Business: A powerful force for
interfaith understanding & peace


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Responding to Terror

24 Mar, 2017

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Beneath Big Ben, a lone terrorist carried out a deadly daylight attack at the British Parliament this Wednesday. ISIS claimed responsibility.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby offered prayers and characterized the terrorist as “perverted, nihilistic, despairing,” contrasting him with the devotion shown by those who cared for the injured. Indeed, the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the attack as a perversion and offered prayers for the victims.

The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols, also offered prayers for the victims, which included a constable, a mother on her way to pick up her children from a local Catholic school, and an American visitor from Utah celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary.

Cardinal Nichols also issued a plea, which points to how terror becomes a threat to the religious freedoms of all, not just our Muslim neighbors:

“Let our voice be one of prayer, of compassionate solidarity, and of calm. All who believe in God, Creator and Father of every person, will echo this voice, for faith in God is not a problem to be solved, but a strength and a foundation on which to depend.” 

As terror represents one man’s “perverted, nihilistic, despairing” version of religion, secular societies might conclude that religion itself is the problem.

Read below for what the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is doing in Britain and worldwide to address this challenge to religious freedom posed by terror.

Brian, RFBF President

Religious Freedom & Business Foundation initiatives in Britain that directly address the challenge posed by terror to religious freedom, include: (1) dissemination of research on the value of faith; (2) interfaith action to build social cohesion; (3) recognition of champions of interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace; and (4) interfaith dialogue at the highest levels.

Research: Value of Faith

The Guardian’s story on our research was shared 18,500 times. By contrast, its headline story announcing that Donald Trump wins presidential election was shared about 17,100 times.

Interfaith Action

We are piloting a social cohesion and enterprise initiative that builds bridges between young adults of different faith backgrounds. Sir Alex Ferguson (of Manchester United) recently helped us celebrate!

Champions of Peace

At the UK Parliament, site of the recent terror attack, we celebrated the significant contributions to religious freedom & peace of Baroness Nicholson and Lebanese industrialist Dr. Fouad Makhzoumi.

High Level Dialogue

RFBF is facilitating high level dialogue in London and Washington DC for interfaith leaders from Indonesia to introduce what they argue is a model of moderate Islam.

Think-and-Do Approach to Advancing Religious Freedom

4 Mar, 2017

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As you read this I’m en route to Vietnam, Indonesia and South Korea, promoting the foundation’s research, campaigns and practical initiatives on how religious freedom is good for business and its flip side – how business is good for religious freedom.

You can have access to RFBF’s thinking and what we’re doing through the links below …. stay tuned for a trip report.

Brian, RFBF President


From how much a religious congregation adds to a local economy to projecting how the world’s wealth will change based on religion, there’s a lot to explore!



The FoRB Pledge: (1) You can work here without changing who you are; and (2) the company respects all employees and will not favor certain employees over others.



Empowerment+ puts religious freedom to practice as young adults build bridges across faith lines to help each other develop core spiritual values, find better jobs and start new businesses. Piloting in Manchester for global rollout in 2018.

Statistics on how religious literacy is important for business

15 Feb, 2017

by Brian Grim

It just makes sense. If people are able to bring their “full selves” into the workplace without fear of being ridiculed or discriminated against for who they are or what they believe, then that’s good for business.

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.

This has a very clear action item for businesses. Companies need to be religiously literate if they hope to recruit and retain top talent. 

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.

Indeed, companies that support religious diversity and freedom in the workplace sends two clear messages to current and prospective employees: (1) You can work here without changing who you are; and (2) the company respects all employees and will not favor certain employees over others, and that’s good for the business of all.

Here are some statistics that demonstrate the need for a company to have religious literacy.

Statistic 1: Religion is Really, Really Growing

For most of the world, religion is a key identifier. In an award-winning article in Demographic Research, my colleagues and I recently demonstrated that not only is the vast majority of the world religions, but their numbers are projected to outgrow the religiously unaffiliated population by a factor of 23 over the coming decades.

This research is based on an analysis of more than 2,500 data sources.

The study and its connected Pew Research Center report show that between 2010 and 2050, the growth of religious populations worldwide is projected to be 23 times larger than the growth of religiously unaffiliated populations.

During this period, the number of people affiliated with a religion is expected to grow by 2.3 billion, from 5.8 billion in 2010 to 8.1 billion in 2050.

By contrast, the number of people unaffiliated with any religion (including those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” as well as self-identifying agnostics and atheists) is projected to increase by only 0.1 billion, from 1.13 billion in 2010 to 1.23 billion in 2050.

