Business: A powerful force for
interfaith understanding & peace



World Economic Forum: Global Agenda Council, Role of Faith

Established in 2008, the Network of Global Agenda Councils is an invitation-only knowledge network that serves as an international brain trust to the World Economic Forum and the world at large. Members of the 2014-2016 Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith comprise the world’s foremost experts to provide thought leadership that furthers the faith agenda within World Economic Forum’s activities. During the 2014-16 term, the Council was chaired by Chris Seiple, President Emeritus, Institute for Global Engagement, and Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. Liu Peng, Founder and Director, Beijing Pu-Shi Institute for Social Sciences, served as vice chair.

The Council’s report on The Role of Faith in Systematic Global Challenges and the research and articles below are part of a “toolkit” developed by members of the Council, which seeks to increase “religious literacy” – including awareness and understanding of the positive impact of the role of faith in various sectors – in our complex world.


Changing religion econ coverReligion & Economy

Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation; and Phillip Connor

As religious diversity and religious populations grow, so does their potential impact, creating new challenges and opportunities for societies, governments and economies. Changing religion, changing economies is a “first-cut” type of research providing pioneering insights into the future religion and economic change based on best available data. While it does not offer recommendations, business, government and civil society leaders will find useful information to inform discussion for years to come.

Indeed, 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).

Highly Cited

Economic & Religious FreedomsEconomic & Religious Freedoms

Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Freedom of belief is one of three factors significantly associated with global economic growth, according to a recent study by researchers at Georgetown University and Brigham Young University. The study looked at the GDP growth of 173 countries in 2011 and controlled for two-dozen different financial, social and regulatory influences.

While a study such as this does not prove that religious freedom causes economic growth, it does suggest the matter deserves more consideration.

Indeed, as the world navigates away from years of poor economic performance, freedom of religion or belief may be an unrecognized asset. For instance, the same study finds a positive relationship between religious freedom and 10 of the 12 pillars of global competitiveness, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

Concept Sheet

Faith & Global Challenges

From climate change to gender parity, the World Economic Forum has identified 10 key global challenges that require collaboration across different sectors to crack. This paper looks at how faith interacts with each.

The Role of Faith in Addressing Key Global Challenges: This first-of-its-kind 2-pager is authored by the Archbishop of Sweden, Antje Jackelén, together with Prof. Linda Woodhead (UK) and Brian Grim (US), and input from Council members.

Other articles on the global challenges come from the work of various members of the Council. For instance, see the joint statement by the Council published by Chris Seiple on What faith can do for 9 global challenges. Also see Can religion make economic growth more fair? (Grim & Woodhead); Religion holds women back. Or does it? (Grim & Lyon); 4 reasons why climate change can’t be solved without religion (Woodhead and Jackelén); Faith, the internet and improving the state of the world (Helland); and How the Pope’s climate message went viral (Helland).


Religion & Inclusive GrowthReligion & Inclusive Growth

Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation; and Linda Woodhead, Professor, Department of Politics, Philosophy & Religion, Lancaster University

Rising income inequality contributes to social and political unrest, threatening our economic future and general wellbeing. While it is clear that social problems will increase if economic growth benefits a small minority, there is very little concrete analysis of how different sectors of society contribute to the goal of inclusive growth. The need for better analysis is reflected in the World Economic Forum’s new programme to benchmark progress toward economic growth and social inclusion.

Why is the faith factor important to consider? First, because religious adherence is on the rise, as is clearly seen in recent research on religious demographics. Second, because religion is often ignored.

Religion-womenReligion & Women

Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation; Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent, Wesleyan Church.

Religion is often seen as a barrier to gender parity. Stories abound of gender-based violence done in the name of religion. As a result, in many cases, the issues of religion and gender parity are often dismissed as too complicated to address. There appears to be no way to unwind this rather complex multi-institution.

However, a critical factor overlooked in this conversation is religious freedom. Unless there is religious freedom, minority groups, including women, will not be at the table and their vital, productive and creative voices will not be heard. Corporations and economies will suffer if they miss out on the contribution of women.

The denial of religious freedom contributes to gender inequality throughout the world. Extremist ideologies such as ISIS represent the complete loss of religious freedom, and when respect for a diversity of religious beliefs and practices disappears, gender equality suffers.

Faith & Emerging MarketsFaith & Emerging Markets

Chris Seiple, President Emeritus, Institute for Global Engagement

Faith is a factor in global economic growth, perhaps more so in particular emerging markets like South-East Asia. Successfully accounting for it requires a corporate culture capable of engaging regional contexts where local elements such as faith can be like the air: unobservable to the outside eye but of tremendous influence and impact.

Whether we like it or not, faith is hugely influential worldwide. Take a look next time at the flag of the country you’re visiting – there’s a 33% chance it has some faith dimension to it. Of the world’s 196 countries, 64 flags have religious symbols in them. Thirty heads of state are required by law to belong to a particular religion. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In 2010, 84% of the world’s population (6.9 billion) self-identified with a particular faith tradition.

Religious & Economic Growth

Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Reports of the death of organized religion have been exaggerated. According to recent research, the growth of religious populations worldwide is projected to be 23 times larger than the growth of the unreligious between 2010 and 2050.

The impact of religion is on the rise on a global scale. By the middle of this century, 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. In terms of population shares, this is significantly lower than the peak in the 1970s under communism when nearly one in five people worldwide were religiously unaffiliated, according to the World Religion Database.

Business & Peacemaking

Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

The 9/11 al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre twin towers – soaring symbols of development and progress – was not a random choice. In 2004, Osama bin Laden said in a taped speech, “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Every dollar of al Qaeda defeated a million dollars [spent by the US], including the “loss of a huge number of jobs”.

And now, as the international community responds to ISIS’s brutal conquest of large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, it is important to remember its socio-economic context. The Iraqi public’s chief concern in the years leading up to the ISIS offensive was unemployment, according to this Pew survey from 2012.

Faith & EconomyFaith & Economy

Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Faith in the economy, as measured by the monthly consumer confidence index, is viewed as a key indicator of the economy’s overall health. But what about religious faith – might it also matter for the economy? Wells Fargo recently identified four market transformations they expect in 2015. The first three relate to global economic recovery and technology. But the fourth is that business will shift from primarily being about “making money” to being about “doing good”.

Socially responsible business is certainly a theme championed by religious leaders, including Pope Francis, Sojourner’s Jim Wallis, the Dalai Lama and theArchbishop of Canterbury. Recent studies suggest that faith can positively impact the economy through at least two distinct vectors: ethos and engagement.

MBAs & FaithMBAs & Faith

Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation; and Chris Seiple, President Emeritus, Institute for Global Engagement

“They’re young. They’re hip. They wear the hijab. And multinationals like Unilever, Procter & Gamble and L’Oréal have taken note,” reports the Financial Times in a recent headline article. As the growing population in the Muslim world is translating into a growing consumer base, new groups of consumers barely on the radar are coming to the fore.

The FT observes that the purchasing power of fashion-conscious Muslim women ‒ known as hijabsters or hijabers because of their colorful headscarves ‒ has become a cultural phenomenon in South-East Asia. These women are well-educated and driving demand for new products, services and innovations.

Our bottom line: everyone wins if business schools account for the faith factor in at least one elective course. So why not try it out, business schools?

Helping RefugeesHelping Refugees

Chris Seiple, President Emeritus, Institute for Global Engagement

As hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Muslim, seek refuge from war in Iraq and Syria, many now call this moment a “migrant crisis.” Of course, migrants don’t leave bombed out homes, tortured relatives, and genocide: refugees do. And for them, the crisis is what they left, not their arrival.

If we are to fairly address the deep human needs brought on by the war in Iraq and Syria, then we must acknowledge the world as it is, to include the faith factor in various dimensions. Religion plays a key role, from the beliefs and norms of the societies absorbing new arrivals to the values and needs of refugees; and from the security concerns of those unable to flee (especially religious minorities) to harnessing the faith communities around the world who are eager to respond.

