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URI in Europe - The URI Europe CC introduces itself - Q&A

URI in Europe

Europe is one of the eight URI regions, alongside Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Multiregional Region, North American, South East Asia and the Pacific (SEAP).

Have a look at our The URI Europe CC introduces itself - Q&A and URI Europe Folder, please find more information about us.

In the European region there are ca. 50 URI interfaith groups, active in nearly 20 countries.

URI Europe AISBL is a registered international NGO based in Antwerp, Belgium.

A European support team fosters the URI work in Europe. The team meets several times a year, often in Brussels.

URI Europe has been awarded a Golden Stars Award 2007 by the European Union (EU) Commission.

 


Why and how has the URI Europe CC formed? How did it develop historically?

When Bishop Bill Swing and others started envisioning and creating a United Religions Initiative (URI) they were inspired by the United Nations (UN). The UN had been bringing nations together for decades in an effort to cooperate for peace. Why had religions not done the same?

URI pioneers, such as Bill and Mary Swing, Charles Gibbs and Sally Mahe, travelled around the world, visiting all the regions of the globe, in search for wisdom and potential partners for a United Religions Initiative. This way they also came to Europe and met with interfaith activists, discussed their vision and ideas as well as steps towards a global interfaith movement.

Out of these meetings - and global assemblies held in California - a URI support team of volunteers formed in Europe, as in other regions. This European Support Team worked hard to register URI Europe as a legal non-profit entity in Belgium, organized European gatherings, invited others to join the movement and supported the upcoming interfaith Cooperation Circles. In June 2000 this European support team was also acknowledged as a URI CC.

Since that time, it has continued to evolve. Some of the founding fathers and mothers continue to serve on the URI Europe team, others have moved on to continue their work on the local level or in their extended networks, and new people have joined along the journey, be it because their qualifications were urgently needed on the team, or because they were fulfilling important roles as elected Global Council trustees from the region.


Who are the current URI Europe CC’s members?

The URI Europe CC consists of the board members, the elected Global Council (GC) trustees and the URI Europe Coordinator. These people are part of the General Meeting of the association. Recently they are also supported by two CC Liaison Officers. – You can find an introduction of all team members on the URI Europe website.

The Regional Support Team (RST) members come from various countries, different religions, genders and age groups. Even as diversity has always been an important point in the team development, it has sometimes been even more critical to include new activists who can move the work forward with urgently needed qualities. As an example, the URI Europe treasurer needs to speak Flemish and English, be located in Belgium in order to deal with the state authorities and liaise with URI Europe’s largest CC Bond zonder Naam (in English: Movement without a Name CC), which greatly supports URI Europe’s financial procedures (see below). He or she needs to have an understanding of figures and, of course, an interest and experience in interfaith cooperation.

The team has grown organically and has sometimes incorporated CC members who had already served URI Europe as volunteers, e.g. by hosting workshops in their home place. Obviously money – besides practicability - is a limiting factor which has to be considered, limiting the size and composition of the team, e.g. looking at the travel cost. The team members realize with joy that despite the various challenges, quite a good diversity has also been realized on the team.

Importantly all URI Europe CC members have founded and are actively involved in managing Cooperation Circles (CCs) on the ground in their respective countries, which they have also registered in almost all cases as non-profit associations. This is the case e.g. for AUDIR, BRIDGES, BZN, DMLB, EECC, Europress Club of Journalists, Help the Needy Foundation, IBS, Interlevensbeschouwelijke Werkgroep Gent, Metanoia, Minorities of Europe, Saint Apostle Hermas Center for Ecumenical Dialogue, URI Germany, URI Steering Committee the Netherlands, VP-ID and others. Therefore all Regional Support Team members know the reality of running interfaith work with only volunteers, lack of funds etc., but working with vision, dedication, commitment and even sacrifice. - Importantly, their participation in the URI Europe Regional Support Team is not as representatives of their CCs or countries, but as engaged activists who are committed to helping URI move forward in Europe.

All URI Europe team members except the staff, i.e. the coordinator and, more recently, the two CC liaison officers, serve URI Europe as volunteers. They were selected or applied and were then democratically elected by the General Meeting.


What does the URI Europe CC want?

The URI Europe CC members form the Regional Support Team (RST). At the heart of their continuous reflections, conversations, visions and activities is the commitment to support the interfaith movement in Europe. First and foremost the team’s intention is to serve the family of URI Cooperation Circles (CCs) in Europe to the best of their abilities as well as to help the URI family grow organically.

The team members are convinced that the work of CCs on the ground is at the heart of URI. If CCs are struggling, the URI network is also struggling. If CCs succeed, URI also succeeds.

