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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Three Innovations Set to Soar in 2017

18 Dec, 2016

… the Year of Religious Freedom & Business

As Mark Twain, Yogi Berra and numerous others have reportedly said, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

With his quip firmly in mind, three innovations in religious freedom seem likely to take off in 2017. This is thanks to religious freedom’s contribution to a good climate for business, making 2017 what I believe will be the year of religious freedom & business.

1. Muslims Making Progress

News headlines miss significant Muslim initiatives supporting interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace (a) at the grass roots level, (b) by Muslim business leaders, and (c) by highly respected Islamic clergy.

Grass Roots: Manchester, UK

In Manchester, England, we have been piloting (for global scale-up) our Empowerment-Plus interfaith social cohesion & enterprise initiative. Empowerment-Plus helps young adults from all faith backgrounds to channel their energies and capabilities toward building lives, families, careers, businesses and friendship networks with a lively faith in the Lord.

The curriculum links basic principles of success, such as wise stewardship of resources, with scriptural principles from the Bible, Quran, and other scriptures, helping young adults make the connection between faith and daily decisions. The focus is not on interfaith dialogue, but on interfaith action. For instance, rather than debating faith, the participants share how their faith does (or doesn’t) guide decisions. And rather than debating theology, the participants look at the best ways to set up and run a socially responsible and profitable business.

Among our most enthusiastic participants and partners are Muslims. Several came from a Nigerian mosque in Manchester, that has born the brunt of several attacks, including having a pig’s head thrown into their property.

Pictured above with me are Imam Muhammad al Akkas (right) and his colleague Abdullah from the Al-Furqan Islamic Centre, where we’re planning to hold the next Empowerment-Plus course on “Finding a Better Job” as well as seminars on how to be a good listener-facilitator. As you see in the photo, we’re holding a shirt Muhammad had made saying, “Being a Muslim, I Jesus the Messiah.”

Although Christians have a different notion of what being the Messiah means, the Quran refers to Jesus as such at least nine times (Quran Suras 3:45; 4:157, 171, 172; 5:17, 72, 75; 9:30, 31). For instance, Sura 3:45 says “… the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ].”

While Muhammad and I (as a Catholic) might not agree on the theology, we certainly agree that it’s important to honor the Lord by helping young people practice solid principles grounded in faith and virtue that leads to employment and empowerment.

Muhammed is not alone in his willingness to work at the grass roots level in interfaith action – he’s one of a legion of Muslims from around the world who have studied in the United States and worked in the West. While experience in the West doesn’t always lead to such collaboration, it certainly may begin to take off in 2017 and the years ahead.

Business Leader: Beirut, Lebanon

Empowerment-Plus draws its inspiration from business leaders around the world engaged in similar enterprises and initiatives. For instance, the Makhzoumi Foundation founded by Lebanese industrialist Dr. Fouad Makhzoumi, CEO of Future Pipe Industries Group Ltd., engages in similar projects and serves as a successful model informing the development Empowerment-Plus.

Dr. Makhzoumi is key advocate for interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace in Lebanon and a Sunni Muslim.

Dr. Makhzoumi is a recipient of the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Prize award by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation in collaboration with the United Nations Global Compact with support from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. He received the award for his work in founding (in 1997) the Makhzoumi Foundation, motivated by his strong desire to help empower fellow citizens to achieve self-sufficient independence via improved career prospects, regardless of religion or creed.

Starting the Makhzoumi Foundation was a significant step forward given that Lebanon was emerging from a 15-year civil war that fell along sectarian lines and left the country in a state of disrepair with a desperate need to rebuild and jumpstart its flailing economy and educational system.

Indeed, Dr. Makhzoumi – a Sunni Muslim – powerfully lays out the case for interfaith understanding and religious freedom in his acceptance speech for the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Prize in a video already viewed by more than 75,000 (see newly added video with Arabic subtitles here).

