Faith and business are powerful forces for peace


2019 Empower Women Film Competition

Gold Grand Prize: A Different Way

A Different Way, a film by Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook and Lauren Merkley, is the 2019 Empower Women Film Competition Grand Prize winner. Rev. Dr. Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook shares her experience as the first female chaplain for the NYPD and how interfaith relationships were essential in fostering hope and rebuilding a city after the events of 9/11.

Amb. ‘Sujay’ served as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom from April 2011 to October 2013. She has served as a policy advisor to President Bill Clinton and was the first female senior pastor in the 200-year history of the American Baptist Churches USA and a close friend of Coretta Scott King. Lauren Merkley is a documentary filmmaker and photographer passionate about capturing the beauty of people and stories in their own environment. She seeks to share the good in the world and believes in the power of film to touch audiences across the world.

Silver First Runner Up: Equality by Olfa Arfaoui and Randy Abbassi

A Tunisian female shares how women’s empowerment, with religious liberty at its core, is a pathway to peace and prosperity.

Olfa Arfaoui, a scholar at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, looks at the importance of women’s economic empowerment and what a new equal inheritance law in Tunisia could mean for gender equality.



In this age of global media that can spread messages of intolerance in an instant, it is urgent that we identify, equip and mobilize leaders to share empowering messages that advance interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace.

The Empower Women film competition challenges women to collaborate together to produce short films that promote freedom of religion and belief in the workplace. The Empower Women film competition represent a collective effort between the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and Empower Women Media to contribute to a growing movement to equip women as media advocates.

In this second edition of the Empower Women film competition, the new award-winning films will be screened at the Damah Film Festival in Tokyo, May 10-11, 2019.

The grand prize winners of the competition received $1,000 and their film as well as all the finalist films will be shared at film events in the coming year with religious freedom networks, NGOs, government and faith-based organizations around the world.

The three-minute films are artful and compelling explorations of how freedom of expression and religion in the workplace and our communities helps empower women, religious minorities, displaced and/or communities with disabilities. Whether inspired by real-life events or fictional, animated, or experimental, the films thoughtfully seek to affirm that inclusion, diversity and religious freedom are good for business.

The winning and finalist films include:

  • – $1,000 GOLD GRAND PRIZE: A Different Way (by Ambassador Suzan Johnson and Lauren Merkely)
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  • – SILVER FIRST RUNNER UP: Equality (by Olfa Arfaoui and Randy Abbassi)
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  • – SECOND RUNNER UP: Honour-Able (Jennifer Bryson and Bess Blackburn)
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  • – THIRD RUNNER UP: Moving Mountains (Mariz Doss and Karen Schenk)
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  • – FINALIST: Bleu (by Maryam Farahzadi)
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  • – FINALIST: B Me (by Elizabeth Schenkel)

For more information about the Empower Women film competition guidelines, visit RFBF’s film competition page or contact the Empower Women Media Director, Shirin Taber at See 2018 winners here.


SECOND RUNNER UP: Honour-Able by Jennifer Bryson and Bess Blackburn

“What you wear should never limit what you can achieve,” explains Muna, basketball player and co-founder of the American athletic hijab company With Honour, which provides an example of how religious freedom brings opportunities for entrepreneurship, business, and prosperity around the world.

THIRD RUNNER UP: Moving Mountains by Mariz Doss and Karen Schenk

An Egyptian female shares her story of overcoming marginalization through sports and fitness, believing if you give women a chance to succeed, they will.

FINALIST: Bleu by Maryam Farahzadi

An Iranian film maker shares the challenge to accept differences as a quality of life, rather than a nuisance.

FINALIST: B Me by Elizabeth Schenkel

An insecure young woman finds a phone app that can magically adapt her identity to any situation. But she soon begins to experience unforeseen and dangerous consequences.


Denials of religious freedom are associated with poorer economic performance and lower global competitiveness, according to a study by researchers at Georgetown University and Brigham Young University. And other studies show that religious freedom promotes peace, which is particularly important for business because where stability exists, there is more opportunity to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets.

Strategically, these films help to show that a commitment to religious freedom and interfaith understanding is a means to fulfilling the UN Strategic Development Goal 16: “Promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” 

The most successful businesses encourage an environment in which employees can bring their “full self” to work – religion and all. Employees need to feel comfortable being who they are in the workplace, including being true to their core identity and beliefs. That includes recognizing and respecting an employee’s religion and its practice. In today’s increasingly more competitive business environment, companies will need to draw upon the talent and experience of every employee. They can’t afford to leave anyone out. If they exclude or alienate someone for reasons having nothing to do with a person’s ability to do the job, they might also be excluding the next great business solution or the next great product idea.