Middle East RefugeesMiddle East Refugees

Chris Seiple, President Emeritus, Institute for Global Engagement 

I soon will have visited Northern Iraq six times since October 2014. Every time I drive northwest to Dohuk from Erbil, no matter the driver, each time, he points to the place where American planes stopped the advance of ISIS. The idea of a safe haven for people of faith who have fled ISIS—more likely now on the Nineveh Plain in Northern Iraq (just south of Kurdistan) than in Syria, given the Russian intervention—has now become mainstream.

On 9 October, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that “no-fly zones” and “safe harbors” for people “warrant serious consideration.” After all, they argued, “We will continue to have refugees until people are safe.” Similarly, during the first Democratic Presidential Debate on 13 October 2015, Hillary Clinton called for “safe zones” in Syria (and presumably, by extension, in Iraq).

Post-ISIS PlanPost-ISIS Plan

Chris Seiple, President Emeritus, Institute for Global Engagement 

The Islamic State is a global cancer that is metastasizing faster than we can master. An equal-opportunity hater, ISIS has particular hatred for Christians and Yazidis. We have both been to Iraq in recent months and seen firsthand their suffering – suffering which demands a comprehensive plan, now.

First, the coalition that destroys ISIS should be led from within the Muslim-majority world. The U.S. will have to provide key support, not least: logistics, intelligence, airstrikes and embedded special forces. Further, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces are already confronting ISIS directly in areas that Kurds see as their homeland, despite a lack of training and equipment. The U.S. first must revisit existing policy, which insists on sending any military assistance to the Kurds through Baghdad. This approach is informed by diplomatic calculations, but it is not strategically sound.

Faith & Global ChallengesFaith & Global Challenges

Chris Seiple, President Emeritus, Institute for Global Engagement 

Values cannot be justified by the intellectual process alone. Faith must be involved.

— Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, to the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith, 26 October 2015

Values are often rooted in faith. And if 84% of the world believes in something greater than itself, it stands to reason that the faith factor will influence and impact the nine global challenges, issues which the World Economic Forum has identified as vital for global collaboration.

Stemming Islamic ExtremismStemming Islamic Extremism

Ahmad Iravani, President and Executive Director, Center for the Study of Islam and the Middle East (CSIME)

The rise of religious radicalism and the spread of hate crime are not confined to particular geographical boundaries, and pose a truly global challenge. Extremist interpretations and narratives of Islam, though still representing a small minority of the faithful, cannot be written off as simply “un-Islamic”. It is a reading of Islam that strikes a chord with a disillusioned, angry, alienated but often educated cohort of Muslim youth. This brand of extremism includes a range of views, some resorting to violent means and others merely advocating hateful beliefs and value systems.

For many within this worldview, Islam is an “authentic” and self-defining narrative that can be used to justify extreme violence. All texts including religious ones are subject to interpretation and we need to offer the core peaceful narrative. Other factors have helped to fuel the spread of extremism. First, within the context of families, communities and the education systems, messages that extremists disseminate are not always effectively countered. Second are the economic issues and difficulties that many of these communities and individuals face, both in Europe and in the region. Third is the political context in many Muslim countries that generate extreme sense of antipathy to and exclusion from the political order and societal channels of self-expression. Lastly and by no means the least is foreign intervention in many Muslim lands, often resulting in extreme and everlasting violence which reverberates across many diaspora and immigrant communities in the Western world.

Religion & Climate ChangeReligion & Climate Change

Linda Woodhead, Professor, Department of Politics, Philosophy & Religion, Lancaster University; and Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Uppsala and Primate of the Church of Sweden

Climate change is probably the biggest common challenge ever faced by humanity. If it is to be solved, religion has to be involved.

In previous eras, “the world” was large and powerful and human beings were small and weak. Now humanity has far greater power – enough to destroy its own environment. This why some people are calling it the “Anthropocene” era.

The challenge is enormous. It must impact economic development and redefine our thinking and attitudes regarding lifestyle, welfare, sustainability and justice – for the sake of the planet, for the sake of all life on it, and for the sake of our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren. There are at least four good reasons for the inclusion of religious traditions in this work.

