Business: A powerful force for
interfaith understanding & peace


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.


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


Rome Initiative Highlights Easing Middle East Tensions Through Business

28 Nov, 2016

A new initiative launched in Rome, Stand Together, aims to develop and disseminate stories of hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This includes highlighting how to advance interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace through business. allstandtogether

Two initiatives highlighted include:

An initiative to assist Iraqi refugee women: Baroness Emma Nicholson of the Amar Foundation has led the cause of helping displaced Iraqi women, regardless of faith or ethnicity, to cope with the horrendous atrocities of war, providing mental and physical health treatment and offering resources for recreation, education, and vocational training. A video illustratesBaroness Nicholson’s story and how her foundation helps Iraqi women of all faiths.

How to build an economy that goes beyond religious differences? Fouad Makhzoumi is the founder of the Makhzoumi Foundation, an initiative started in Lebanon aiming to foster sustainable economic development, contributing in this way to the development of Lebanese youth, regardless of creed. A video illustrates Fouad’s story and how his foundation helps Lebanese youth of all faiths.

The videos were produced by the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, based in Washington D.C. Both Baroness Nicholson and Dr. Fouad Makhzoumi (picture below with RFBF President Brian Grim) are recipients of the 2016 Global Business & Interfaith Peace Award, which recognize business leaders – current or past CEOs – who have demonstrated leadership in championing interfaith understanding and peace. The Awards are a partnership initiative of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF), its Brazilian affiliate, the Associação pela Liberdade Religiosa e Negócios (ALRN), and the United Nations Global Compact Business for Peace (B4P) platform.


Amazon Bridges Difference Through a Shared Problem

20 Nov, 2016

A new ad by Amazon filmed in the UK sees two old friends meet for a cup of tea and discover they share a problem.

USA Today reports that the “most surprising thing about Amazon’s latest ad for its Prime service is that it appears to be the first time a Muslim cleric has been featured in a television ad shown in the United States.”

Amazon claims that is wasn’t making “any kind of political statement and the subject had nothing to do with the recently concluded U.S. presidential election,” according to USA Today. They also report that the advertisement was already in the works in June according to Amazon’s European Union director of advertising, Simon Morris.

Brian Grim, President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, notes that “Business is at the crossroads of culture, commerce and creativity. This means businesses have the resources to make the world more peaceful as well as the incentive to do so.”

amazon-ad-imageGrim goes on to say “such ads indeed show that business is good for interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace.”

Companies can make positive contributions to peace in society by mobilizing advertising campaigns that bring people of various faiths and backgrounds together, not only seen in the new Amazon commercial filmed in the UK, but also in a recent Coca-Cola commercial filmed in Pakistan and India.

The attention major corporations give to religion, while surprising, is understandable given that religion and believers contribute substantially to economies, as shown in a recent global study produced for a World Economic Forum GAC. And just this weekend, Fox Business News reported on the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s recent study documenting the $1.2 trillion faith economy of the United States.


31 Oct, 2016

manchester_interfaith_empowermentby Lisa Burns (originally published in Jesuits in Britain)

Launching Leaders, an interfaith project that links religion and business, has become the latest exciting new initiative to make its home at Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy.

The Launching Leaders Group – a 12-week programme which pairs participants up with mentors – had its official launch at the Chaplaincy at the beginning of this month. With the help of online modules, talks, workshops and strategic planning, the participants on the course (many of them university students) are encouraged to develop themselves personally and professionally, whilst putting God at the centre of their decision-making process.

The course sees participants from a range of religious and academic backgrounds meeting very Tuesday for workshops facilitated by Chaplaincy Communications Officer Lisa Burns and Catholic languages student Michael Tomlin. During each session, mentors and participants discuss long and short term life plans and goals in workshop settings. Participants are paired up with mentors from different faith traditions – Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

While the Launching Leaders programme has been tried and tested internationally, it is now being piloted in its interfaith form at Manchester, at the invitation of Lead Chaplain Fr Tim Byron SJ.

