The rise of faith-based social service organizations in the developing world is undisputed, but determining just how many of these groups there are and the types of people receiving these services is far more difficult to ascertain, according to World Bank specialists speaking at a special session at the ASREC conference attended by RW.
Jill Olivier of the World Bank said that in sub-Saharan Africa, the “health work done by churches is vastly overstated,” citing current estimates of the proportion of the church-run sector as being anywhere from 40 to even 70 percent. Olivier said it is actually more like 10 to 20 percent. Part of the reason for the inflation of these numbers is that for many faith-based organizations it is useful to cite the most favorable rates for continued support. It is also the case that there has been a dearth of data on the smaller faith-based groups, even for such fast-growing religions as Pentecostalism.
There is also a good deal of mixture in these organizations; many may have a faith-based approach, but are in the government sector.The other presenters at the sessions gave somewhat mixed assessments of the outcomes of faith-based organizations (FBOs). A paper on the African nations of Burkina Faso and Ghana finds that seven or eight percent of health services in the latter country are provided by FBOs rather than the 30 percent claimed by such organizations, according to Quentin Wodon of the World Bank. He finds that FBOs are no more likely to reach the poor than non-FBOs, while there is often a higher cost for the services of the latter.
In Burkina Faso, 57 percent of social services are provided by secular agencies, although the share of FBOs is growing, especially in education. A survey of FBOs in Cambodia presented by Claudia Zambra of the World Faiths Development Dialogue finds that such groups do not form a unified “faith sector”, but rather a patchwork of poorly studied and coordinated groups.
She finds that many of these groups are more pragmatic than ideological in approach. Muslim FBOs have received funding from Saudi Arabia in building mosques and madrassas, and those who study abroad often come back to Cambodia more conservative, such as wearing head coverings. Few Buddhist organizations are doing development work as of yet, although working with the growing movement of socially engaged Buddhists may be the best strategy for delivering social services, Zambra concludes.