Dr. Makhzoumi’s wife, Mrs. May Makhzoumi leads the work of the Makhzoumi Foundation in carrying out computer, language and vocational training for minimal fees. They also provide health care as well as microlending services for new business start-ups, and Dr. Makhzoumi just this past week launched a new centre for entrepreneurship at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

Islamic Scholar: Marrakesh, Morocco

As I write this, I’m in Abu Dhabi, UAE, for the third follow-up meeting I’ve participated in to help promote a remarkable achievement – The January 2016 Marrakesh Declaration: Protections for the Rights of Religious Minorities in Muslim Lands.

At the Forum for Peace annual meeting occurring now, His Eminence Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah (pictured at left), the President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, noted that Muslim societies are sick, and it’s a problem of the heart. And to bring peace, Muslim solutions must address the heart.

One step toward putting the heart in the right disposition is viewing non-Muslims as having equal rights and status as citizens. This view has historic roots dating to the time of Prophet Mohammed and the Medina Charter. The Marrakesh Declaration was issued at a time of heightened social hostility fueled by violent extremism, widespread Islamophobia and the denial of rights, sometimes justified by misrepresentations of Islamic teachings.

A summary of the Marrakesh Declaration includes:

— “The objectives of the Charter of Medina provide a suitable framework for national constitutions in countries with Muslim majorities, and are in harmony with the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

— “Affirm[s] that it is impermissible to employ religion for the purpose of detracting from the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.”

— “Call[s] upon representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations to confront all forms of religious bigotry, vilification and denigration of what people hold sacred, as well as all words that promote hatred and racism.”

This past summer, Shaykh bin Bayyah agreed to prepare a special video discussion on the Marrakesh Declaration for me to show to a standing room only meeting in Rimini, Italy, at a conference that attracts over 800,000 each year.

Interviewing me in the session was the president of Italian State TV Monica Maggioni. After she watched the video, she exclaimed, “Why doesn’t this make news?!”

I replied, “You’re the journalist, you tell me.”

2. Workplace “Fairness for All”

Ted Childs, former chief diversity officer for IMB, asserts that religion is the next big thing that major corporations will need to navigate. Corporations worldwide have recently focused on LGBT issues, and, using the same argument of “fairness for all,” companies will grapple with how to reasonably accommodate and not discriminate against religion in the workplace.

Why?

Freedom of Religion or Belief is an internationally recognized human right. Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

However, 36% of American workers report experiencing or witnessing workplace religious discrimination, according to a recent Tanenbaum survey, “What American Workers Really Think about Religion.”

But the most successful businesses encourage an environment in which employees can bring their “full self” to work. Employees need to feel comfortable being who they are in the workplace, including being true to their core identity and beliefs. That includes recognizing and respecting an employee’s religion and its practice.

In today’s increasingly more competitive business environment, companies will need to draw upon the talent and experience of every employee. They can’t afford to leave anyone out. If they exclude or alienate someone for reasons having nothing to do with a person’s ability to do the job, they might also be excluding the next great business solution or the next great product idea. The very thing a company might need for its success. At the very least, they’ll be missing out on lots of really great talent.

And as companies become increasingly more global, they’ll need employees who reflect the increasing diversity of their customers. They’ll need employees who can relate to the daily experience of customers and who can see the customer point of view. For potentially billions of customers, religious belief and practice are a part of daily life. Having employees who understand that will not only help companies avoid costly missteps, it will also help companies develop products and services better tailed to customer needs. That’s an essential part of being competitive.

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has developed a Corporate Pledge that supports religious diversity and freedom in the workplace and sends two clear messages to current and prospective employees:

  1. (1) You can work here without changing who you are; and
  2. (2) the company respects all employees and will not favor certain employees over others … and that’s good for the business of all.

In the coming year I believe that the principles in the Pledge will increasingly become one component of a company’s overall strategy to value its employees and increase their loyalty for the benefit of customers and shareholders. The FoRB Pledge is a company’s public commitment to take reasonable steps to ensure that working at the company does not put employees at odds with their deeply held religious convictions.