The median age of religiously affiliated women is six years younger than unaffiliated women. The 2010-15 Total Fertility Rate for those with a religious affiliation is 2.59 children per woman, nearly a full child higher than the rate for the unaffiliated (1.65 children per woman).

Conclusion: The religiously unaffiliated are projected to decline as a share of the world’s population in the decades ahead because their net growth through religious switching will be more than offset by higher childbearing among the younger affiliated population.

Of course, all projections of future trends must be taken with a note of caution. Indeed, unforeseen events will yield unpredictable consequences. With this caution in mind, we believe that demographic projections are of particular value because, as Voltaire observed, “the present is [literally] pregnant with the future.”

Statistic 2: Religion is Tied to Economic Changes Business Must Keep Up With

Dramatic religious and economic shifts will impact our planet in the decades ahead, according to a 2015 study by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, Changing religion, changing economies. The study provides insights into the global marketplace’s growing religious diversity by linking the best available demographic and economic data.

The growth of religious populations has implications for how the world’s wealth will be spread about. The economic transformations of China and India are common knowledge. But, what is less well known is that the five leading economies of 2050 are projected to represent one of the most religiously diverse groupings in recent memory. For instance, today, seven of the G8 nations have Christian-majority populations. But by 2050 only one of the five leading economies is projected to have a majority Christian population – the United States. The other mega economies in 2050 are projected to include a country with a Hindu majority (India), a Muslim majority (Indonesia), and two with exceptionally high levels of religious diversity (China and Japan).

As religious diversity and religious populations grow, so does their potential impact, creating new challenges and opportunities for societies, governments and economies. This report is part of a “toolkit” developed by members of the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith, and we thank the members for their input. The 2014-2016 Role of Faith Global Agenda Council sought to increase “religious literacy” – including awareness and understanding of the positive impact of the role of faith in various sectors – in our complex world.

Statistic 3: Surveys Show Religious Majorities and Minorities Feel Excluded

A 2013 Tanenbaum Survey of American Workers and Religion concluded that religion is highly relevant in the workplace. The issues include not only whether a person feels unfairly treated on the basis of his or her beliefs – whether religious or non-religious – but also tensions around religion and religious misunderstandings in our diversifying global workplaces.

The survey found that people of all faiths, including those who belong to the “majority,” have religious needs that need to be addressed in the workplace. The survey concludes that “the accommodation mindset can be just as important to the man who is a white evangelical Protestant as it is to the woman who is Muslim or to others who follow a minority belief tradition …” Main findings from the study include:

  • • One-third of respondents have seen incidents of religious bias in their workplaces or have personally experienced them.
  • • Half of non-Christians say that their employers are ignoring their religious needs.
  • • More than half of American workers believe that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims.
  • • Nearly 6-in-10 atheists believe that people look down on their beliefs, as do nearly one-third of white evangelical Protestants and non-Christian religious workers.

The survey also concludes that when employers adopt an accommodation mindset and implement policies addressing religious diversity of all kinds, their employees experience higher job satisfaction than workers whose employers do not. Findings include

  • • Employees at companies that provide flexible hours for religious observance are more than twice as likely to say that they look forward to coming to work.
  • • 4-in-10 employees at companies without clear processes for handling employee complaints are looking for a new job, compared to 2-in-10 employees at companies with these processes.
  • • When companies have policies on religious discrimination, their employees are less likely to be looking for a new job.
  • • Regardless of a company’s size, workers whose companies offer education programs about religious diversity and flexibility for religious practice report higher job satisfaction than workers in companies that do not.

Both the survey and Tanenbaum’s ongoing benchmarking research show that while it is important to have policies, it is equally important to communicate those policies to your workforce.

The Trump Effect

4 Feb, 2017

by Brian J. Grim

President Trump’s executive order barring travelers and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries was halted on Friday by U.S. District Judge James Robart.

Bob Ferguson, Washington state’s attorney general filed the suit in Robart’s court, arguing that the travel ban significantly harms residents and effectively mandates discrimination on the basis of religion, specifically targeting Islam.

As Trump’s controversial order plays out in the courts, it is important to consider the unintended economic and security effects of increasing regulations on religion.


Extensive research shows that increased government regulation of religion leads to more violence and less safety.

In The Price of Freedom Denied, Roger Finke and I demonstrate that the most convenient action, and often the one with public support, is to restrict the actions of the religions perceived to threaten the state, the dominant religion, or both.

Indeed, while governments typically view religious regulation as a necessity to maintain order and reduce potential violence, the irony is that more regulation leads to increased persecution, which means less order and more violence, as shown by the data.

These results should not surprise any savvy observer familiar with the benefits of religious liberty protections in the United States and other countries. The history of modern Japan provides an excellent case study of these dynamics. Before World War II, the government favored Shintoism, the traditional Japanese religion, at the expense of its citizens who followed “foreign” religions. The ruling party’s political rhetoric not only demonized all other religions—it coopted Shintoism into the service of an imperial war machine.

By contrast, since World War II the Japanese people have enjoyed robust protections for religious freedom. And violent religious persecution has been extremely rare. When Japan has experienced religion-motivated terrorism, it has upheld its religious liberty policy while vigorously pursuing all terrorists.

Even after members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious group committed deadly sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system, Japan resisted placing restrictions on the entire religion. Rather than creating new domestic enemies and “martyrs,” Japan eliminated the violent and criminal elements within Aum by following the rule of law and ensuring equal protection and freedom to the non-violent.

Turning to the United States, Pew Research Center data illustrates the same dynamics happening here as seen around the globe. By 2010, government restrictions on religion in the United States had for the first time increased from “low” to “moderate.” Not surprisingly, the incidence of social hostilities involving religion in the United States during the same period increased from “low” to “moderate.” Examples range from openly anti-religious opposition to building churches, synagogues, and mosques to shootings and other acts of violence.

The data are abundantly clear — security and stability result from religious freedom. When freedom is protected for all religions equally, leaders in government and society are far less likely to choose words and deeds that add to religious animosity and divisions. This prevents the cycles of rising religious tensions and violence playing out in nations across the globe today.


As the world navigates away from years of poor economic performance, religious freedom may be an unrecognized asset to economic recovery and growth, according to a 2014 study I co-authored with Greg Clark and Robert Edward Snyder of Brigham Young University’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies.

We found that religious freedom is one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth (see press release). The study looked at GDP growth for 173 countries in 2011 and controlled for two-dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences.

The study also examines and finds a positive relationship between religious freedom and ten of the twelve pillars of global competitiveness, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

One reason religious freedom adds to the economic vibrancy of a country is that it sets people of faith free to do good, to innovate, and the have the desire to contribute socially and economically to the national good.

This is evident in the U.S. economy, where religion annually contributes nearly $1.2 trillion of socio-economic value, according to a 2016 study Melissa Grim and I published also in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion.

— That is equivalent to being the world’s 15th largest national economy, putting it ahead of about 180 other countries.

— It’s more than the annual revenues of the world’s top 10 tech companies, including Apple, Amazon and Google.

— And it’s also more than 50% larger than that of the annual global revenues of America’s 6 largest oil and gas companies.

So – you might say – that represents a lot of spiritually inspired fuel being pumped into the U.S. economy, much of it thanks to the freedom people of faith have to exercise their religion in community with others.


Religious freedoms are fragile because restrictions placed on minority religions can easily be unseen, ignored, or even supported by those in the majority. Like any liberty, religious freedoms force those in power to protect the rights of minorities, even when the majority does not agree. Enforcing this liberty comes with a price, but the price of denying the freedom is far higher.

Faith by the Numbers- The Socio-economic Impact of Religion in the U.S. from Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.


New York Encounter 2017

11 Jan, 2017

Is Pope Francis’ “Economy with a Truly Human Purpose” Possible?

Yes, for at least three reasons.

  • (1) Religious freedom when protected and practiced sets people free to act and innovate motivated by their highest ideals.
  • (2) In a world where religious tensions are high, research shows that business is a powerful force for interfaith understanding and peace.
  • (3) Never underestimate the power of business leaders as entrepreneurs for good.

That’s the argument I’ll make this Saturday at the 10:00 AM plenary of the 9th New York Encounter, an annual event drawing thousands and bringing in top speakers including, this year, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the New York Time’s David Brooks.

Join Brian at the Encounter, an annual three-day public cultural festival featuring panel discussions, artistic performances, and exhibits, taking place January 13-15 at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan on 125 West 18th Street.

Grim will be part of a plenary on Saturday discussion on Pope Francis’ proposals for an integrally human economic development, giving examples and discussing ways in which a fully human economy is possible. The discussion includes Joseph Kaboski, Professor of Economics at the University of Notre Dame, Carolyn Woo, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services,  and Paolo Carozza (moderator), Director of the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame.

Economy and finance are are being perceived, from left to right, as increasingly disconnected from the real lives of real people.

There is a widespread sense that no true economic development is possible if it is disjointed from broader concerns like justice, care for the environment, good education for all, and so on. Hence the relevance of Pope Francis’ appeal for a more integrally human economic development, which, however, must be understood well and applied in practice.

