We celebrated Digni`s 40th anniversary yesterday on June 8th. We celebrated the anniversary at Frelsesarmeen premises, Tempelet. Representatives from several member organisations, Norad, civil society organisations and former employees had gathered on this day.
In his opening speech, General Secretary Hjalmar Bø emphasized that even though Digni is 40 years old, Digni’s work is much older. Many of Digni’s members have carried out diaconal work for almost 200 years. Digni turns 40 at a time when the world is experiencing many crises at the same time. The climate crisis, the aftermath of the pandemic and wars. History shows that there have been crises before as well, and now it is our task to work together to find good solutions in our time.
State Secretary Bjørg Sandkjær (MFA) also stressed the multiple challenges facing the world today. The mission organisations have played an important role in developing work for a long period of time. Sandkjær emphasised that meeting some of Dignis partners have made a lasting impression, especially on a trip to Nepal visiting a water project. Digni`s message that everyone is equally valuable is radical and perhaps the most important contribution. The dialogue with Digni will continue to be important in fields such as equality and freedom of religion or belief. She emphasized that it is important for Digni to continue to be a watchdog of the government, in order to stand up for the world’s poor and marginalized. Sandkjær emphasized that she is looking forward to further cooperation.
Afterwards, Javier Gutierrez, the director of Mission Alliance in Ecuador held a presentation about the work done by Mission Alliance in an area in Guayaquil in Equador. The area consists of 500 000 people who live in extreme poverty, lack basic public services and face conditions of extreme violence. The basic services have very poor quality, and it is therefore urgent to work for justice and equality. Through Mission Alliance projects, people’s living conditions have improved. Together with the union of churches, a lot of public advocacy is being done. An important part of public advocacy is working together and working in a network of churches.
The panel debate consisted of Professor Stephanie Dietrich, Dr.Titus Tenga, Director of ESAF East and North-East India Ajithsen Selvadhas and General Secretary of NMS Helge Gaard. Senior advisor at Digni Lisa Winter was the moderator. The panelists discussed among other things the pitfalls and opportunities when faith-based actors are involved in development. Stephanie Dietrich emphasised the important work done by religious actors on the ground and their long roots in many developing countries. Helge Gaard emphasised that it is important to take partnership seriously. He argued that “If we want to be partners with actors in the south, we can`t be a controller at the same time”. Titus Tenga concurred that we have to address the power imbalance between donors and partners.
Stephanie Dietriech also emphasised that we need to counter aid dependence. Asset-based approaches are important in order to counter dependency on aid. Asset-based approaches are therefore the best way to move forward. However, in contexts with humanitarian crisis, need-based approaches will be necessary.
The seminar ended with Norad director Bård Vegar Solhjell stressing that Norad didn’t create Digni, but the member organisations of Digni created Norad. He also stressed that, in contrast to how it is in Norway, religion plays an important role in many people lives in developing countries. Religious actors therefore play an important role in developing countries, but they can also pose challenges.
Solhjell emphasised that Norad is careful on how funding is spent, but there is also need for flexibility when working with partners in the south. There are a lot of challenges facing the world today and Digni and their members are doing an important job. Digni does not have time for a «40 year crisis»
The seminar ended with a fantastic musical performance by Ulf Nilsen and Frøydis Grorud.
It was a nice and sunny day, celebrating Digni`s anniversary with members, other organisations and different representatives cooperating with Digni.
Bård Vegar Solhjell gives a speech. Photo: Arild Vik