South Africa’s diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds offers unique opportunities to demonstrate the genuine efficacy and universal relevance of Krishna consciousness.
Due to our conditioned nature and influenced by our different racial, cultural, socio-economic backgrounds and genders, we sometimes fall short in our expression of Krishna consciousness, especially in our dealings with and acceptance of others. It is with this context that ISKCON South Africa’s Inclusion and Belonging Program officially commenced in February 2021. The program provides formal training on diversity, inclusion and belonging; for the purpose of better identifying personal and institutional shortcomings and take appropriate corrective action.
Developed over some months, the program is led by an adjunct faculty of the prestigious Henley Business School. Both facilitators, Sharon Shakung and Louise Claassen are leading experts in this field having done extensive work with many of South Africa’s leading organizations and with blue chip companies, governments and NGOs across the African continent.
The twenty-six attendees in this first installment of the program include the co-GBCs (Bhakti Caitanya Swami and Govardhana Das), National and Regional Secretaries, Temple Presidents, members of the Independent Complaints Office, other leaders and influential devotees. The program which requires a 50+ hour commitment from each leader is taking place virtually over a series of weekend workshops spanning a few months. In time, this program will be propagated more broadly, to ensure all ISKCON South Africa leaders have had the opportunity to participate and benefit and to contribute towards the creation of a ISKCON culture and leadership that celebrates and protects diversity and inclusion, making all devotees feel at home.
Swarup Damodar dasa, co-National Secretary for ISKCON South Africa who has led the development of this program comments, “The Inclusion and Belonging Program is probably the most important and urgent of interventions we require in ISKCON South Africa today. Interventions like what we are forerunning in South Africa will become prevalent all over the ISKCON world. This will greatly enhance ISKCON’s care of devotees and outreach.”
The objectives and mood of the program are congruent with the teachings of Bhagavad-gita. It is a deliberate and focused program to further ensure that ISKCON’s principles and purposes are manifest in the experience of the many sincere people who have accepted the shelter of Srila Prabhupada’s movement. All of us in ISKCON, and more especially leaders have a great responsibility to ensure that everyone who comes in contact with our community feels valued, cared for, and included.
Through this program ISKCON South Africa aspires to create a community that in relation to inclusion and belonging expresses: