Business: A powerful force for
interfaith understanding & peace

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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Brazil Human Rights Minister Praises Foundation’s Work

25 Jul, 2014

Human Rights Minister, Ideli Salvatti, praised the innovate work of the Brazilian Religious Freedom & Business Association ( ALRN ) in a meeting this week in Brasilia. (ALRN is the Brazilian affiliate of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, based in the U.S.)

Minister Ideli received ALRN board members Romanna Remor and Silvio Guimarães on Tuesday. During the meeting, Ideli invited ALRN to attend the Second World Human Rights Forum this December in Morocco, a follow up to last year’s Forum in Brasilia. Minister Ideli discussed with Remor and Guimarães possible collaboration between Ministry and ALRN for a global prize for initiatives protecting religious freedom.

This meeting comes on the heels of other high level meetings between the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and Brazil’s Vice President Temer and Secretary General of the Republic Carvalho.

During the meeting, the Minister praised the innovative nature of ALRN. “By associating religious freedom and diversity to economic and social development, it addresses a key topic from a unique perspective,” she said. “And this fits with the Brazilian love of difference and diversity … which promotes the development of the country itself.” And indeed, research indicates that Brazil does value religious freedom and diversity.

Brazil has lowest government restriction on religion among 25 largest countries

Among the 25 most populous countries, only six have low government restrictions on religion (average between 2006-2012), with Brazil having the lowest of all (see chart). Brazil has lower restrictions, in fact, than the United States, where restrictions have been rising.

Religious freedom is highly valued in Brazil. For instance, when Brazilians were asked in a 2006 Pew Research survey whether it was important to live in a country where there is freedom of religion for religions other than their own, nearly the same percentage of people indicated that this was important (95%) as indicated that it was important to live in a country where they can practice their own religion freely (96%).

An expression of such support for religious freedom occurred this spring when the government of São Paulo – Brazil’s commercial center and the western hemisphere’s most populous city at 20 million – declared that henceforth May 25th will be “religious freedom day.” This declaration coincided with a multi-faith religious freedom festival that drew nearly 30,000 participants, including the participation of the Catholic archdiocese, leading politicians and celebrities.

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Business brings peace and religious freedom, finds new study

22 Jul, 2014

IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Business is a powerful force for peace, interfaith understanding and religious freedom, finds a new study by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.* The study breaks new ground by showing that business is good for religious freedom.

This new study, authored by Melissa E. Grim, builds on another recent global analysis that found the converse is also true – religious freedom is good for business.

While human rights organizations often focus on holding businesses accountable to human rights standards (perhaps understandably), these case studies begin with a different question: How can business be a force for social good and at the same time make a profit?

The new study examines a range of case studies and finds that “impact investments” by businesses can result in increased interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace.

The case studies come from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America, and were chosen to be illustrative, not exhaustive. The study’s limitation, however, is that it does not show the extent to which business is a force for peace, interfaith understanding and religious freedom. Rather, the study shows that business can be, and some businesses certainly are.

CASE STUDIES

  • Coke Serves Up Love and Peace with Small World Machines – Last year, Coca-Cola brought some laughter and joy to one of the most volatile and dangerous regions on earth, when it installed two Small World Machines in New Delhi, India, and Lahore, Pakistan.
  • BMW AWARD, Driving Global Peace and Success – For luxury carmaker BMW, intercultural understanding is more than just a nice sentiment, it’s “an essential part of our daily work,” says Bill McAndrews, the company’s Vice President for Communications. Indeed, since 1997, BMW has been actively promoting cooperative dialogue between different cultures, giving out awards to support businesses that innovate interculturally. Awards highlighted are (1) Helping Muslim Youth in the Philippines; (2) Giving a Voice to the Voiceless in India; and (3) Promoting Understanding Through Tourism in the Holy Lands.
  • Nigerian Conflict: Is Business the Answer? – In Nigeria, businesses and economic development NGOs are working to stop widespread religious violence between Christians and Muslims, which has already taken hundreds of lives and threatens to thrust parts of the country into civil war.
  • World Cup Highlights Struggles & Contributions of Afro-Brazilians

    – In Brazil, where religious freedom is generally well-protected, Brazilians of African descent still face discrimination for their appearance and beliefs, including their religious beliefs. But an NGO, the Afro-Brazilian Incubator, is working to fight this discrimination by promoting entrepreneurship among Afro-Brazilians.

