Myanmar Red Cross Society hosts inaugural regional think-tank on interfaith and intercultural dialogue

Published: 10 April 2015 8:17 CET

By Jessica Sallabank and Kate Roux, IFRC

With religious and cultural tensions increasingly dominating the media and international political discourse, humanitarian organisations are also addressing the issue of religion and culture in the context of their work in divided or conflict-affected communities. 

Often on the frontlines of humanitarian emergencies, and with neutrality and independence at the heart of its mandate, there is growing recognition that that the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement can play a unique and important role in promoting dialogue and understanding between people of all faiths, ethnicities and cultures.

As part of this initiative, senior National Society representatives from the Middle East, South Asia and the Asia Pacific region travelled to Yangon, Myanmar to join experts for a 2-day regional think tank focusing on the merits and challenges of fostering inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue in the context of humanitarian work. The think-tank also explored the value of the Red Cross Red Crescent Fundamental Principles as tools for building dialogue between communities with different cultures and traditions, and to maintain bridges between faiths.

Hosted by the Myanmar Red Cross Society, and with the support of the IFRC, the think-thank was jointly organised with the prestigious Yangon-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies and the Myanmar Interfaith Dialogue Group. It brought together renowned academics, humanitarian actors, and peace-building experts for in-depth discussions about the evolving role of the RCRC in building cultures of non-violence and peace in some of the world’s most difficult places.

“Religion and culture have always been important aspects of our grassroots work with volunteers, yet it is not always recognized,” said Jagan Chapagain, director of Asia Pacific for the IFRC in his opening remarks. “In fact, building a culture of non-violence and peace is one of the main strategic aims of our organisation. We must invest in people and communities.”

Dr. Gunnar Stalsett, 17-year member of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and the Emeritus Bishop of Oslo attended the think-tank as a keynote speaker and noted that there is still a tendency within the humanitarian sector to underestimate the role and influence of religious leaders and their impact on how effective aid work can be.

“Religion is often perceived as the “elephant in the room”, explains Dr Gunnar Stalsett. “[Yet] religion is a source of social, moral and spiritual strength…Why don’t people know how to approach, or talk about religion? Religious leaders need to be recognized we are part of the problem and the solution,” he added.

“We have fantastic youth networks, as well as educational tools such as Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change, which we need to promote more widely to succeed in contributing to peace in our communities,” explains Anne E. Leclerc, head of the IFRC South-East Asia regional delegation.

The event was the first of its kind in the region, and Red Cross Red Crescent participants agreed in a closed-session that the dialogue must be a starting point to continue the learning process for the Movement.

“We must listen to the experts,” said Professor Tha Hla Shwe, President of the Myanmar Red Cross Society. “It is by having dialogue and engaging with others on this topic, that we can best adapt our services and the way that we contribute to building better, safer communities,” he concluded.


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 191 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright