Business: A powerful force for
interfaith understanding & peace


Brian Grim leads plenary at one of world’s foremost business leader gatherings

17 Apr, 2017

Leaders often promise much yet fail to deliver, sometimes because of global events beyond their control. The people often become disillusioned, without hope. How may we develop trust, faith and togetherness to enable progress that can absorb economic, political and spiritual surprises originating locally or globally?

Join Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, at a plenary presentation of the 2017 Horasis Global Meeting (28-29 May), Cascais, Portugal to see how several top leaders answer this question at an audience composed of some of the world’s leading thinkers and business leaders. This is the second time Grim has led a panel at the Horasis Global Meeting, the first being in Liverpool in 2016.

Manuel Caldeira Cabral, Minister of Economy, Portugal Horasis will convene the 2017 Horasis Global Meeting in Cascais, Portugal on 28-29 May. The annual Horasis Global Meeting is one of the world’s foremost gatherings of business leaders who interact with key government officials and eminent thought leaders. The Horasis community of more than 300 selected world leaders from 70 countries will gather for an unparalleled experience advancing solutions to the most critical challenges facing corporations and societies today.

Speakers (pictured above, clockwise from top left) on the “Developing Trust” panel with Brian Grim include:

• Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson | Prefect, Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Past President, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vatican City

• Canon Sarah Snyder | Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser for Reconciliation, United Kingdom

• Hamid Karzai | Former President of Afghanistan, Afghanistan

• Elder Neil L. Andersen | Member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, USA

Participants will share insights and innovations on how to best navigate the future. Under the theme ‘Building Togetherness’, participants will share insights on the current state of the world which seems to become more fragile and fractious. Citizens around the world are less trusting of their governments, institutions and neighbours. We need to build a new togetherness, to raise our belief in our inventiveness and in our ability to overcome oppression. This meeting shall devise novel ideas to sustain and nurture our development in the future.

Cascais is conveniently located 20min from Lisbon Airport and – with its enchanting location right on the Atlantic – is one of Europe’s truly legendary resorts. The 2017 Horasis Global Meeting is already the third Horasis leadership event held in Cascais, after the 2015 Horasis China Meeting and the 2016 Horasis India Meeting. The 2017 Horasis Global Meeting is held in partnership with the City of Cascais, the Portuguese Government and the Estoril Conferences, a biannual series of events held in Cascais to discuss the challenges of globalization. The co-chairs are:

  • – Princess Basmah Bint Saud Al-Saud, Chairwoman, GURA – Global United Centre for Research and Analysis, Saudi Arabia
  • – Issam Alzahid, Chairman, Alzahid Group Holding, Saudi Arabia
  • – Barbara Barrett, Chairman, Aerospace Corporation, USA
  • – Vijay Eswaran, Chairman, QI Group, Malaysia
  • – CP Gurnani, Chief Executive Officer, Tech Mahindra, India
  • – Alan Hassenfeld, Chairman, Hasbro, USA
  • – Pansy Ho, Chairperson, Shun Tak Holdings, Hong Kong
  • – Werner Hoyer, President, European Investment Bank, Luxembourg
  • – Kevin G. Lynch, Vice Chairman, BMO Financial Group, Canada
  • – Strive Masiwia, Founder and Chairman, Econet Wireless, South Africa
  • – António Mexia, Chief Executive Officer, EDP, Portugal
  • – Kenneth S. Rogoff, Professor of Economics, Harvard University, USA
  • – Shirley Yeung, Founder & Managing Partner, Dragonrise Capital, China
  • –  William Y. Zhang, Chairman, EU-China Municipal Development Commission, China

About Horasis: Horasis – a global visions community committed to enact visions for a sustainable future – provides a unique platform for companies from emerging and developed markets to globalize their organisations. In addition to the Horasis Global Meeting, Horasis hosts summits with a focus on China, India, South East Asia, Russia and the Arab world. About the Estoril Conferences: The Estoril Conferences are a one-week series of events held in Cascais in May 2017. Held since 2009, the conferences are a meeting place of thinkers and other renowned personalities to discuss the most pressing issues related to globalization. The 2017 Horasis Global Meeting marks the inaugural event of the conference week.

Oxford – Positive Peace Conference

17 Apr, 2017

Positive Peace: Concepts and Practice

What role does business play in promoting interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace? Join Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, at Oxford University on May 5th to find out.

Saturday 6th May 2017, OxPeace annual Day-Conference: 09.30 -17.30  at St John’s College, Oxford. With Conference Dinner on Friday, 5th May at Rewley House.

Speakers include: Lord Alderdice (Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, Harris Manchester College, Oxford), Mark Segal (DFID, on peace and the SDGs), Phil Vernon (Programme Director, International Alert, on positive peacebuilding), James Smith (Aegis Trust, on peace education), Mieke Lopes Cardozo (UNICEF, peace education), John Curtis (Iran Heritage Foundation, on the role of cultural preservation in building positive peace) and breakouts on peacebuilding in Colombia, extremists’ concepts of peace, etc.

Open to all, coffee and sandwich lunch on Saturday included, minimal fee of £5 students, £10 non-students.

For further details and registration form please contact Conference Organiser Jeremy Cunningham: 

Back from Syrian Camps & Beirut

10 Apr, 2017

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I’ve just returned from visiting Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon. The scale and depth of the tragedy is hard to comprehend: millions facing little or no chance of employment, education or mobility.

Amidst this great need, there are reasons for hope:

→ In Beirut I had positive meetings exploring how the resources from RFBF’s Empowerment+ initiative might help the work of NGOs in Lebanon and the Arab-speaking world. Indeed, Lebanon itself offers many reasons for hope.