  • Indonesian Businesses Open Their Doors to Faith and Action – In Indonesia, businesses are at the forefront of efforts to promote interfaith understanding. For instance, EXPRESS Taxi, with a fleet of more than 7,000 taxis in Jakarta, promotes a faith-friendly workplace by setting up prayer rooms and facilitating Muslim and Christian observances as well as celebrations of Chinese New Year. In addition, businesses in Indonesia have worked to fix large, seemingly intractable social problems such as helping 4,541 poor couples in interfaith marriages to receive the proper marriage licenses.

* These case studies do not imply an endorsement of any company profiled. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has no tie to any of the companies studied. The case studies are part of collaboration with the UN Global Compact’s Business for Peace platform and will be presented at the next UN Alliance of Civilizations meeting in Bali, Indonesia, at the end of August 2014. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation also solicits more case studies, and will recognize and give global awards for the best innovations in religious freedom & business in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Summer Olympics.

BMW Award, Driving Global Peace and Success

20 Jul, 2014

Melissa E. Grim, Case Studies*

For luxury carmaker BMW, intercultural understanding is more than just a nice sentiment, it’s “an essential part of our daily work,” says Bill McAndrews, the company’s Vice President for Communications. Indeed, since 1997, BMW has been actively promoting cooperative dialogue between different cultures.

One reason for BMW’s emphasis on cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation is the nature of its business. The carmaker may famously be headquartered in Germany, but its business is truly global, with 28 production and assembly facilities in 13 countries and a sales network in more than 140 nations.

The importance of intercultural understanding has led BMW to help found the Intercultural Innovation Award. Created in partnership with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), the award provides financial and other support each year for ten nonprofit organizations that are promoting intercultural dialogue and cooperation around the world.

McAndrews says that the award enables BMW “to highlight some of the wonderful cross-cultural work being done worldwide.” The BMW Group’s commitment to the awardees extends beyond financial support and includes other resources, such as helping winning organizations become part of a global network of organizations working for intercultural and interfaith understanding. McAndrews emphasizes that “this can make the crucial difference in turning an idea into a practice that enriches peoples’ lives.”

Helping Muslim Youth in the Philippines

One recent Intercultural Innovation Award winner is Kapamagogopa (KI), an organization that aims to promote religious understanding in the Philippines, where tensions between the nation’s Muslim minority and its Christian majority have led to violence and other problems. KI mobilizes young Muslims on the island of Mindanao to work as volunteers for non-Muslim organizations. By bringing Muslims into non-Muslim settings, KI aims to combat anti-Muslim bias from the majority Christian population and give young Muslims a sense that they can take positive steps to change to their lives.

KI also provides Muslims experience in working with foreign organizations. For instance, one KI volunteer, Nohman Khalil, worked with Forum ZFD, a German NGO that develops tools for dealing with violent conflicts. Khalil was able to help ZFD’s consultants gain an insider’s understanding of religious tensions in Mindanao. He thinks his greatest contribution was assisting in a project to integrate peace education into teacher training courses.

For Khalil, the job was a challenge. “Apart from it being the first time that I was far from home, my biggest challenge is that I was the only Muslim in the office,” he said, adding: “There were lots of new situations for me to deal with.” However, he considers his time at ZDF a great success. “They have made me feel very welcome,” he says. “I do not feel like a volunteer but like a member of staff.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised KI, stating that the project “is addressing a long history of Muslim-Christian violence by forging communications, job creation, and promoting employment.”

Giving a Voice to the Voiceless in India

Another recipient of the BMW/UN award is the Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, an Indian NGO that has begun a recycling project in New Delhi to promote understanding between the lower caste garbage-pickers and those in the higher castes who produce much of the waste.

Across hundreds of cities in the world – ranging from Rio de Janeiro to Istanbul, and Lahore to New Delhi – tens of millions of waste-pickers spend their days sifting through garbage in the hope of feeding themselves and their families on others’ trash. In urban India, this trash recycling is undertaken by abjectly poor, mostly low caste and marginalized migrants, often at great risk to their own health.

Hoping to bridge the gap between trash-pickers and trash producers, Chintan organizes trash recycling projects in the city’s high-rise offices and encourages the higher caste residents to volunteer at charities that assist the waste-pickers. The idea is to make these largely invisible lower castes visible.

Bharati Chaturvedi, the founder of Chintan, is helping to transform the image of those who work in the Delhi garbage dumps from “waste-pickers” to “environmentalists.” Chintan does this by organizing waste-pickers into teams who approach individuals at train stations with an appeal for them to sign a pledge to stop littering. Perhaps this is a small step, but it is a significant way to make this formerly invisible community more visible and better understood.

Promoting Understanding Through Tourism in the Holy Lands

Another award winner, the Middle East and Justice Development Initiative ( MEJDI Tours ), is bringing Jews and Arabs together through the promotion of tourism. MEJDI runs the ‘Dual Narrative’ tour, which is led by Israeli and Palestinian guides who each offer their own perspectives on culture, politics and religion at each tour location.

The organization is led by Liel Maghan, an Israeli, and Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian. While the two men are now good friends, they understand the challenges many Israelis and Palestinians face, particularly in perceiving and understanding those on the other side. “You say the word ‘soldier’ and an Israeli thinks protection while a Palestinian thinks fear and apprehension,” Sarah said. Only by working together can people on one side begin to understand the other side’s perspective.

* This is the second in a series of case studies highlighting how companies – in their core business activities – can help reduce religious and cultural tensions, increase social understanding, and promote peace. This case study does not imply an endorsement of any company profiled. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has no tie to any of the companies profiled.

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Nigerian Conflict: Is Business the Answer?

19 Jul, 2014

Melissa E. Grim, Case Study*

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In Nigeria, businesses and economic development NGOs are working to stop widespread religious violence between Christians and Muslims, which has already taken hundreds of lives and threatens to thrust parts of the country into civil war.

For instance, in Adamawa State in northeast Nigeria, groups like the Yola Innovation Machine are helping a new generation of entrepreneurs create businesses. The need is great. Young adults in many of Adamawa’s poor rural and marginalized communities lack the necessary entrepreneurial skills they need to break out of the poverty trap that often feeds violent extremism. The majority of youth in the area have no employment. In Adamawa, and throughout Nigeria, the population doubles every 30-35 years, so assisting people to create their own jobs is perhaps the most immediate solution to unemployment.

The Yola Innovation Machine and others are working in this direction. For instance, they helped create and nurture a new business called Yola EcoSentials (YES), which recycles discarded materials into sellable goods such as purses, mats, handbags and wristlets. The goods are made from “plarn,” a yarn spun from recycled plastic grocery bags. The venture results in multiple social goods because every item sold by Yola EcoSentials generates much needed income and employment, and at the same time helps protect the deteriorating ecological environment.

In the Plateau State in the country’s center, Muslim and Christian business people are cooperating to work around religious violence. In Jos, Plateau’s capital, there is an unwritten rule that when religious tensions flare up, Christians and Muslims should not cross certain city boundaries. But this can be devastating for the fresh produce vendors and other businesses, which serve people on both sides of the divide.

In response, Muslim and Christian business people have taken it upon themselves to work around these limitations, risking their lives and not just their livelihoods to keep business moving across the religious divide. For example, Madam Ngozi, a vegetable seller and widow raising seven children on her own, often cannot go to the market to restock her supply of vegetables due to religious violence or warnings of possible violence. However, a cell phone call to her Muslim supplier, Mallam Yahaya, can solve the problem. They find a discrete place to meet, agree on a price, and make the transaction.

Still, many are skeptical that businesses can ultimately make much of a real difference in Nigeria. “On what basis could it work?” asks Clement Nwankwo, a political analyst who heads the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre in Abuja. “There is no peace in the northeast. Can any construction company go in there to work?”

But U.S.-trained Nigerian economist Soji Adelaja argues that business can be an important part of the long-term solution to violent religious extremism currently exploding in northeast Nigeria today. Mr. Adelaja, born in Lagos, recently returned to his homeland after 34 years in the United States to help put together what the government calls a “Marshall Plan” to counter the extremist violence and bring prosperity. The concept being put forward is that an improved economy and more opportunity could be an effective tool in countering the advances of groups like Boko Haram, the radical Islamic organization that recently made headlines around the world when it kidnapped 200 girls.
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img018* This is the third in a series of case studies highlighting how companies – in their core business activities – can help reduce religious and cultural tensions, increase social understanding, and promote peace. This case study does not imply an endorsement of any company profiled. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has no tie to any of the companies profiled.

 

World Cup Highlights Struggles & Contributions of Afro-Brazilians

18 Jul, 2014
July 18, 2014 – Melissa E. Grim, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation Case Study*

446235Afro Brazilians Help Brazilian Economy

In Brazil where religious freedom is generally well-protected, Brazilians of African descent still face discrimination for their appearance and beliefs, including their religious beliefs. But an NGO, the Afro-Brazilian Incubator, is working to fight this discrimination by promoting entrepreneurship among Afro-Brazilians. The hope is that greater economic integration for Afro-Brazilians will lead to greater social and religious acceptance for them as well.

First brought to Brazil hundreds of years ago as slaves, Afro-Brazilians have long faced great discrimination, based on race, religion and other factors. Their plight gained prominence during the run up to the recent World Cup (which was hosted by Brazil), when many of the country’s leading black soccer players were subjected to racial and other harassment. These incidents caused Brazil’s president to declare the 2014 World Cup the “anti-racism World Cup.”

In an effort to fight the discrimination faced by Afro-Brazilians and those who practice Afro-religions,
the Incubator offers a host of free services for aspiring entrepreneurs, ranging from management training to assistance with marketing and accounting. It currently supports over 1,000 businesses in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, and works in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Many newly successful businesspeople credit the Afro-Brazilian Incubator with their success. Nildilene, for instance, was able to use business advice and management skills provided by the Incubator to help create a food service business that now employs nine other people. The fact that she came from a poor family and was only able to finish elementary school did not stand in the way of her becoming a successful businesswoman.


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* This is the fourth in a series of case studies highlighting how companies – in their core business activities – can help reduce religious and cultural tensions, increase social understanding, and promote peace. This case study does not imply an endorsement of these companies or their products or services. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has no tie to the companies profiled.

To stay up to date, subscribe to our newsletter.


Indonesian Businesses Open Their Doors to Faith and Action

17 Jul, 2014
July 17, 2014 – Melissa E. Grim, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation Case Study*
In Indonesia, businesses are at the forefront of efforts to promote interfaith understanding. For instance, EXPRESS Taxi, with a fleet of more than 7,000 taxis in Jakarta, promotes a faith-friendly workplace by setting up prayer rooms and facilitating Muslim and Christian observances as well as celebrations of Chinese New Year. Such efforts not only foster interfaith understanding but also increase worker productivity and satisfaction.

In addition to accommodating religious practice in the workplace, Indonesian businesses also help meet the social and religious needs of employees outside of work, while at the same time increasing safety and employee retention. For instance, PT Kereta API Indonesia, an Indonesian railway company, provides free freight transportation for its Muslim workers to return home to celebrate Eid. This is important because many would choose the more affordable but dangerous option of riding a motorcycle home. In addition to being safer, it relieves congestion across the island of Java and lowers overall accident rates.

PT XL-Axiata, a mobile telephone company, also arranges free transportation home for religious observance. In cooperation with Giant Hypermarket, the company last year helped nearly 20,000 employees and customers return home for Eid.

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Muslims Breaking Fast at Express Taxi
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Christmas Celebration at Express Taxi

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In addition to offering logistical help with their employees’ religious observances, businesses in Indonesia have worked to fix large, seemingly intractable social problems. For instance, companies in Jakarta, along with civil society groups and the government, helped 4,541 poor couples in interfaith marriages to receive the proper marriage licenses. Up to that point, these couples, for financial or legal reasons, could not obtain marriage certificates, preventing them from receiving birth certificates for their children. Without ID cards, marriage certificates and birth certificates, the families often did not have access to national health care, public education, legal rights and employment.

Having the necessary certificates, the businesses can further help them with the education scholarship, skills training and job opportunities.

The House of Love Foundation, in collaboration with the Jakarta Municipal Government as well as other groups, established and ran the marriage initiative. The initiative was also supported by Indonesia Global Compact Network and a variety of businesses, including  Rajawali’s B Channel (now Rajawali TV), Coca-Cola, Sari Roti, So Nice Sausage, Kopi Kamu, Papa Ron and religious organizations. Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu and Confucius couples from across the capital took part. This initiative also promotes intercultural and interfaith understanding within the community.


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* This is the fifth in a series of case studies highlighting how companies – in their core business activities – can help reduce religious and cultural tensions, increase social understanding, and promote peace. This case study does not imply an endorsement of any company profiled. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has no tie to any of the companies profiled.

To stay up to date, subscribe to our newsletter.

Religious Freedom & Business at U.S. Capital

10 Jul, 2014
On July 8, 2014, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation research associate Melissa Grim gave the following report of the Foundation’s activities at the International Religious Freedom Roundtable.

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Thank you for the opportunity to share about the work of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. The Foundation educates the global business community about how religious freedom is good for business, and engages the business community in joining forces with government and non-government organizations in promoting respect for freedom of religion or belief.

I would like to talk about 5 initiatives that the Foundation is working on. The first relates to Impact Investment, which is investing in sustainable businesses that have a positive social impact in ways that lower religious tensions and increase interfaith understanding. As part of this initiative, the Foundation will develop a global impact database based on the technology of the World Religion Databasebased at Boston University. The “Global Impact Investment Database” will link entrepreneurs and innovators with sustainable business opportunities in areas of social need around the world. The database will be state-of-the-art and built on the technology of the World Religion Database. The database will foster such enterprises as the waste-to-wealth project for Dalits, being developed with university, aid and development partners from Finland. Brazilian business partners are working with the Foundation to develop the web interface, include mechanisms for paid businesses memberships, which we believe will make the project self-sustaining and revenue-generating.

The second is the Business, Faith & Freedom Global Forum starting at the World Expo in Milan in 2015. “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” – presents a perfect platform for companies in food-related industries to showcase how religion and religious freedom makes their businesses more successful, innovative and responsive to the needs of people. The Global Forum will showcase sustainable enterprises that help ethnic & religious minorities better integrate and contribute to the societies in which they live.

Third, the Foundation will present the Religious Freedom & Business Global Awards in the host city of each summer and winter Olympics, beginning in Rio, 2016. The Global Awards recognize the best advances and innovations by businesses in improving respect for religious freedom. For-profit businesses from any country eligible to be nominated. Award winners will direct the Award prize money to a religious freedom organization of their choice from a list of those helping to educate the global business community about how religious freedom is good for business and/or engaging the business community in joining forces with government and non-government organizations in promoting respect for freedom of religion or belief.

Fourth, the Foundation is involved in Research and Education projects. President Grim along with researchers at Georgetown University and Brigham young published the study: “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business?: A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis,” which is available on the website of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (IJRR). The study finds that Religious freedom is one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth. The study looked at GDP growth for 173 countries in 2011 and controlled for two-dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences. The study, however, goes beyond simple correlations by empirically testing and finding the tandem effects of government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion (as measured by the Pew Research Center) to be detrimental to economic growth while controlling for 23 other theoretical, economic, political, social, and demographic factors.

Finally, the Foundation has a number of Education projects in development. It is working with leading business schools and educational institutions to develop an internet-based certificate course on how business, freedom and religion interact. Components of the future course include two tracks – one for corporate executives and representatives, and another for undergraduate and graduate students. There will be multi-media modules covering facts on topics ranging from religious freedom and its relation to socio-economic outcomes to case studiesof core business enterprises that promote interfaith understanding and peace.

Additionally the Foundation is working with leading interfaith groups, business schools and educational institutions to develop a “Self-Reliance Curriculum.” Obtaining self-reliance life skills is a pressing need among many vulnerable communities who are susceptible to radicalization, such as Muslims in the UK. The project will make available to interfaith training teams a curriculum of self-reliance that could be taught to members of vulnerable communities by interfaith teams beginning in the UK and then taken globally.

The Foundation is the first organization dedicated to educating businesses about why religious freedom will enable them to be more productive and successful, and how they can effectively incorporate religious freedom in their strategic business plans for the benefit of their stakeholders, their employees and society.