The Encounter’s 2017 theme, “Reality Has Never Betrayed Me” a theme, which pertains to today, when regardless of hardship and disappointment, we have the intuition that life is fundamentally good.

In it’s 9th year, the Encounter highlights a diverse array of speakers taking on this dramatic theme in the field of the artists, education, science, economy, journalism, literature, medicine, and even comedy and food, all sharing their experience of the ultimate goodness of life.

Highlights from the 27 events:

  • – Sunday, January 15, 2017, 4 pm: Are the American People Betraying Their Dream?  Or is the American Dream Betraying its People?  A conversation on American culture and society with New York Times Editorialist David Brooks and Rusty Reno, Managing Editor of First Things.
  • – Saturday, January 14, 2017, 4 pm: The American Dream Come True: American saints and their relevance for our times.  A dialogue between Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and Matt Malone, S.J., President and Editor-in-Chief of America
  • – Sunday, January 15, 2017, 2 pm: Beauty Does Not Betray.  A discussion on the themes in the soon to be released University of Notre Dame Press book, Disarming Beauty, with its author Julián Carrón, President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, and Joseph Weiler, Professor of Law, New York University.

Seán Cardinal O’Malley and Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Christophe Pierre will celebrate the Holy Mass on Sunday, January 15th at 9 am.

For a full program of events visit

Founded in 2009 by members of the Catholic lay ecclesial movement, Communion and Liberation, the Encounter’s goal is to give witness to a new, flourishing life, generated by faith. The Encounter, supported by the work of 350 volunteers, is a vibrant meeting point for thousands of people from different beliefs, traditions and cultures, striving for reciprocal understanding, broadened perspectives and the possibility for friendship.

All events, except for the Saturday night performance, are free of charge. No registration necessary. Credentialed media are welcome. Contact for interviews: or (916) 505-6989.

The Encounter:  “a life changing experience”. (Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics)

Is Pope Francis’ “Economy with a Truly Human Purpose” Possible?

11 Jan, 2017

Yes, for at least three reasons:

(1) Religious freedom, when protected and practiced, sets people free to act and innovate motivated by their highest ideals.

Perhaps one of the best examples is the way religious freedom sets groups and individuals free to tackle poverty.

Poverty, some argue, can only be effectively tackled by governments enforcing top-down, big-P Poverty reduction policies and programs. But a host of religious groups haven’t gotten the memo. Innovative faith-based initiatives worldwide are tackling poverty using bottom-up, small-p poverty alleviation approaches that empower individuals to be resourceful, resilient and self-reliant.

Indeed, a central aspect of religious freedom is that it gives faith groups license to innovate and contribute to the wellbeing of individuals, communities and nations. But where religious freedom is curtailed, so are such innovations. For instance, reform-minded Saudi princess Basmah bint Saud argues, religion “should not be a shield behind which we hide from the world but a driving force that inspires us to innovate and contribute to our surroundings.”

This first installment of an ongoing series on the connection between religious freedom and sustainable development describes these small-p initiatives and concludes with a case study of how one faith group is directly targeting and reducing poverty in its congregations worldwide. Such faith-based activities are facilitated by religious freedom and directly contribute to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 – Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere. (Read more)

(2) In a world where religious tensions are high, research shows that business is a powerful force for interfaith understanding and peace.

The UN Global Compact Business for Peace platform and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation produced a resource to highlight how businesses are a powerful force supporting interfaith understanding and peace.

The resource – available here – was introduced with then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the 2014 Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC ) held in Bali, Indonesia, August 29-30. The ways businesses do this fall into four broad categories:

  • · – Using Marketing Expertise to Bridge Borders: Companies can make positive contributions to peace in society by mobilizing advertising campaigns that bring people of various faiths and backgrounds together, as seen in Coke Serves Up Understanding Across Borders.
  • · – Incentivizing Innovation: Because cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation is an essential part of daily work for multinational companies, one company, the BMW Group, incentivizes other organizations to create innovative approaches to interfaith understanding through an award organized in collaboration with the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Organizations that have won this award include a tour company in the Middle East, which offers new paths to build bridges and bring cultures together, as seen in Promoting Understanding Through Tourism in the Holy Lands. Another recognized intercultural innovator uses job placements agencies to help contribute to the religious diversity of workforces, as seen in Helping Muslim Youth in the Philippines.
  • – Incubating and Catalyzing Social Entrepreneurship: Business can also provide common ground where religious differences give way to shared concern and enterprise. Opportunity and Entrepreneurship in Nigeria describes an approach modeled by a peace-building organization showing how supporting companies and new entrepreneurs in conflict-affected areas can reduce extremism. Petrobras Supporting Business Incubation for Afro-Brazilians similarly shows how company support for new small enterprises can have a significant impact in developing marginalized communities.
  • – Supporting Workforce Diversity: When businesses are sensitive to the religious and cultural issues around them, they can not only increase employee morale and productivity, but also address unmet difficult social needs, as shown in Indonesia Businesses Open Their Doors to Faith and Action.

(3) Never underestimate the power of business leaders as entrepreneurs for good.

Seven business men and women from around the world were honored recently for their work in interfaith relations, including three Americans. All of the leaders were recognized for using their businesses to bridge cultural and religious divides.

Winners of the first-ever Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards were awarded with Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in a ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 6, a day before the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games here.

The awards were presented by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit, in collaboration with the United Nations Global Compact’s Business for Peace Initiative and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. The foundation helps educate the global business community about how religious freedom is good for business and how they can promote respect for freedom of religion or belief.

“These business leaders show the value of religious freedom – it sets people of faith free to do good motivated by their deepest and most innovative ideals,” said Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation.

Winners come from a variety of religious backgrounds and manage companies and enterprises in the U.S., Indonesia, Mozambique, Uganda, Brazil, Lebanon and Iraq.

“The religious, geographic and business-type diversity of these business leaders shows that the values of interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace have universal appeal,” Grim went on to say.

H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and one of the judges of the event, noted that “this award recognizes those who have taken an initiative to use their business as a platform for promoting positive change and tolerance in our society. I would like to take a moment to thank Brian Grim, the President of Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF), who pioneered this award initiative. By implementing SDG 17, Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development, RFBF is collaborating with Global Compact and the UNAOC in acknowledging these distinct business leaders at the international level (Read the High Representative’s full comments).

The sole Gold Medal went to Indonesian businessman Y.W. Junardy, President Commissioner, PT Rajawali Corpora, for his facilitation of thousands of marriages for poor Indonesians of all faiths, providing their families with the legal status necessary to advance in Indonesian society.

A Silver Medal was awarded to Don Larson, founder and CEO of Sunshine Nut Company in Mozambique, who works across faith and cultural lines to revive the country’s cashew business.

Brittany Underwood, founder and president of AKOLA in Texas, U.S., and Uganda, tied for a Silver Medal. Underwood 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.

Four Bronze Medals were awarded. One went to Jonathan Berezovsky, CEO of Migraflix in Brazil, who helps immigrants and refugees integrate into Brazil through facilitating cultural exchanges between them and the local community.

Fouad Makhzoumi, the CEO of Future Pipe Industries Group Ltd., in the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon, promotes religious freedom through microcredit and vocational training to help over 10,000 Lebanese of all faiths set up sustainable businesses.

H. Bruce McEver, co-founder and chairman of Berkshire Capital Securities LLC in New York London, has a foundation which works to cultivate inter-religious understanding through the promotion of religious literacy.

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.

Grim said the finalists, who include Christians, Jews, Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated, exemplify the mission of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation – to show that religious freedom is vital to a fertile business climate.

Other finalists for the awards recognized during the ceremony were Jonathan Shen Jian, CEO, Shinework Media, China, whose films promote global cultural diversity and interfaith understanding in China’s media market of one billion people through his film work. Tayyibah Taylor, CEO and founder, Azizah Magazine and WOW Publishing, Inc., Georgia, U.S., who died in 2014, used her magazine to help Muslim women and people of other faiths better understand Islam. Her daughter Mariam accepted the award in her honor. And Joaquim Augusto Sanches Pereira, Regional Business Leader at Dresser-Rand, a Siemens Business, works with the Vaga Lume initiative, promoting peace and cultural diversity through literary programs for children, teenagers and adults in the multicultural and diverse Amazon region.

The jury for the award was comprised of a small group of high-level experts, including from the United Nations: H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations; from the religious freedom community: Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice, and a former head of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom; and from the business and peace community: Per L. Saxegaard, Business CEO, and Founder and Executive Chairman of the Business for Peace Foundation, Oslo, Norway.

For more information on each winner and their global mission, please visit

Davos gets religion? See Grim’s NEW World Economic Forum blog

5 Jan, 2017

The 47th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, will take place on 17-20 January under the theme “Responsive and Responsible Leadership.” But do the business and political leaders gathering there comprehend the significant impact of religion on the global economy?

In advance of Davos, my newest blog suggests that religion is one of today’s most overlooked economic drivers.

Below is also a link to the resources produced by the 2014-2016 Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith to inform global leaders of religion’s role in world and economic affairs.

RFBF President

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.


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.