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Released online and distributed to delegates at the 12th International Baha’i Convention, a new edition of the publication For the Betterment of the World provides an illustration of the Baha’i community’s ongoing process of learning and action in the field of social and economic development.
The publication, prepared by the Office of Social and Economic Development at the Baha’i World Centre, highlights fundamental concepts that guide Baha’i efforts in social action. Among its core premises are that “… all of the earth’s inhabitants should be able to enjoy the fruits of a materially and spiritually prosperous society” and that “every population has the right and responsibility to mark out the path of its own progress.”
Much of the publication is dedicated to providing practical examples of projects undertaken in diverse parts of the world, irrespective of typical dichotomies—rural and urban, “North” and “South.” It describes a sampling of Baha’i development endeavors across a broad spectrum, ranging from grassroots efforts of limited duration undertaken by individuals or small groups, to sophisticated programs of social and economic development implemented by Baha’i-inspired nongovernmental organizations. The publication also explains how, most often, development endeavors emerge and advance within localities that have a pronounced sense of community and a growing collective consciousness.
Baha’i social and economic development initiatives address various aspects of community life, and For the Betterment of the World explores some of these, such as education, health, agriculture, the economic life of communities, arts and media, and the advancement of women. The publication also explores how knowledge is being captured and systematized by organizations and Baha’i institutions at various levels of society, from the grassroots to the international.
Regardless of the specific nature or scale of an initiative, Baha’i endeavors for social and economic development operate on the principle that populations should be the protagonists of their own material, spiritual, and intellectual advancement, not just recipients of aid or mere participants. All Baha’i-inspired initiatives are motivated by a desire to serve humanity and seek to promote the social and material well-being of all people:
It is appropriate and befitting that in this illumined age—the age of the progress of the world of humanity—we should be self-sacrificing and should serve the human race. Every universal cause is divine and every particular one is temporal. The principles of the divine Manifestations of God were, therefore, all-universal and all-inclusive.
Every imperfect soul is self-centred and thinketh only of his own good. But as his thoughts expand a little he will begin to think of the welfare and comfort of his family. If his ideas still more widen, his concern will be the felicity of his fellow citizens; and if still they widen, he will be thinking of the glory of his land and of his race. But when ideas and views reach the utmost degree of expansion and attain the stage of perfection, then will he be interested in the exaltation of humankind. He will then be the well-wisher of all men and the seeker of the weal and prosperity of all lands. This is indicative of perfection. - Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, pp. 68-69.
Taken together, Baha’i social action efforts represent a growing process of learning that is concerned with applying the teachings of Baha’u’llah, along with knowledge accumulated in different fields of human endeavor, to social reality.
This edition of For the Betterment of the World is the third, following versions published in 2003 and 2008. Copies of the new publication have been made available to the more than 1,300 delegates that have arrived for the International Baha’i Convention, which began on 29 April 2018. A copy of the new edition can also be accessed on bahai.org.