The twentieth century has seen the immensely important impact of four institutions on making social change and development in various societies of the world. They are: 1) Nation States; 2) International Organizations; 3) Multi-national Corporations and 4) the NGOs. The role and scope of the NGOs have expanded tremendously during the recent decades, especially in the fields of emergency humanitarian aid and social development.

By some estimates, there are as many as 20 million NGOs working around the globe.

ranging from Mom and Pop community groups that collect used clothes to the multimillion dollar corporations able to build municipal sanitation system. These mon-governmental organizations have also  been involved in the emergency humanitarian aid work to sustainable development projects – and ultimately shaping the socio- economic attitudes of the certain segments of population of a society. According to some experts, Bangladesh is the prime example of NGOs’ successful experiment model in changing the social behavior of various sectors of the society, especially among the women.

The international NGOs were instrumental in developing the eight-point Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for 2000 to 2015 by the United Nations during the 90s. And they are also involved in the post MDG debate which is going on in these days. According to the research conducted by one author (Lynn Lawry, 2009) more than 90 percent of aid coordinated by the United Nations is provided by NGOs, of which 95 percent is provided by only 35 to 40 major American and European organizations.

Within the United States the NGO’s legal status primarily defined as an organization’s ability to qualify for 501(c) 3 tax exemption status. By 2008, the IRS had recognized more than 1.9 million NGOs, the combined assets of which represented $2 trillion dollars. These organizations are divided by the IRS into five broad categories: charitable organizations, churches and religious organizations, educational institutions, private foundations and other nonprofits.

These NGOs undertake a wide array of activities, including political advocacy on issues such as foreign policy, elections, the environment, healthcare, women’s rights, economic development, and many other issues. Many NGOs in the United States also operate in fields that are not related to politics. These include volunteer organizations rooted in shared religious faith, labor unions, groups that help vulnerable people such as the poor or mentally ill, and groups that seek to empower youth or marginalized populations. Indeed, NGOs exist to represent virtually every cause imaginable.

However, all these efforts at global and national levels, and the efforts of relief organizations could not achieve the required results of eradication of poverty, sustainable development and establishing a just society. Global numbers of hungry and poor people have increased every year and now, according to the World Food Program report, more than one billion men, women and children of the world are in that category. In the US, according to the Cato Institute, the federal and State governments have been spending almost a trillion dollar annually on more than 126 welfare programs and projects. The numbers of poor, hungry and homeless are, however, increasing every year. The latest figure showed that almost fifty million Americans are in those categories.

The world has been producing more grain every year than the collective need of the total population of the planet earth. The overall wealth has also been increasing in the globe. Every year billions of dollar are being spent by the UN, national and federal governments, the international and domestic relief and social service organizations, and private foundations. Then, why the numbers of poor and hungry people is increasing each year in the world, especially in the developed countries. There is something fundamentally wrong with the present global world order.

Another missing link in the debate on social development was the lack of the discussion on  the role of religion in the social change and development. For decades, religion was effectively ignored by practitioners and researchers concerned with development and humanitarian aid – secularist biases in conceptualizing development combined with essentialist conceptions of religion as inherently conservative and reactionary left no room for religion. In fact, religion was, according to the sociologist Kurt Alan ver Beek (2000), ‘a development taboo’. He had scanned three of the most prominent journals on development and humanitarian aid in the period 1982 to 1998, finding only few references to the topic and no single articles in which religion was the main topic. In the same study, he also reviewed the policies of a number of major development agencies and NGOs, concluding that none of them had any policies on religion or spirituality.

However, in recent years, the taboo has been broken. In fact, some would even say that religion has become fashionable. Religion is on the agenda of several major donors and NGOs, just like an increasing number of researchers have taken an interest in the topic, witnessed by a wide range of conferences, seminars, articles, reports and books dealing with the topic.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number and visibility of religious organizations involved in development and humanitarian aid, or faith-based organizations (FBOs) as they are often called. Naturally, religious organizations are not a new invention; throughout history, Catholic hospitals, Islamic foundations and Buddhist monasteries, among many others, have provided aid to the poor. However, in recent years, contemporary religious organizations such as NGOs, charities and community associations seem to have achieved particular prominence.

In the US, for instance, government funding for FBOs has almost doubled from 10.5 percent in 2001 to 19.9 percent in 2005. Likewise, some of the largest international NGOs are religious (World Vision alone has an annual budget of 1.6 billion US dollars), Muslim NGOs are also on the rise, and locally, religious associations and community organizations are often some of the most important service providers. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, the World Bank estimates that as much as fifty percent of all health and education services are provided by FBOs. The World Bank’s own study Voices of the Poor (2000) further cemented the importance of religious organizations by concluding that many poor people had more confidence in religious organizations than in government or secular organizations.

According to the Union of International Associations, there are approx. 33,500 international NGOs in the world. Of these, the majority are involved in activities related to development and humanitarian aid, broadly understood as including education, micro-finance, relief, environmental issues, and human rights. Of the 3,183 NGOs with consultative status at ECOSOC, 320 can be characterized as religious.

As noted above, the increasing interest in the role of religion in development and humanitarian aid has shown in the establishment of various initiatives to strengthen cooperation with religious organizations, including e.g. the Dutch Knowledge Forum for Religion and Development Policy, established in collaboration between NGOs, researchers and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the World Bank’s Development Dialogue on Values and Ethics; and the UK Department for International Development’s recent seminar series Faith and Development.

Muslim international relief organizations based in the United State, is part of a new and emerging phenomenon, where Muslims living in the West are pooling their talents and resources to help the needy brothers and sisters across the globe. Obviously these type of organizations are facing several challenges. One of them is their lack of participation in the policy debates and global advocacy network. An alternative policy analysis on global relief and development issues with the appropriate Islamic perspective is scarcely available. At the same time, a proper understanding of the importance of global advocacy work and needed professional training are simply not there. The Center for Islam and Public Policy (CIPP) has the capacity to address this vital sector of their international humanitarian aid and development work.

CIPP would like to develop a special section on ‘Religion and Development’ as part of its research programs, where relevant material will be linked on its website. With the help of scholars and practitioners, policy analysis on global emergencies, humanitarian aid, hunger, poverty, healthcare issues with the Islamic perspective will be developed and posted on the website. Workshops and conferences will also be arranged to discuss thoroughly different policy dimensions of these issues. All the proceedings and reports would be disseminated to the leaders, scholars and policy makers interested in religion, humanitarian aid, social change and development.

The documents of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) at the United Nations, and the post 2015 debate on these goals lack any Islamic perspective. The prevention of hunger, eradication of poverty, access of clean water, and basic healthcare are the rights of people. Creating a just global environment should be the the duty of all human beings. According to the Quran,the paramount purpose for which the prophets were sent to struggle all their lives was to guide man to achieve justice (57:25). CIPP would also develop a “Just and Balanced Society Index (JABSI)”  under its ‘Religion and Development’ program.

CIPP will also Identify the stakeholders, strategic partners in NGOs, foundations, government and private sectors to facilitate the advocacy work at the levels of U.S., United Nations and other international and regional forums. The idea of launching a global campaign on hunger with focus on Justice will be discussed with other like-minded Muslim faith-based international relief organizations and detailed plan will be chalked out.

CIPP will also develop professional short courses, seminars, and workshops in the fields of global advocacy, leadership, and other aspects needed for a successful faith-based relief and development organization.