3. Asia Will Take a Lead

Silence – the new Martin Scorsese film set in Japan – is scheduled for release in the United States on December 23, 2016. Based on the historical novel by Shūsaku Endō, Silence tells the story of two Jesuit missionaries sent to Japan to discover whether a colleague denied God in the face of brutal persecution. By Pew Research estimates, however, today Japan scores among countries with the highest government respect for religious freedom – outranking the United States. And Japan is not the only Asian country besting the US.

Specifically, among the 26 most populous countries, governments of three Asian countries have higher levels of government support for (i.e., lower levels of restrictions on) religious freedom than the United States, where government restrictions on religious freedom are higher and have been rising according to Pew Research.

As shown in the chart, the United States scores 3.0 out of a maximum of 10.0 on the Government Restrictions on Religion index, according to data recently published by the Pew Research Center.

The Philippines, by contrast, scores 1.0 out of a maximum of 10.0 on the index, Japan scores 1.1 and South Korea 2.0, all with fewer government restrictions on religious freedom than the U.S.

Among the 26 most populous nations, however, three East Asian countries have governments that are very highly restrictive of religious freedom: China (scoring 9.1 out of 10.0), Indonesia (8.5), and Burma/Myanmar, according to the Pew index. One East Asian country is highly restrictive: Vietnam (6.1), and one is moderately restrictive: Thailand (4.4).

Although Taiwan is not counted among the 26 most populous nations, Pew scores Taiwan as low on restrictions and therefore high on freedom.

Given the recent political posturing between U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and China, which included Trump being the first U.S. president or president-elect to talk to the president of Taiwan since 1979 when the United States recognized Beijing as the legitimate government of China rather than Taipei.

The prospects for new innovations coming from East Asian nations committed to religious freedom are likely in 2017. For instance, this year Taiwan organized an international symposium attended by representatives from 27 countries resulting in a Declaration of Religious Freedom, prominently citing the connection between religious freedom and business.

And the prospects of a possible run for the South Korean presidency by outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has been a clear supporter of the role of business in advancing interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace, add another reason to expect religious freedom & business innovations coming from Asia.

Of course, much depends on China itself, the biggest player in the region. Of course, the devil’s in the details, but given a rash of recent government actions to impose its supremacy over culture, in particular, religion, China’s economic success is under threat.

This conclusion is based on a new study which I authored, The Modern Chinese Secret Sustainable Economic Growth: Religious Freedom & Diversity.

The study’s findings – published in this past summer’s edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs – will be surprising to the half of China’s population for whom religion is not a significant part of life. To the other half, they will make some sense, but still may be surprising. The reason is twofold.

First, those who do not practice religion often tend to have their closest personal and social connections with people like themselves. Accordingly, people who do not encounter religion on a day-to-day basis may consider it to be an insignificant factor.

Second, even those practicing a faith may not be aware of the connections between faith, freedom, and business because there has been very little research looking at the connections.

Also, if external threats are perceived to be growing by the government, then rallying the population may also mean some additional concessions to religion in order to keep them on China’s side. Whether they will reduce restrictions on religious freedom in 2017 is yet to be seen.

For more on the Yin and Yang of religion and religious freedom in China, see my Weekly Number China blog. But one thing’s for certain, with nearly half of the Chinese population being religious active, and with research showing the positive contribution to the economy of religious and religious freedom, China has incentive to ease restrictions.

Welcome 2017

2017 marks the third anniversary of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s first-of-its-kind effort to engage the global business community in advancing interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace. It’s fair to say that the progress we’ve seen gives some reason to believe that this coming year will be the Year of Religious Freedom & Business. The advances so far include:

  • • Recognizing business champions at the inaugural Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards
  • • Launching the Corporate Pledge on Religious Freedom
  • • Piloting (for global scale-up) our Empowerment+ interfaith social cohesion & enterprise initiative
  • • Seeing our research covered by global press (from Forbes to Fox and Al Jazeera to EWTN)

Writing now from Abu Dhabi, and having travelled around the world several times over just this year, there is hope that the three religious freedom innovations discussed above are set to soar in 2017. Certainly, I’ll be doing my best to give them some fuel. Let me know if you’d like to help too.