A buzz of excitement

my-foundation-interfaith-edition-e1475746921287-295x300Launching Leaders is part of the Empowerment Plus programme, a fruit of years of research undertaken by Professor Brian J. Grim. Professor Grim, the founder and president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, has looked extensively at the link between religious freedom and economic growth. His findings have shown that there is a positive correlation between the two, and that countries and regions where religious freedom is stifled have experienced economic decline.  View his fascinating TEDx talk

The much-anticipated global pilot of the interfaith Launching Leaders sessions at the Chaplaincy instigated a buzz of excitement, as the significance of its potential became tangible.

After the first session had ended, Professor Grim shared his thoughts: “The launch of Empowerment Plus at Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy reflected one of the true great contributions of Ignatian spirituality – we saw God working through people He created, as diverse as Catholics, Mormons and Muslims, all sharing the goal of seeing Him more clearly in the day-to-day.”

He went on: “I couldn’t have been more pleased with the launch – it was amazing to see young adults from multiple faiths come together to share so naturally about life, jobs, faith. Their enthusiasm indeed reflects hope from the Lord.”

Hinna Parvez, a member of the Chaplaincy staff team, and coordinator of the Launching Leaders programme in Manchester also runs the Chaplaincy’s weekly night shelters.  Inspired by the Empowerment Plus vision, she has devised a timely business proposal to convert disused presbyteries and church buildings into Empowerment Plus Communities.

As the Launching Leaders weekly sessions continue, it becomes ever more evident that it is worth keeping an eye on what God has in store for the Empowerment Plus team in Manchester!

Nicholson and Makhzoumi Honored at Historic Westminster Hall

31 Oct, 2016

westminster-hall-awardsLast week in historic Westminster Hall, UK Parliament, we presented medals to two Business & Interfaith Peace award-winners who couldn’t make it to the Rio ceremony: Baroness Emma Nicholson (pictured on right) and Dr. Fouad Makhzoumi (pictured on left) with RFBF President Brian Grim.

The Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards recognize business leaders – current or past CEOs – who have demonstrated leadership in championing interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace. The Awards are a partnership initiative of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF), and the United Nations Global Compact Business for Peace (B4P) platform, with collaboration from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.

The inaugural Awards were held in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, Sept. 6, a day before the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Paralympic Games. The next awards will be given in Seoul, Korea, ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics. The 2016 winners come from a variety of religious backgrounds and manage companies and enterprises in the U.S., Indonesia, Mozambique, Uganda, Brazil, Britain, Lebanon and Iraq. Today we are here to honor two of the seven 2016 medalists who were unable to join us in Rio: Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, and Dr. Fouad Mahzoumi.

The jury for this prestigious 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); 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 the business & peace community (Per L. Saxegaard, Business CEO, anRFBF_BIPAwards_Web_Bannerd Founder and Executive Chairman of the Business for Peace Foundation, Oslo, Norway).

H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and one of the judges of the event, noted at the Awards that “Today, we are launching the First Edition of the Global Business and Interfaith Peace Awards, with the conviction that the business sector, the religious community and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations are important actors in ‘promoting peaceful and inclusive societies’. The businessmen and women who will accept this award today are those who have demonstrated strong leadership and have integrated the Sustainable Development Goals and interfaith understanding and peace into their business. … 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.”

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

Driven by religious intolerance and radical fundamentalism, ISIS (Daesh) has decimated the economies of both the Syrian and Iraqi nations, displaced millions from their homes, and acted as the hateful catalyst behind the genocide of Yazidis and other religious minorities. Violence from ISIS has left many survivors in need of medical care, shelter, and other common necessities. Baroness Nicholson, head of the Iraq Britain Business Council and the AMAR Foundation, oversees trade, investment, training and the transfer of technology to Iraq. With the support of local governments, Baroness Nicholson has led the cause of helping displaced Iraqi women, regardless of faith or ethnicity, to cope with the horrendous atrocities of war, providing mental and physical health treatment and offering resources for recreation, education, and vocational training. For this work, which spans decades, the United Nations and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation are honored to award you this medal of the Inaugural Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards.