At the same time URI Europe CC members strongly believe that the whole of the URI family is more than the sum of its parts. The URI network serves many purposes and offers various critical synergies, such as the exchange of good practices; learning from each other; finding partners for projects; cooperating; creating momentum together; raising the profile of interfaith dialogue and action; offering training; inspiring one another; publishing the various CC and interfaith stories through URI’s communication channels; providing resources and interfaith materials; bringing the interfaith voice to the United Nations (UN); being present at other international bodies, such as the African Union (AU), the UNESCO in Paris or the European Parliament; supporting the mission of peace, justice and healing at the level of policy makers; offering spiritual values and practices in a non-proselytizing, cooperative way; creating a web of interfaith friendship in countries around the globe; educating about the different contexts and activities in which URI is involved etc..

The URI Europe CC team works diligently to support all the above. It organizes European conferences and training workshops (see the list of URI Europe conferences); arranges conference calls; coordinates joint actions; publishes Cooperation Circle stories through websites, social media and newsletters; sends out monthly proverbs with the intention to connect the URI Europe family, offer insights and topics for a deeper conversation and - in time - also to raise funds; it provides a backbone to the network through creating an annual Community Directory with the coordinates and information on all member CCs, therefore enabling them to connect with each other around topics of common interest; enables communications through updating email lists, social media groups and databases; etc.


How does the URI Europe Regional Support Team function?

The URI Europe Regional Support Team works with an annual work plan which is created in consultation with the European family of Cooperation Circles (CCs); URI global provides guidance, oversight and support along the way. Twice a year URI Europe shares reports about its progress and activities with the URI global support office and the family of European CCs.

The URI Europe support team members consult regularly by email, as well as occasionally by phone or Skype. They meet regularly in person, usually 4-5 times a year, mostly in Brussels, Belgium. Brussels is centrally located and a traffic centre with good connections, therefore minimizing travel cost. In addition a former team member living in Brussels, graciously provides meeting space and hospitality for the team members at no cost for many years.


Is the URI Europe CC a legal entity?

URI Europe is registered as an international Charity Organization or NGO under Belgian law. This is why it carries the respective abbreviations on official documents, namely “ivzw”  (Internationale Vereniging Zonder Winstoogmerk) in Flemish or “aisbl” (Association International Sans But Lucratif) in French language.

URI Europe as a legal association was created by the international European support team in Belgium in 2000 and officially registered in 2001. Belgium was considerately chosen as the seat of the association, because it is home to the European Union (EU) and therefore to many international associations; for that reason its legislation also includes the legal form of “international NGO”.

From the beginning URI Europe activists made a deliberate effort and worked hard to establish URI Europe as legal personality. This is a critical requirement for various things, e.g. if one wants to apply for consultative status with any international body; open a bank account; apply for funding; hire staff etc..

Various requirements are connected with this legal status, such as conducting an annual general meeting as well as establishing a board with different functions. These are required by law – and actually make sense to clarify and simplify procedures and responsibilities.


Do other people support URI Europe? Does URI Europe get support from CCs?

URI Europe CC has been supported by many individuals and organisations over the years.

Next to the team members, some other individuals have helped in a significant way. A volunteer and former board member has hosted almost a hundred team meetings in Brussels and continues to do so; at a time he even hosted an entire European URI conference in his beautiful home for a get‑together. A youth activist has redesigned the URI Europe website with much skill and generosity.

URI Europe does invite the family of European URI CCs to give an annual donation as a sign of solidarity. The size of such a donation is much less important than the actual gesture of reciprocity, connection and brother- and sisterhood.

Various CCs have hosted the URI Europe team for meetings or workshops over the years, sometimes even raising funds locally to cover the team’s cost on location for meals and overnight stays.

A CC which stands out in an extraordinary way is URI Europe’s largest CC, Bond zonder Naam (BZN) (Movement without a Name). With the leadership of its director it has supported URI Europe with very significant financial contributions. Without this support neither European Assemblies, proverbs nor many other initiatives would be possible in the way they happen.

BZN not only supports URI Europe financially, but also in many other ways: its director is giving excellent input as a visionary and humble leader; payment procedures are done through BZN’s online payment system in Antwerp; the book-keeping is done by SBB accountants in Antwerp; BZN supports URI Europe in layout and printing, e.g. for flyers, Golden Rule posters, the booklet of interfaith efforts in Paris or the banner used for the event in Paris; BZN supports URI Europe’s monthly proverbs with content, layout, printing and mailing; BZN has even greatly helped with event organisation, e.g. for a large concert in Antwerp called the “Interfaith Symphony” with about 1.200 participants; hosting the Global Council (GC) meeting in 2007; hosting URI Europe assemblies; helping to create side-events, such as an event at Antwerp University (UCSIA) or a reception at Antwerp City Hall; the creation of professional DVD films etc.


How are the elected Global Council trustees involved in URI Europe?

Each URI region elects three Global Council trustees as members of URI’s global governing team, the Global Council.