With abiding faith, hope and love, I for one am looking forward to the New Year.

Faith + Entrepreneurship = Prisoner Rehabilitation

9 Dec, 2016

by Byron Johnson

Since the 1970s, the United States prison population has grown by over 700 percent. In fact, one-in-100 adults currently reside behind bars in the U.S. This dramatic growth in the prison population represents an increasing challenge for policy makers and correctional authorities, and translates into a costly liability for U.S. taxpayers. Stated differently, that the unintended consequences of incarceration have created a growing burden on the nation.

For example, research confirms that children of prisoners experience much higher rates of criminal behavior and subsequent incarceration. When a parent is incarcerated, the lives of children can be disrupted in tragic ways. Thus, the impact of one man’s incarceration may be felt by families and communities for decades.

In an age of shrinking budgets, many correctional treatment and vocational programs, even if found to be effective, are being curtailed and may be in danger of being eliminated.

Unfortunately, rather than providing offenders with the opportunities and resources necessary to achieve rehabilitation, increasingly incarceration serves as only a temporary reprieve from a troubled existence. Within a short period of time after release, many ex-offenders return to the same disadvantaged communities and find themselves back in trouble and back in prison. National three-year recidivism rates fluctuate around 60 percent, exposing the ugly reality that crime reduction is not easily achieved.

What are we to do?

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is a program that represents a departure from traditional approaches. PEP is privately funded is an innovative, holistic approach to achieving lower recidivism rates. PEP declares itself to be comprised of “servant leaders on a mission to transform inmates and executives by unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education and mentoring.” Although the program does not describe itself as faith-based, PEP leadership and volunteers are faith-motivated individuals and have infused this privately funded organization with Christian principles. PEP begins by working with participants while they are still incarcerated, and continues by providing services to participants after their release. 

At the very core of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program is the recognition that many inmates come to prison with a thirst for entrepreneurship, as well as a practical knowledge of concepts such as competition, relationship-building, risk management, and sales channels.

The centerpiece of PEP’s in-prison business educational experience is the Business Plan Competition (BPC). The core curriculum is taught by PEP staff, with business executives and others lecturing periodically on topics within their areas of expertise. The experience is highly interactive and “hands on,” with each student required to conceive of a business that he would start upon release and research and write a complete business plan for doing so. Each student receives extensive feedback from volunteer executives and MBA students over the duration of the course.

pep-studyOur study of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program compared 94 PEP graduates to a control group of over 50 inmates who had been selected for PEP, but who did not participate in PEP’s programs (i.e. they paroled before class began). The recidivism rate of the control group was virtually identical to the state average in Texas (24%), and was more than 3 times higher than that of PEP’s graduates (6.9%).

We also conducted a return on investment (ROI) analysis, and found that PEP’s one-year ROI is 74% – that is, for every $1 invested in PEP, the economy sees a $0.74 return in year one. After three years, the initial $1 invested multiplies into an ROI of $2.07. After five years, the economic impact of the initial investment yields approximately $3.40 in economic impact – a 340% ROI.

Having conducted research in prisons over the last 30 years, I can say without hesitation, that PEP is the most innovative and successful program working with prisoners and ex-prisoners, and provides an outstanding model for rethinking how we work with prisoners, as well as how to assist ex-prisoners as they transition back to society.


Byron Johnson is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. He is the founding director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) as well as director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior.

Beirut Report

3 Dec, 2016
  • Brian J. Grim, Ph.D.
  • President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF)

beirut-reportLast week in Beirut I explored taking RFBF’s interfaith Empowerment-Plus social cohesion and enterprise initiative to Lebanon. With its rich multifaith/multiconfessional population and strategic location, Lebanon could be an excellent location for piloting an Arab language version of Empowerment-Plus.

