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Why the president of the World Bank is asking religious leaders for help

A group of religious leaders have joined forces with the World Bank to attempt to end extreme poverty by 2030. A few hundred people met in Washington on Wednesday with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to discuss their shared goal.

“I’ve never seen the World Bank get religion this way,” said Global Christian Forum leader Rev. Wes Granberg-Michaelson. “Kim is shaking things up. He’s putting himself on the line by saying ‘we have to have the partnerships of religious leaders.'”

Kim spoke about his Korean mother who was a Christian theologian and partly credits her for why he sees religious leaders as an important partner, Granberg-Michaelson said. Kim said he used to protest the World Bank but now sees it as a possibility to end poverty.

Religious leaders first met on Feb. 18 at the World Bank’s “Faith Based and Religious Leaders Roundtable.” For the first time in human history, the two groups believe, world leaders can end extreme poverty.

“We in the faith community embrace this moral imperative because we share the belief that the moral test of our society is how the weakest and most vulnerable are faring,” the group said in a shared statement. “Our sacred texts also call us to combat injustice and uplift the poorest in our midst.”

More than 30 religious leaders and heads of global faith-based organizations signed the joint statement, including American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger, Catholic Relief Services President Carolyn Yauyan Woo and Salvation Army General Andre Cox.

Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty (or on $1.25 a day) has been halved to less than 1 billion.

As part of the initiative, the groups plan to build partnerships between the World Bank and religious groups. The World Bank will also develop tools for more coordination with religious groups in countries where it works.

The World Bank plans to work on getting more faith leaders involved in events. Experts in development and in religion will meet July 7-9 to discuss evidence for how religion makes a difference in sustainable development.

“The culture of the bank used to be, we don’t need these groups,” Granberg-Michaelson said. “We especially don’t need religious groups. Over time, that’s changed.”