→The Middle East Women’s Leadership Network is partnering with RFBF to launch a global religious freedom film competition, challenging women filmmakers around the world to create short films that showcase how religious freedom leads to innovation, peace, security, entrepreneurship, and human flourishing in communities.

You can read the details below.

Brian Grim, RFBF President

Refugee Camps

Official estimates put the number of refugees from Syria at 1.5 million, but most agree that the number is certainly higher.

Some have been on the run for four or more years, finding themselves in foreign lands with limited resources to receive them.

In one makeshift camp we met with a family who have only seen a UN worker once in the two years they’ve been in the camp.

Suspicions also are present in the camps, with neighbors not knowing which side of the conflict landed each other in the same camp. Some were well off, others not. All now share a day -to-day existence that our team could drive away from, but they were left facing little or no chance of employment, education or mobility.

In one small camp, the refugees created a makeshift school with almost no support or resources.

As we gathered in the school building with windows painted on the outside and then in one of their homes, they shared with us the loss of husbands, fathers, and the life that once was. Their greatest concern was that their children would become a generation lost to the opportunities education provides.

A distant hope many have is that a spot opens for them to immigrate to a Western nation.

At the same time, they hear stories of how life in the West is not easy either, especially for foreigners with different religions and separated by languages.

In our Empowerment+ program in Manchester, UK, we have been working with a Syrian refugee family. The woman pictured with two of her children recoded a video message to take to the family in the UK. As with all the parents we spoke to, the depravation of education for her children was the greatest concern.

Just being able to speak to the world beyond brought smiles despite the tremendous hardships.

Countries like Lebanon are in an especially tough bind. For a country of about 4.5 million, hosting nearly 2 million additional refugees is unfathomable. That would be like the United States receiving more than 100 million refugees.

The U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees (0.085 million) in the fiscal year ending in September 2016.

Despite the challenges, efforts in Lebanon are truly heroic.


There are hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Lebanon, addressing the needs in varying degrees. Two leading NGOs we spent time with are the Makhzoumi and Adyan Foundations, both of which I’ve known for a number of years.

We are exploring how the interfaith Empowerment+ resources might be useful to the missions of both these foundation.

Pictured with me are staff at the Makhzoumi Foundation with our delegation, including Fr. Tim Byron, SJ, from Manchester, and Sandra Chaoul who works with Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) in the Middle East and North Africa.

Following the violent events in Syria from 2011 onwards, JRS now provides emergency relief to Syrians both inside Syria, and in neighboring countries, including Lebanon.

The Relief and Humanitarian Unit of Makhzoumi Foundation works with several United Nations Agencies, International NGOs and local partners to provide services to beneficiaries of all nationalities in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, including the Palestinian camps in Beirut. The unit’s overall objective is to ensure assistance and humanitarian protection to refugees, displaced people and vulnerable host communities.

In support of our initiative, May Makhzoumi, president of the foundation, and Samer El Safah, General Manager, met together with us and the British Ambassador to Lebanon and senior staff to explore possibilities of bringing our made-in-Manchester Empowerment+ to Lebanon.

We also had meetings with Adyan Foundation director Fr. Fadi Daou (pictured on the left with Pope Francis).

Adyan was founded on 6 August 2006 by members from Christian and Muslim denominations. Adyan works on valuing cultural and religious diversity in its conceptual and practical dimensions, and on promoting coexistence and diversity management among individuals and communities, on the social, political, educational and spiritual levels.

Adyan envisions a world where diversity between individuals and communities is enriching; and it generates mutual understanding, intercultural citizenship, creative development, sustainable peace and spiritual solidarity.

Lebanon’s Rainbow

Within a few minutes of the Syrian border is an amazing beacon of hope. This interfaith enterprise has won UN and World Economic Forum awards. Here’s the rainbow story.

In French, archenciel means rainbow. Pictured with me are part of the Lebanese rainbow – handicapped workers of different faiths and national backgrounds – making wheelchairs in NGO Arcenciel’s workshop in the Beqaa Valley.

Each had a story of how being given work was the key to turning disabilities into abilities, and bridging differences. For them, differences were non-existent as they engaged in a common enterprise that served others and paid them a salary.

Arcenciel is a Lebanese based non-profit NGO, which supports Lebanon’s most underprivileged and marginalized communities, regardless of religion, political affiliation or nationality.

One notable aspect of Arcenciel’s program is that they have multiple business enterprises that not only empower the needy but that these enterprises help put Arcenciel itself on the road to self reliance. As shown in the chart, 65% of their funding comes from sales of their products, ranging from food produced on their farm to products from factories.

Another notable aspect of Arcenciel’s program is that they now operate a farm owned by the Jesuits in the Beqaa Valley that serves as a model for sustainable development. Not only environmentally and economically sustainable, but – from my observation – also spiritually sustainable. 

On Arcenciel’s Farm

The sign in the photo below on Arcenciel’s farm contains verses from the Bible and the Quran speaking of the Virgin Mary, who is revered as the Mother of Jesus (Isa) the Messiah by Muslims and Christians alike.

Indeed, in the Middle East such bridges between people and religions are a key for sustainable development. With interfaith understanding, however, bridges can be built where conflict is less likely. Where there is peace there is development. And where there is development, there is peace.

The sign is located by a statue of the Virgin Mary.

In this Holy Week for Christians around the world, it is worth remembering that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee with Jesus as a refugee family into Egypt.

I imagine that the Virgin Mary has a special concern for the many families forced into exile throughout the Middle East today.

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