SECTIONS:

  • (1) Empowerment-Plus
  • (2) In Beirut
  • (3) Business Inspirations for Empowerment-Plus

Empowerment-Plus

Empowerment-Plus helps young adults from all faith backgrounds to channel their energies and capabilities toward building lives, families, careers, businesses and friendship networks with a lively faith in the Lord. Young adults collaborate on practical day-to-day issues including: leadership and life direction; finding better and more meaningful work; creating and building entrepreneurial businesses, better managing personal finances, and ultimately attaining economic self-reliance so that they can be a benefit and blessing to others.

RFBF aims to scale-up of Empowerment-Plus globally by working with coalitions of like-mined business, civil society and funding partners throughout the world. The initiative will increase the positive space for freedom of religion and belief through interfaith action and enterprises that promote social cohesion, sustainable growth and self-reliance.

Empowerment-Plus includes partnering with local faith communities to set up franchise-able enterprises ranging from business incubators in under-used religious buildings to “Pizza for Peace mobile cafés” inspired, flavoured, staffed and managed by refugees, immigrants and/or religious minorities in partnership with local citizens who are also in need of better employment and business skills.

manchester-collaboratorsEmpowerment-Plus is currently being piloted successfully in England at Manchester University’s Catholic Chaplaincy, and in collaboration with numerous partners including: the Jesuit community in Manchester, Caritas (Diocese of Salford), Manchester’s Nigerian Muslim Community (NASFAT), Chabad at Manchester Universities, Manchester Central Mosque, Manchester’s Young Single Adult Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. Mary’s University, and Citizens-UK in Manchester.

Our initiative in Manchester is ably led by Ms. Hinna Parvez from Pakistan, an RFBF research fellow.

In Beirut

Last week I had a series of meetings and discussions with local Lebanese foundations, academics and business leaders. A key advocate for interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace in Lebanon is Dr. Fouad Makhzoumi, a leading industrialist in the country, region and world.

westminster-hall-awardsDr. Makhzoumi (pictured with Brian Grim and fellow awardee Baroness Nicholson) is also a recipient of the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Prize award by RFBF in collaboration with the United Nations Global Compact with support from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. He received the award for his work in founding (in 1997) the Makhzoumi Foundation, motivated by his strong desire to help empower fellow citizens to achieve self-sufficient independence via improved career prospects, regardless of religion or creed. This was a significant step forward given that Lebanon was emerging from a 15-year civil war that fell along sectarian lines and left the country in a state of disrepair with a desperate need to rebuild and jumpstart its flailing economy and educational system.

Indeed, Dr. Makhzoumi – a Sunni Muslim – powerfully lays out the case for interfaith understanding and religious freedom in his acceptance speech for the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Prize in a video already viewed by more than 75,000 (see newly added video with Arabic subtitles here).

may-makhzoumiFouad’s wife, Mrs. May Makhzoumi (pictured with me and Samer El Safah, Foundation General Manager), leads the work of the Makhzoumi Foundation in carrying out computer, language and vocational training at a modest fee to anyone wishing to take advantage of the opportunity. They also provide health care as well as microlending services for new business start-ups, and Dr. Makhzoumi just this past week launched a new centre for entrepreneurship at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

In my visit to the Foundation’s Beirut headquarters, I was particularly impressed with the generous care and attention the staff in each department given to the participants in the classes and recipients of the multifaceted services.

After touring the medical and dental clinics, followed by the beautician skills school and computer and jobs training classes, I found myself in a spiritual formation class for grandmothers. After I was introduced, the class broke into smiles and chatter (some in English), all wishing me to stay or at least come back soon. They all wanted to take a picture, shown below. But as custom dictates, photos are more serious business and, as the lone American in the pic, I was the only one smiling.spiritual-class-grandmas

Smiles broke out again after the camera clicked. I found the grandmas not only engaging and encouraging but also a lot of fun. I plan to go back soon.