Faith & the InternetFaith & the Internet

Christopher Helland, Associate Professor, Dalhousie University, Canada

Our world is undergoing massive transformations thanks to developments in internet and communication technologies. As Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum has noted, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is well under way and there is a dire need to develop a “shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments.”

Despite the enormous cultural and societal transformations associated with the technological developments of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, faith and religious practices continue to be important components of our wired world.

 Pope & Climate ChangeThe Pope & Climate Change

Christopher Helland, Associate Professor, Dalhousie University, Canada

“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. – Pope Francis”

When Pope Francis finally released his encyclical on the environment, the world seemed ready to listen. In fact, for over a year, there had been so much hype over the anticipated, immense document that a single line went viral within minutes. The statement above was tweeted by the Pope on 18 June and seemed ideal for engaging all concerned and for communicating his unease. Within hours, his tweet was shared more than 30,000 times and it was quoted and referenced in more than 430,000 news articles. Throughout the day, the Pope continued to tweet short statements from his 183-page text, savvily inundating the online world, to the point at which almost everyone on the web that day was aware of the event.

Going Viral - The Pope & Climate ChangeTelling the World

Christopher Helland, Associate Professor, Dalhousie University, Canada

As Pope Francis prepares a Papal Encyclical detailing the Catholic Church’s position on the environment, there is already a controversy developing over his “Green Agenda” and clear position that environmental problems are man-made. Despite the controversy, Pope Francis is determined to communicate his message that there is a link between human inequality, exploitation and environmental degradation. His position within the Church is not necessarily new, in fact the last two Popes have argued that the environment and its stewardship are Christian concerns.

What makes this Encyclical different from the earlier positions of the Church will be the way that Pope Francis communicates his message to the world. Unlike his predecessor, the current Pope has embraced new forms of social media as important mechanisms for connecting with his followers.

The Pope & EcologyThe Pope & Ecology

Sébastien Maillard, Rome Correspondent, La Croix

Laudato Si’, the Pope’s much awaited encyclical on “human ecology”, is a warning on the disastrous state of “our common home”. The first of its six chapters describes a dramatic outlook for waste, biodiversity, water, urban expansion, and, of course climate change, which Pope Francis affirms is mainly due to human activity, as he has already claimed.   

He is in no way a “climate sceptic”. But he is sceptical about the ability of many of the proposed solutions to solve environmental problems, that could otherwise lead to “new wars”. International Earth summits since Rio in 1992 have not proved convincing, he says in a clear message ahead of COP21 — the conference on climate change in Paris at the end of this year. The Holy See acknowledges that the encyclical is designed to influence the Paris climate talks.

Faith & Ending TraffickingFaith & Ending Trafficking

Sébastien Maillard, Rome Correspondent, La Croix

From forced labour in mines and sweat shops to domestic work and prostitution, international human trafficking serves a wide scope of illegal activities, channelled through criminal organizations, taking migrants on long dreadful journeys. Nearly 36 million people throughout the world today are in what is considered “modern slavery”, according to the most recent Global Slavery Index, developed by the Australian Walk Free Foundation.

By making a surprise visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa in July 2013, where migrants reach the shores of the European Union, along with trafficked people, Pope Francis has taken the lead in putting this often underestimated issue on the global agenda and in involving interfaith dialogue.

Faith & ConversationFaith & Environmental Conversation

Dekila Chungyalpa, Director, Sacred Earth

This year, Earth Overshoot Day – the day on which our consumption of natural resources exceeded the planet’s ability to replenish itself – fell on August 13.

While the earth can renew itself – recycle water and carbon, regenerate plants and even rebuild wildlife populations and wild fish stocks – the 13th of August is when our use of its resources crossed over to the red for the remaining part of the year. This sobering news highlights the need for sustainable development and a new approach to the challenges of overconsumption, overpopulation, and poverty. And yet, we still have the opportunity to reverse many of the current trends leading to environmental depletion and ecological collapse.