-net programs are sufficient to protect people against financial and natural disasters.
Infrastructure needs, such as water treatment, energy plants, roads and railways also must be part of the equation, Kim said. He estimated such costs at up to $1.5 trillion annually.
No one-size-fits-all strategy will help people escape poverty, Kim said in calling for programs that address specific needs of a country or region.
"The end of extreme poverty is no longer just a dream. The opportunity is before us. Governments of the world must seize this moment," he said.
"We have to now collaborate with real conviction and distinguish our generation as the one that ended poverty. We can be the first generation in human history that actually can end extreme poverty."
During the forum he welcomed new partners in the effort and said the newly formed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank formed by the Chinese government last fall was a potential ally.
"We have so much need for infrastructure that we welcome any new partner," he said.
The White House has cautioned countries from joining the new investment bank, expressing concern that it would undermine the development work of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. The concern has largely gone unheeded as more than 40 countries, including key U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, have joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Kim said the new bank organization would have to adhere to strong environmental, employment and procurement standards in any collaboration with the World Bank.
The topic of extreme poverty also was to be addressed by Catholic agencies in a program sponsored by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America April 28. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, will be among several speakers to address the importance of collaboration among development groups and people dealing with deep poverty. Other speakers will represent CRS, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA and the U.S. Agency for International Development.