Dr. Fouad Makhzoumi

During a 15-year civil war, many youth in Lebanon forewent their education as they became increasingly involved with religious fundamentalism, leading to unemployment and economic stagnation. Fouad Makhzoumi, CEO of Future Pipes Industries Group Limited, witnessed how his late son’s youthful energy and cross-cultural savvy triggered exponential growth as his son provided a positive vision for productive and socially responsible business. Makhzoumi and his foundation have helped empower thousands by harnessing this same youthful enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and religious freedom. His microcredit training for Lebanese people of all faiths has helped over 10,000 individuals set up sustainable businesses, and hundreds of thousands more are receiving vocational training. For this work, which also spans decades, the United Nations and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation are honored to award you this medal of the Inaugural Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards.


On Capitol Hill, Brian Grim speaks on Religion’s economic role

31 Oct, 2016

cap-hill-nov-2-2016On November 2, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation President Brian Grim will speak on “Religion’s Socio-Economic Values to the U.S.” (see below). His comments are part of a Symposium held on Capitol Hill honoring the life and service of retiring U.S. Senator Dan Coats of Indiana.

Other speakers highlighting faith’s positive impact at the “Faith, Giving, and Community Transformation” Symposium include U.S. Senator Dan Coats (Indiana), David Hoppe (Chief of Staff for US Speaker Paul Ryan), Michael Gerson (Washington Post columnist), Hunter Smith (Super Bowl champion), and those pictured above as well as others.

The first panel will discuss “Christian Faith in the Public Square: Past, Present, and Future,” and will include Dan Coats, Michael Gerson, Byron Johnson (Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences, Baylor University) and Brian Grim (President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation). The second panel looks at “Christian Giving in America: Past, Present, and Future,” and includes Todd Harper (Founder, Generous Giving), and Forrest Reinhardt (President NCF-Portland, National Christian Foundation), concluding with “Faith-Based Entrepreneurship” with Dale Dawson (Founder, Chairman and CEO, Bridge 2 Rwanda), and Steve Cosler (Operating Partner, Water Street Healthcare Partners). The event is sponsored by Mission Increase Foundation.

Religion’s Socio-Economic Value to the U.S.

Religion annually contributes nearly $1.2 trillion of socio-economic value to the U.S. economy, according to a September 2016 study by Brian Grim and Melissa Grim 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.

Religion does play a unique role in the socio-economic behaviors of Americans. For example, adults who are highly religious are significantly more likely than those who are less religious to report they did volunteer work and made donations to the poor in the past week, according to the Pew Research Center.

As I’ll explain, the contributions of religion to American society fall into three general categories:

  • — $418 billion from religious congregations
  • — $303 billion from other religious institutions
  • — $437 billion from faith-based, faith-related or faith-inspired businesses

All these figures come from a careful analysis of survey and financial data from a wide range of national sources detailed in the research article in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, including:

  • — National Congregations Study
  • — Religious Congregations and Membership Study
  • — Private School Universe Survey
  • — Institution of Education Sciences
  • — Becker’s Hospital Review
  • — Revenue reports of faith-based health organizations, charities & businesses
  • — Faith-related business data by Oxford University’s Said Business School Professor Theodore Roosevelt Malloch
  • — Congregational “halo effect” analysis by University of Pennsylvania Professor Ram Cnaan
  • — World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith

Congregations contribute $418 billion to the American economy each year.

  • — This comes from more than 344,000 congregations representing hundreds of different denominations and religions.
  • — By way of context, this number represents 26 congregations for every one Starbucks in the United States. So you’d have to pass 26 places of worship in order to find your first Starbucks brew.
  • — Unlike a coffee that has one basic service, these congregations provide 1.5 million different types of social and community service programs.

Congregations have four main avenues of socio-economic impact:

  • — The local spending and operations of congregations themselves
  • — Primary and secondary schools attached to local congregations
  • — The Magnet effect of attracting additional activity to the local community
  • — And the value of the impact all these activities have on individuals

Each year congregations spend $84 billion on their operations ranging from paying hundreds of thousands of personnel, to paying for goods and service as diverse as flowers, sounds systems, maintenance, and utilities. Almost all being spent right in the local community.

Schools attached to congregations employ 420,000 full time teachers and train 4.5 million students each year. By comparison this is the same number as the total population of Ireland or New Zealand.

Congregations are like magnets attracting economic activity ranging from weddings, as I’ve already mentioned and can give personal detail on, to lectures, congresses, and even tourism. For instance, 120,000 congregations report that people visit them to view their art and architecture. Here are just a few examples….

Finally, and most importantly, it’s what congregations do in their communities that makes the biggest socio-economic contribution. These programs impact individuals and families in a variety of important ways.

For example:

  • — Congregations provide 130,000 alcohol recovery programs such as The Saddleback Church “Celebrate Recovery” program that has helped over 27,000 individuals over the past 25 years.
  • — Congregations provide 120,000 programs to help the unemployed. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has employment service centers in each of their stakes across the country (and across the world), for that matter.

Some of this work runs counter to stereotypes some may have about religious groups. For instance,

  • — Nearly 26,000 congregations are engaged in some form of active ministry to help people living with HIV-AIDS. That makes one HIV-AIDS ministry for every 46 people who are HIV positive. Just this past weekend on 9/11, under the sponsorship of Walgreen’s and the “First Ladies” (pastors’ wives) of Chicago, nearly 50 Chicago churches hosted free screening for HIV and other diseases.
  • — In fact, the data show that congregations overwhelmingly include a society-building, outward community focus, with over 320,000 congregations helping to recruit volunteers for programs outside their walls, to non-religious groups, ranging from Big Brothers and Big Sisters to the United Way and the American Red Cross.

I’d like to briefly tell you the story of how a congregational school impacts individuals who then impact the community for good. St. Benedict’s Prep readies 530 mostly poor, mostly minority boys for college and beyond. In an area where public schools are working hard just to keep young men from ending up in gangs, in jail or dead, St. Benedict’s sends 95% of its graduates to college, including a sizable number to Ivy League schools.

And graduates, such as Uriel Burwell, return to make an impact. Upon graduating from Drew University, Uriel returned to his childhood neighborhood to build 50 new affordable houses, rehabilitate more than 30 homes and attracted more than $3 million funding to build additional affordable homes and apartments in the area.

Religious Institutions: If we extend our view beyond what happens at local congregations and schools, we can find tens of thousands of other religiously-affiliated charities, health care facilities, and institutions of higher learning also doing these sorts of good works every day. These add another $303 billion of socio-economic impact to the US economy each year.

These includes:

  • — Charities such as the Knights of Columbus whose 1.5 million members respond to disasters and other human needs
  • — Health care services such as provided by the Adventist Health Systems which employ 78,000 people in 46 hospitals
  • — Institutions of higher education such as Brandeis University which is one of thousands of religiously-based colleges throughout the country
  • — I could go on for hours describing such as institutions as Islamic Relief USA, which responded to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, by hiring 20 local staff and distributing 135,000 gallons of water during the height of the water crisis.
  • — Rather than continuing to give examples, I will now move to the third sector, business

Businesses: Religion related business add another $438 billion to the US economy each year. These include faith-based businesses, ranging from the Halal and Kosher food industries to religious media such as EWTN and the Christian Broadcast Network.

The largest group within this sector are not religious companies, per se, but are faith-inspired or religion-friendly companies. Tyson’s Foods, for example, employs a large force of chaplains for their multi-religious workforce.

Across the country there are associations of CEOs who seek to put the moral and ethical teachings of their faith to practice in their business. One such association is C12 with over 2,500 members, some of whom have business worth billions of dollars.

I’d like to end with a surprising example – an example showing how one American CEO, motivated by his faith, has started a company in Mozambique that not only stocks the shelves of America’s major food stores – from Giant and Wegmans to Whole Foods and H.E.B. – but empowers tens of thousands of people. His innovative business model is based on what he calls a “reverse tithe” – where 90% of profits go back into the local community. That means many American consumers are participating in a faith endeavor, perhaps unaware.

Don Larson from Religious Freedom & Business on Vimeo.

Honoring CEOs in Brussels, London & Dubai

16 Oct, 2016

2016-09-27-nexus-business-religious-freedom-poster-a4-engOn Oct. 18, RFBF Brian Grim is speaking at the EU Parliament in Brussels, highlighting the amazing impact of the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards finalists.

In London, he’ll be highlighting these same champions at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and then in Parliament’s Westminster Hall. There, we’ll present medals to two award-winners who couldn’t make it to the Rio ceremony: Baroness Emma Nicholson (UK & Iraq) and Dr. Fouad Makhzoumi (Lebanon & UAE).

From London, he’ll head to Dubai to be with Gold Medalist, Y.W. Junardy (Indonesia) at the annual meeting of the United Nations Global Compact’s Business for Peace initiative, our partner for the awards.

Helping Grim with the presentations at Westminster Hall are Lisa Burns and Hinna Parves, who are helping lead our Manchester Empowerment+ interfaith social cohesion and enterprise initiative. Also helping is Melissa Grim, coauthor of the recent study on the economic contribution of faith to American society and project manager for the Awards.

America’s $1.2 Trillion Religious Economy Makes National & International News

24 Sep, 2016

Jim Denison, Ph.D., asserts: “It’s not often that an academic report changes the conversation about religion in America, but one just did. Georgetown [University’s] Brian Grim and Melissa Grim of the Newseum Institute have unveiled their groundbreaking study: “The Socio-economic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis.”

The links below take you to some of this new conversation about religion in America. Some stories, such as the one from UK’s The Guardian, have been shared more than 18,000 times, while others have reached millions of listeners, such as WNYU’s The Takeaway). 

And, more than a month after the study’s release, it still is making news, being featured in a nationwide Fox Business News report:

Below is the video featured in What’s US religion worth? $1.2 trillion, says one demographer (Religion News Service | Lauren Markoe):

National & International Media

Study: Religion contributes more to the US economy than Facebook, Google and Apple combined (Washington Post: online & print editions | Julie Zauzmer)

Could Religion’s Decline Spell Damnation for the U.S. Economy? As America loses its faith, the domestic economy could pay the price (U.S. News & World Report | Andrew Soergel, Economy Reporter)

Religion in US ‘worth more than Google and Apple combined’ Faith economy worth $1.2tn a year – more than combined revenues of 10 biggest tech firms in America, study shows (The Guardian | Harriet Sherwood)

wnyc-priLISTEN: Report: Faith Economy Worth $1.2 Trillion Per Year (WNYC | John Hockenberry interviews Brian Grim)

The Takeaway, hosted by John Hockenberry, is a national morning radio show broadcast with Public Radio International and WNYC, with The New York Times and WGBH Boston, that reaches more than 2 million regular listeners across 280 stations across the US. The Takeaway interview occurred as President Obama and world leaders gathered at the United Nations for the annual General Assembly. Prior to the interview, Brian Grim was a featured attendee and led a discussion on business and peacemaking at the UN Private Sector Forum, keynoted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and actor Ewan McGregor.

Listen: Religion is worth $1.2 Trillion to the US Economy – Interview with Brian Grim @ 26:50 (BBC World Service | Newshour with Tim Franks)

New Study Values Faith In America Over One Trillion Dollars (Yahoo News | PRNewswire-USNewswire)

Faith-Based Groups and Companies Drive $1.2 Trillion in Impact, Says Study (The Chronicle of Philanthropy | Heather Joslyn)

Report Shows That Religion is Big Business (Small Business Trends | Annie Pilon)

Religion in the United States is worth more than Apple, Google and Amazon COMBINED – with a revenue of $1.2trillion a year (Daily Mail, UK | Clemence Michallon)

Religion contributes more to the US economy than many giant corporations (Business Day, Stuff New Zealand | Julie Zauzmer)


WATCH: New Academic Study Reveals Religion in the U.S. Is Worth $1.2 Trillion (Al Jazeera TV | World News)

Study: Religion Has $1.2 Trillion Impact on U.S. Economy Each Year (The Blaze | Kate Scanlon)

Economic impact of religion: New report says it’s worth more than Google, Apple and Amazon combined (Deseret News | Kelsey Dallas)

Faith-based groups contribute enormously to American society and the U.S. economy (National Review | Alexandra Desanctis)

Faith Economy: The 1.2 Trillion Economies Explained (FX News Business | Neha Gupta)

Religion a Major Driver of the National Economy (Non Profit Quarterly, NPQ | Jim Schaffer)

New study shows religion is an active force in the lives of many in the U.S. (Carib Press, Beverly Hills, CA | Staff Writer)

Religion Is Worth A LOT To The Economy (Newsy | Ryan Biek, including video)

Study: Religion contributes more to the economy than many giant corporations (Post article syndicated to newspapers and media nationwide, with additional reporting by Nathan Van Dyne of the Pulitzer Prize Winning Colorado Springs Gazette)

US religion is worth $1.2T/year, more than America’s 10 biggest tech companies, combined (Boing, Boing |Cory Doctorow)

Georgetown Study: Religion Worth $1.2 Trillion in U.S. Economy, More Than Google and Apple Combined (CNS News | Lauretta Brown)

Study puts monetary value on good works done by U.S. religious organizations (Richmond Free Press | RNS)

American Religion: The 15th Largest Economy in the World (The Atheist Republic | Dean Lawrence)

Holy Rolling in It (The Humanist | Patrick Hudson)

Religion in US worth more than Google, Apple combined $1.2 trillion per year – the number that US religion makes per year, more than the 10 biggest tech companies combined (TweakTown | Anthony Garreffa | Business, Financial & Legal News)

Faith by the Numbers: The Socio-economic Value of Religion in the U.S. (RealClearReligion | Latest Religion Videos)

US Religion Worth $1.2 Trillion (PBS | Religion & Ethics)

Religion in U.S. worth $1.2 trillion a year (, The Times-Picayune | Kim Chatelain)

Study: Religion Has $1.2 Trillion Impact on U.S. Economy Each Year (Crazy Hot News | News Bundler)

Faith-based Media

How Religious Groups Make Economic Contributions to the U.S. (EWTN | Brian Patrick’s interview of Brian Grim).

Religion Boosts US Economy More Than Apple, Amazon, and Google Combined: Study offers best estimate yet of the ‘value of faith’ in America: $1.2 trillion (Christianity Today | Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, also on Ave Maria Radio)

Study finds that religion contributes $1.2 trillion to US economy (Crux | Christopher White)

Don’t Underestimate Religion’s Economic Gifts (National Catholic Register | The Editors)

Religion is big business in the US; adds ‘$1.2 trillion’ to the economy (Ecumenical News | Peter Kenny)

Religion in US Worth $1.2 Trillion to Economy (Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints | Tracie Cayford Cudworth)

Religion’s economic impact (Patheos | Gene Veith)

Study puts dollar value of organized religion in the U.S. at $1.2 trillion (Catholic News Service, and in The Catholic Weekly | Rhina Guidos)

In our opinion: Religious stock on the rise (Deseret News | Editorial)

How much economic value does religion provide America? (Acton Institute | Joe Carter; also in the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Souther Baptist Convention)


Economic Value of Religion: Interview with Brian Grim (Matt Townsend Show, BYU Radio, SiriusXM radio) Nov. 2, 2016

Dr. Brian Grim is president president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and an Associate Scholar at Georgetown University. He is a leading expert on the socioeconomic impact of restrictions on religious freedom and international religious demography. Earlier this month, 17 faith leaders from around America sent a letter to President Obama rejecting the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ report on religious freedom.   The Commission’s chairman questioned the societal worth of religious freedom, calling it a hypocritical code for discrimination, intolerance and racism.  But, what is the monetary worth of US religion?  The estimated annual worth of US religion is at $1.2 trillion and could be considered the 15th largest economy in the world.  Brian Grim explains the Value of Religion in America.

Religion Contributes $1.2 Trillion to US Economy, More Than Top 10 Tech Companies Combined, Study Finds (Christian Post | Brandon Showalter)

New Study Shows Religion is Good for the Economy (Focus on the Family | Jim Daly)

Apple, Google & Facebook combined have less economic impact than religious charities, churches (ChristianExaminer | Gregory Tomlin)

Religion, the Great Economic Engine: MORE PROOF FAITH IS GOOD FOR AMERICA (BreakPoint | John Stonestreet, President, The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview)

President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, Dr. Brian Grim, joins Tony to discuss his recent study on the socio-economic value of religion to American society (Washington Watch | Tony Perkins)

Study Gives Charities a Faith Lift (FRC Action | Senior Writers)

Religion in the US is worth $1.2 trillion, new study shows (Christian Today | Mark Woods)

Religion’s Economic Contribution (Point of View | Penna Dexter)

Religion Supporting US Economy by Generating More Revenue Than Apple, Google, and Amazon Combined, Says Study (Christianity Daily | Staff Reporter)

Faith in America has $1.2 trillion impact (The Wesleyan Church | Brian Grim, Melissa Grim and Kerry Troup)

A study estimates the “economic value” of religion in USA Authors of the study stated that religion is worth $1.2 trillion to the US economy. “Religion provides purpose-driven institutional and economic contributions to society.” (Evangelical Focus | Staff Reporter)

Religion is Good for Society … We Think (Dead Reckoning Radio | Jay Friesen, Hadley Heath, and Dr. Brian G. Mattso)

That Faith Counts study: Religion is bigger than Facebook, Google and Apple combined (Get Religion | Julia Duin)

New Study Claims Religious Organizations in the U.S. Make More Money Than Apple and Microsoft Combined (Church Leaders | Megan Briggs)

Covering Religion as More Than the Radical Fringe (Context | Prof. John G. Stackhouse Jr.)

‘There’s a growing belief that religion is not a positive for American society’ – How the Church impacts the US: A new report revealed exactly how faith and religion impact the United States – and you won’t believe what researchers found (Catholic Online | Kenya Sinclair)

Other National & International Media


Как “деньги веры” создают экономику США [How “Faith Money” is generated by the USA Economy] (LIFE | Екатерина Коростиченко)

Best Business: Organized religion rakes in more money than Apple and Google combined (Macedonian International News Agency)

Religion in US ‘Worth more than Google, Apple combined (The Herald, Zimbabwe)

New Study Values Faith In America Over One Trillion Dollars (Newsroom America | Staff Reporter)

Faith economy in US worth $1.2 trillion a year (The News International – Pakistan | Top Story)

Religion Contributes $1.2 Trillion Each Year to US Economy (Pakistan Christian Post | Nick Pitts)

Religion makes more money in the US than Apple, Facebook, Google combined (CIOL, India |TECH BUZZ Staff Writers)

La religión aporta más a la economía de EE.UU. que Facebook, Google y Apple juntos Investigación señala que la fe aporta un total de 1,1 billones de euros al año. (RPP, Lima, Peru)

Religieuze instellingen dragen meer bij aan economie dan Google, Apple en Facebook (CVANDAAG, Netherlands)

Religie is big business in Amerika (Nederlands Dagblad | Gerard ter Horst)

Aux Etats-Unis, la religion stimule l’économie plus que Google, Apple et Amazon réunis (Saphir News, France – Muslim News | Ben Hanan Rhouma and Samba Doucoure)

Etats-Unis: Les religions génèrent mille milliards de dollars pour l’économie (Evangeliques Point Infor, France)

Religion bleibt Milliarden-Geschäft in den USA Gesundheitsindustrie, Schulen und Kongregationen leisten Beitrag (Pressetext, Austria | Marie-Thérèse Fleischer)

Nghiên cứu mới: Tôn giáo góp phần vào kinh tế Hoa Kỳ nhiều hơn Facebook, Google và Apple cộng lại (VietCatholic News, Vietnam | Vũ Văn An)