by Christine Virgin, Online Editor of The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative
A country’s economic growth is stronger when both governmental restrictions and social hostilities involving religion are low. Research overwhelmingly supports that where there are higher levels of religious freedom, there are also higher levels of social and economic good, such as better health care and higher incomes for women.
Brian Grim, President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBN), says businesses are a historically untapped resource when it comes to promoting religious freedom. But he says the idea of using business to help promote interfaith understanding and peace is gaining traction.
“Given the situation in the world where we see an ongoing rise in restrictions on religious freedom, we really need to be looking at new and innovative ways to bring in more voices to the discussion … When a company chooses to address a social issue that creates barriers to business and peace, that’s a praiseworthy effort.”
The RFBN, partnering with its sister organization in Brazil, the Associação pela Liberdade Religiosa e Negócios (ALRN), as well as the United Nations Global Compact Business for Peace (B4P) platform, will bestow the first-ever Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards at the start of the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro September 6. The awards will recognize past or present CEOs from around the world who have demonstrated leadership in championing interfaith understanding and peace in one of the following categories: core business, social investment and philanthropy, advocacy and public policy engagement, or partnership and collective action.
Mr. Grim says often in the religious freedom and human rights world, people think of business as either not part of the equation, or they focus on what human rights laws businesses violate. But this endeavor is focused on an alternate view, at how businesses are engaging in peace and understanding when they value not only making money, but also foster development and interfaith respect.
An example of a company that has used its platform to forge peace and understanding would be Coca Cola, with its “Coke Serves Up Understanding Across Borders” campaign in India and Pakistan. This campaign creates a different narrative using marketing tools to tell the story of how people in Pakistan and India are much more alike than they are different. In turn, this fosters understanding that these people don’t have insurmountable divisions, but rather can work together based on their similarities.
This is exactly the type of action that the RFBN will celebrate with the awards for several reasons.
“An award in and of itself doesn’t catalyze change, but it recognizes efforts by business leaders who are making that change. Drawing attention to this encourages these leaders, and helps to make known what’s going on to inspire other policy makers and those in civil society to engage … This is a new and innovative approach to advancing religious freedom, an initiative that I think has a lot of promise.”
The other intent is that the awards will develop a network of businesses and business leaders who see the value of promoting religious freedom and can share ideas.
The application deadline for the awards is April 30.
1. Nominate a CEO you know for the Global Business Interfaith Peace Awards. It can be any size company in any country. For more information, visit the awards website.
2. To explore more deeply the connections between religious freedom and economic prosperity, read Brian Grim, Greg Clark and Robert Edward Snyder’s full 2014 report, “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business?: A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis.”
3. Read 21CWI EVP Elijah Brown’s A!ert, “U.S. Senate Unanimously Votes to Make Religious Freedom a Consideration in Trade Deals.”