Hany El Banna, Islamic Relief President, attended the World Economic
Forum in Davos, Switzerland from 24th to 28th January 2007. The annual
meeting brought together 2,400 participants, including some of the
world’s top political and business leaders to debate the major social
and economic problems of the planet.
What contribution does Islamic Relief have to make the World Economic Forum (WEF)?
Islamic Relief brings an injection of different values. It was
reassuring to find a real desire to make the world a better place
amongst some of the wealthiest people in the world. Islamic Relief can
help develop, inform and reinforce that instinct.
Africa, poverty and climate change were all high on the agenda this
year and Islamic Relief has valuable contributions to make to these
discussions, based on real experience. I wanted to bring the dust of
the refugee camps into the gleaming corridors of Davos.
Islamic Relief also re-introduced consideration of religious ethics
into some very secular dialogues – for example, about reproduction.
What was different at Davos this year?
There was greater recognition and acceptance of Islamic Relief this time, as this was our third year at Davos.
According to its motto, the World Economic Forum is about "improving
the state of the world", and I think that the Forum’s culture is slowly
changing. You now have tycoons and social mobilisers sitting side by
side on the same panel. It’s a good start.
How does attending the WEF benefit Islamic Relief staff or the poor people we work with?
The Forum allows Islamic Relief to represent the communities we work
with. These discussions inform the decision-making of some of the
world’s leaders. Our presence also raises our profile and the role of
Muslims in the humanitarian field.
In today’s climate, especially in the last 10 years, there is increased
suspicion of all Muslim organisations. This directly impacts and can
interfere with Islamic Relief’s humanitarian work. Our staff may have
visas refused, face extra checks at airports or encounter problems
transferring money for projects.
This is why it is important for Islamic Relief to be an active member
of global networks such as the WEF. By raising our profile we
strengthen our access to humanitarian space allowing us to continue to
help people in need.
What was your main message to the participants at Davos this year?
My overall message was about the importance of entering into dialogue
with others, regardless of your differences. Dialogue is still
possible, and maybe even more important because of these very
A photograph on the cover of the WEF pack shows you hugging a Buddhist and a Rabbi. Where was this taken?
It was taken at last years WEF, during the final farewell at a forum on
religion. We were all from different backgrounds, Muslim Jewish,
Buddhist and others. We shared some values, differed in others but were
able to develop mutual respect.
We became friends and were genuinely sorry to say goodbye, not knowing
if our paths would cross again. This photograph is a very natural
reflection of what went on – the mutual respect and understanding we
were able to develop. And that is perhaps the best example of what we
should try to achieve inside and outside of the WEF.