In Europe the Global Council trustees are part of URI Europe’s general meeting, also called the Regional Support Team (RST). The general meeting needs to approve the annual work plan and budgets and oversees the work of the board. By virtue of law, a face-to-face general meeting needs to be convened once a year; there is currently a commitment to hold at least two general meetings a year. Additional general meetings can be convened as needed.

The general meeting elects the board members every four years, who are officially registered with the Belgian state authorities.

The current URI Europe board includes two Global Council trustees – one elected by the European CCs, one appointed by the (elected) Global Council.

Several other current board members served as elected GC trustees in previous terms.


Why is URI Europe a CC?

The beauty of URI lies in its global network, the family of URI Cooperation Circles (abbreviated CCs). CCs are at the heart of URI. They have a simple and elegant design: they bring together (at least) 7 people from 3 religions, spiritual expressions or indigenous traditions who support the URI Charter and work in line with it.

Their name says it all, in a beautiful way: “Cooperation” and “Circle”. In a Cooperation Circle (CC) people collaborate in order to realize the aims of the URI Charter: to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. Their cooperation happens circle-like, with a voice for all its members and careful listening and reflection.

The URI Europe Regional Support Team members from their beginnings in the late 90’s embraced this design. The team has always fulfilled the above mentioned requirements for CCs and applied as a CC in 2000 when the URI Charter was inaugurated. URI Europe was officially acknowledged as a URI CC in June 2000.

URI Europe CC members are committed to serving the URI Europe family of CCs to the best of our abilities, strengthening the European CCs as key groups in the interfaith movement, and to supporting the movement’s success and impact, for the benefit of the network members as well as society at large.


How is URI Europe financed?

URI Europe, like other regional support teams, receives an annual allocation from URI global. It comes with the requirements of concise reporting procedures. I.e. URI Europe reports twice a year to URI global. This half-yearly report includes a narrative report, a financial report, as well as other documents such as CC profiles and others. All financial documentation, in fact all receipts etc., are likewise shared with URI global.

In addition very significant funding is raised on the local level, with the lion’s share coming from BZN CC (Bond zonder Naam), with BZN’s support amounting for more than 400.000€ over the past fifteen years.

As you can read above under “Do other people support URI Europe? Does URI Europe get support from CCs?” BZN CC supports the URI Europe regional support team also in many other ways.

Without BZN, therefore, the running of URI Europe with Regional Assemblies, proverbs, a functioning meaningful regional support team and staff members would not be possible. URI Europe is very grateful to BZN and its visionary and humble leader for their strong, consistent support over all those years.

URI Europe at times also applied for funding, with the EU and foundations, successfully and unsuccessfully. URI Europe was awarded a Golden Stars award by the EU Commission.

URI Europe is audited annually by an independent external auditor. It regularly receives an unqualified opinion, i.e. its books are in good order without any complaints from the auditors.


Does URI Europe give seed grants?

URI is not a funding organization and does not give seed grants.

As a network of interfaith Cooperation Circles URI has the aim to create positive change by realising synergies and benefits for the member circles and the interfaith movement at large, as explained above under “What does the URI Europe CC want?”.

At rare incidences URI Europe supports activities which are in line with its regional development plan. These activities must serve the purpose of URI as a movement in a very direct way, raise the profile of the URI Europe organization and produce clear advantages for the URI Europe family.


I would like to volunteer for URI Europe – what could I do?

At the heart of URI are the Cooperation Circles (CCs). You can help URI Europe first and foremost by spreading the word about URI’s global interfaith movement and by inviting others to become part of it. If you are not part of a URI Cooperation Circle yet, please consider forming one and applying with it as a URI CC.

URI Europe conducts training workshops and conferences in various European locations to support the formation and functioning of Cooperation Circles. Contact us if you are interested in hosting one.

URI Europe wants to create opportunities for the network’s members to exchange their experiences, partner with each other, learn from each other, inspire each other and inspire others. Therefore we depend on URI CCs in the Europe region to share your stories and photos frequently. Please send us a report, even if brief, and a photo when you organise an activity.

If you have other skills that you would like to share, let us know and we will consider, if and how we can utilise them at a given moment.

Please support URI’s global and European campaigns and share the news of your activities with us. URI celebrates the annual UN International Day of Peace (UN-IDP) on and around September 21; the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week (UN-WIHW) on February 1-7; the Golden Rule Day on April 5.

In 2015-2016 URI global and URI Europe celebrate their 15th anniversaries. We invite CCs and partners to organise an activity and dedicate it (also) to the URI anniversaries and share your stories with us.

URI Europe also hopes to be able to make a contribution towards “Plovdiv Together – 2019 – Plovdiv European Capital of Culture”.

"We need to be the change we wish to see in the world" - Mahatma Gandhi

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