The Lebanese American University

The main purpose of the trip was to speak at the International Conference on Religious Freedom and the Reconstruction of Citizenship held at the Lebanese American University and organized by the Institute of Citizenship and Diversity Management at Lebanon’s Adyan Foundation with support from Missio and the Church of Sweden.

The Adyan Foundation, founded a decade ago by its current director Prof. Fadi Daou, builds solid networks of collaboration and solidarity across faith lines upon the belief that coexistence can be built or rebuilt in pluralistic and post-conflict societies when diversity is viewed as an added value for all. The Adyan Foundation brings together people from different communities, either during a spiritual event or around social solidarity and development projects, and helps them to discover their common values and build authentic and fruitfbeirut-museumul relations. The Adyan Foundation not only shares the lessons learned from the Lebanese context at home, but also through international initiatives.

The International Conference on Religious Freedom and the Reconstruction of Citizenship is one such endeavor. Participants came from 14 countries across the Arab world, Europe, Africa and Pakistan. I had the honor of representing the United States. Others participating included the ambassadors of Great Britain and France, as well as leading scholars from Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Bahrain.

Certainly, the Conference provided a practical opportunity for me to not only get positive feedback on the Empowerment-Plus approach from leading thinkers and policy makers, but also directly explore implementation.

For instance, young adults, a.k.a. Millennials, are a key focus of the Adyan Foundation. Their networks around Lebanon of youth committed to working together could become participants and volunteers in Empowerment-Plus training and entrepreneurship activities.

I’ll have a chance to follow up with Prof. Fadi Daou later this month at the 3rd Forum for Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi, UAE from December 18-19, 2016. Fadi and I have both been supporting the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Minorities in Muslim-Majority Lands promulgated by H.E Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, President of the Forum for Peace in Muslim Societies. The following is a video presentation by Shaykh Bin Bayyah on the Declaration that he prepared for me to show at this past year’s Rimini Meeting in Italy.

Business Inspirations of Empowerment-Plus

Empowerment-Plus draws its inspiration from business leaders around the world engaged in similar enterprises and initiatives. For instance, as described above, the Makhzoumi Foundation founded by Lebanese industrialist Fouad Makhzoumi, CEO of Future Pipe Industries Group Ltd., engages in similar projects and serves as a successful model informing the development Empowerment-Plus.

Fellow Lebanese businessman Abdo Ibrahim El Tassi only found his business success as an immigrant to Canada, where he now runs a successful manufacturing company providing jobs for many in Manitoba. Seeing the struggle that many immigrants face when relocating to Canada, El Tassi works to provide training and development opportunities for newcomers. He has provided $1.7 million to immigrants in interest-free loans for business startups, mortgages, and university tuition. Empowerment-Plus similarly engages successful business people and companies to set microloans to help people on the path toward self-reliance.

The unique contributions of Empowerment-Plus, however, include intentionally including interfaith components in all its initiatives that help participants ground their decisions and actions in spiritual values and virtues common across all faith traditions. Moreover, the Empowerment-Plus business incubator and “Pizza for Peace mobile cafés” add revenue-generation allowing Empowerment-Plus centres to be largely self-sustaining. And perhaps most importantly, Empowerment-Plus is primarily carried out through volunteer facilitators and mentors who become part of interfaith communities committed to building and expanding the human networks essential for impact and success.

A diverse range of business men and women from around the world serve also as our model and mentors. These leaders were recently recognized for using their businesses to bridge cultural and religious divides at the inaugural Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards in a ceremony on Tuesday, 6 September 2016, a day before the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These leaders include Christians, Jews, Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated from all continents, showing that the values of interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace have universal appeal and are vital to a fertile business climate regardless of location.

