Bahá'í Development Projects: A Global Process of Learning

A tangible expression of Bahá'í efforts to promote constructive change in the life of society is found in the various social and economic activities of Bahá'í communities around the world. For the most part, these activities are very simple initiatives that take place at the grassroots level. They are noteworthy not for their scope or scale, but rather for the new concepts and fresh approaches they utilize to unlock the moral and creative capabilities of individuals and communities.

Bahá'í development activities are initiated either by Bahá'í administrative institutions or by individuals or groups. Together, these activities contribute to a global process of learning about a Bahá'í approach to social and economic development. They presently fall into three general categories.

Table 1: Bahá'í Projects According to Level of Complexity by Continent
? Category 1
Fixed Duration
Category 2
Category 3
Africa 238 54 6 298
Americas 549 58 15 622
Asia 351 65 8 424
Australasia 164 30 0 194
Europe 157 17 2 176
Total 1459 224 31 1714

Activities of Fixed Duration

Most Bahá'í social and economic development efforts are fairly simple activities of fixed duration in which Bahá'ís in villages and towns around the world apply spiritual principles to the problems and challenges faced by their localities. These activities either originate in the Bahá'í communities themselves or are a response to the invitation of other organizations. It is estimated that in 1996-97 there were some 1,450 endeavors of this kind, including tree-planting and clean-up projects, health camps, workshops and seminars on such themes as race unity and the advancement of women, and short-term training courses.

Sustained Projects

The second category of Bahá'í social and economic development consists of approximately 225 ongoing projects. The vast majority are academic schools, while others focus on areas such as literacy, basic health care, immunization, substance abuse, child care, agriculture, the environment, or microenterprise. Some of these projects are administered by nascent development organizations which have the potential to grow in complexity and in their range of influence. All projects seek to apply or explore particular Bahá'í principles.

Organizations with Capacity to Undertake Complex Action

Certain Bahá'í development efforts have achieved the stature of development organizations with relatively complex programmatic structures and significant spheres of influence. They systematically train human resources and manage a number of lines of action to address problems of local communities and regions in a coordinated, interdisciplinary manner. Also included in this category are several institutions--especially large schools--which, although focusing only on one field, have the potential to make a significant impact in contributing to the welfare of the communities in which they operate. In this category there are currently 31 such organizations, which are located in all continents of the globe.

A Bahá'í tutorial school in Paraguay. From their earliest years, Bahá'í children are encouraged to develop their moral and intellectual capacities.

Global Campaigns

While most projects begin at the local level this does not exclude the possibility of action at higher levels. In recent years, the Bahá'í community has initiated global campaigns in the areas of literacy , primary health care training, and the advancement of women . Projects are now underway in a number of countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. The campaigns attempt to draw on certain approaches and methodologies to development that have proven effective in different social contexts and seek to adapt such knowledge to a wider range of communities. In some cases, these initiatives have involved collaboration with national governments and international agencies. The campaigns demonstrate the potential for widespread implementation of development programs throughout the global network of Bahá'í communities.
Table 2: Number of Bahá'í Schools by Continent
? Tutorial Schools
Total # of Academic Schools
Africa 179 30 52 10 1 93
Americas 61 12 63 14 8 97
Asia 165 6 102 8 2 118
Australasia 2 14 20 1 0 35
Europe 0 0 2 2 1 5
Total 407 62 239 35 12 348*

*The total number of academic schools does not include tutorial schools.


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