Confession: I have a love hate relationship with this standard around demonstrating separation.

Mary Tankulu and Jamie Davies

12 Jan, 2020

The ACFID Code requires members to consistently demonstrate the separation of development and non-development activities in their initiatives (7.3.2). They do this through a policy approach that explicitly refers to religious adherence promotion and political activity. In this blog, CEO Jamie Davies of Australian Lutheran World Service unpacks how they do this, and we benefit from the unique perspective of their implementing partner in PNG  

Serving those most in need, regardless of their religious affiliation or faith traditioncompels and drives me, both as a professional aid and development worker and as a Christian leader.  Christians are called to love and serve others, and to do so unconditionally, no matter what those they serve may believe.

In fact, serving others in their community is at the very core of what churches are about. Many churches run highly effective, transformational community development programs on the ground.  It is often because of their deep contextual understanding and holistic approaches that they achieve lasting change and more sustainable outcomes.  

What I find frustrating is how perceptions of the standard around ‘separation’ overlook the complexity of our journey as aid and development actors. After all, 84% of the world’s population identifies with a religious group.

How does ALWS approach the standard of separation?

A fundamental step in complying with this part of the Code (7.3.2) is ALWS' explicit policy expressing our commitment to clear separation of aid and development and non-aid and development activities.  

Our MoUs and funding agreements with implementing partners overseas state clearly that funding cannot be used for purposes of evangelising, supporting partisan political objectives, or engaging in welfare activities.  We take the time to discuss this up front and throughout the program cycle, from design through to monitoring and evaluation, and at all levels of the partnership – from governance to the community.  

In our communications, we let our supporters know how they can live their faith through serving others in practical ways, while also being clear that our role does not include evangelising. In particular, every fundraising communication includes a statement that donations will only be used for aid and development activities. For most supporters, this aligns with their belief to love and serve unconditionally, and allows them to express their faith while maintaining the separation between development and non-development activities. 

How does this work in practice?  A local perspective

Mary Tankulu leads the way for ALWS’ partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea (ELCPNG), in the Church Partnership Program (CPP), which is supported by the Australian Government through the PNGAusPartnership..

Working in Lae, PNG, Mary is best-placed to address the issue of separation in practice.

We explain to the leaders of the different church departments what the funding can be used for and what it can’t. We assess the proposed projects and activity plans they develop to ensure they are for community development aims and not for bible studies or mission outreach work.  Whether the project activities are around disability inclusion or women’s empowerment or literacy trainingwe ensure that those carrying them out understand this requirement that everyone can benefit, and that the support is not to be used for religious purposes.

A great example of this is the School Counsellor Program.  For many years, schools in Lae have been wracked with student violence.  

The ELCPNG’s Education Department organised counselling skills training for teachers and chaplains in church and public schools.  Teachers have taken on board new approaches, from anticipating in advance when fights might break out, to enabling frustrated and angry kids to discover new ways of approaching conflict.    

A recent review showed that the counselling program has contributed to reduced tension and outbreaks of violence in schools in Lae since its peak in 2016, and many teachers are now trained in basic counselling.

This example illustrates how training delivered through a church education department to teachers in both public and private schools is focused on community development, with separation maintained.    

Mary also adds that having the ELCPNG Church leaders contribute to the governance and design of the program , and leaving the program management and delivery to others was another way that ‘separation’ is achieved seamlessly.

Summing it up

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in PNG has at the heart of its development vision the concept of ‘Gutpela Sindaun, which translates as ‘abundant life’, and involves Papua New Guineans living harmoniously with one another and the landThis beautiful concept does not sit separately or in isolation to their faith.

ALWS and ELCPNG do, however, clearly separate the support provided for aid and development programs from the religious and mission work of the church.  

What’s not to love?  


  • Mary Tankulu and Jamie Davies
    Mary Tankulu and Jamie Davies

    Left: Mary Tankulu is the Coordinator of the DFAT-funded PNG Church Partnership Program on behalf of ALWS and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea.  

    Right: Jamie Davies is the Executive Director of Australian Lutheran World Service, the aid and development agency of the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand. Jamie has over 20 years of international relief and development experience in Africa, Central America and Southeast Asia, with a focus on strengthening faith-based organizations and partnerships.    

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