Still, in many countries, social and political tensions have spurred violence and unrest along religious and cultural lines. Each group within this struggle has a different narrative and understanding of what has led to current culture and conflict. Aziz Abu Sarah and Scott Cooper, co-CEOs and Founders of MEJDI Tours, have offered an invaluable perspective for Empowerment-Plus. They  recognize that allowing people tell their story is a first step in fostering peace and cultural understanding. In Israel, for example, their “Dual Narrative” approach allows Israeli and Palestinian tour guides to offer varying perspectives on culture, religion, and politics at each location. The example of MEDJI Tours points to one of the fundamental principles of Empowerment-Plus: always include multiple faith groups in each enterprise or activity. Empowerment-Plus is not just another jobs programme. It is an intentional initiative brining people from vastly different backgrounds together for a common purpose.

Other leaders inspiring the Empowerment-Plus include Indonesian businessman Y.W. Junardy, who uses his business acumen to solve social problems, specifically facilitating thousands of marriages for poor Indonesians of all faiths, providing their families with the legal status necessary to advance in Indonesian society. Like Junardy, Empowerment-Plus takes an action rather than just dialogue approach to addressing the underlying causes of social tensions.

Don Larson, founder and CEO of Sunshine Nut Company in Mozambique, works across faith and cultural lines to revive the country’s cashew business. The secret of his success in what he calls a “reverse tithe” – giving 90% of the profits back to investment in Mozambique and developing a fair-trade supply chain rather than expatriating the profits. Like Don, Empowerment-Plus exists for the benefit of the people it serves, not the benefit of Empowerment-Plus itself.

Brittany Underwood, founder and president of AKOLA in Texas, U.S., and Uganda, promotes gender equality and religious freedom by employing Ugandan women to create fashion jewelry. Underwood also created a Dallas-based organization that employs women who have survived human trafficking. Like Brittany, Empowerment-Plus believes that enterprise is more sustainable than charity.

Jonathan Berezovsky, CEO of Migraflix in Brazil, helps immigrants and refugees integrate into Brazil through facilitating cultural exchanges between them and the local community. Migraflix also empowers immigrants and refugees by setting them up as instructors of classes to share skills and knowledge they have that is of interest to their new homelands. Like Migraflix, Empowerment-Plus sees newcomers as assets with new and needed skills that can contribute significantly to the local economies.

Bruce McEver, co-founder and president of Berkshire Capital Securities LLC in New York and London, set up a foundation which works to cultivate inter-religious understanding through the promotion of religious literacy especially among business leaders. Like Bruce, Empowerment-Plus reaches out to top business leaders and companies to help them understand how they can advance interfaith understanding and peace in their own workplaces and through engagement with Empowerment-Plus.

Emma Nicholson, Baroness of Winterbourne, executive chairman of the Iraq Britain Business council and founder and chairman of AMAR Foundation in the U.K. and Iraq, works to build business, technology, trade and investment in Iraq, with a special focus on women of religious minorities, such as Yazidis. Like Baroness Nicholson, Empowerment-Plus sees the importance of having an intentional focus on women who often are the most badly affected in conflict and repressive environments.

Similar inspiration comes from Kathy Ireland, founder of Kathy Ireland Worldwide. Kathy supports initiatives to empower leaders in advancing freedom in the face of religious oppression and has raised the call to defend Yazidi women in Iraq. Like Kathy, Empowerment-Plus pays particular attention to people who are oppressed because of their faith or belief.

Tayyibah Taylor (1952-2014) is a particularly good example of looking beyond stereotypes. Ms. Taylor was a tireless international voice for Muslim women everywhere. Through her Asisah magazine and advocacy efforts, she helped people of all faiths to broaden their perceptions of the lives and potential of Muslim women as she worked to reveal their true accomplishments and talent. Similarly, Empowerment-Plus aims to help people see beyond stereotypes of “the other” and focus on how diversity can bring greater economic success to communities.

Frank Fredericks, Founder and CEO of Mean Communications, has created whole campaigns to combat stigmatization of “otherness.” He led his organization in a coalition with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, UNESCO, and other partners to produce a coordinated social media effort to spread awareness for the worldwide campaign “Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion.” In a more one-on-one level, Empowerment-Plus appeals to successful people in communities to volunteer as mentors – sharing what they’ve learned and been good at with others who are hoping to follow a similar path to success.