Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Kathy Ireland | Founder & President, kathy ireland Worldwide, USA & worldwide (Iraq, Sudan)

Case Study Outline

  1. → Kathy Ireland Video (above)
  2. → Learning Objectives
  3. → Main Category of Action
  4. → Kathy’s Story
  5. → Summary of Case
  6. → Message from Kathy Ireland
  7. → Introduction to Iraq
  8.      – Demographics and Economy
  9.      – Religious Demographics
  10.      – Conflict and Violence related to Religion
  11. → More About Hotwired
  12. → Discussion Questions
  13. → Media and Added Resources

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Learning Objectives

Kathy Ireland, founder of kathy ireland Worldwide, 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. She pays particular attention to people who are oppressed because of their faith or belief.

The learning objectives for this case study include:

  1. 1. Celebrity business people can be a powerful voice for those who are oppressed, gaining the attention of policy makers and society in general.
  2. 2. Women-led initiatives such as Hardwired supported by Kathy Ireland are instrumental in both addressing issues faced by women and in helping women themselves make a significant difference.

Main Category of Action

Advocacy and public policy engagement

Fostering social cohesion and inter-group dialogue and relationship-building in the workplace, marketplace and local community.

Kathy’s Story

Not a lot of businesspeople make the covers of both Forbes and Sports Illustrated magazines. But Kathy Ireland, supermodel and founder of kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW) can.

Ireland, whose first business was selling painted rocks on the beach in her Southern California hometown, is known as both a supermodel and a supermogul. She appeared in 13 consecutive Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions and graced the covers of three, and her eponymous licensing company now encompasses 17,000 products that bring in $2 billion a year, according to Forbes.

Ireland learned at the hands of some of the biggest business moguls in the world. She once cold-called the actress Elizabeth Taylor, who made her own fortune licensing her name to fragrances and women’s accessories, and asked if the movie star would be willing to mentor her. The two were very close until Taylor’s death in 2011.

She was also mentored by Warren Buffett, who encouraged her to grow her business beyond its original focus on women’s clothing. Now kathy ireland Worldwide licenses everything from rugs and flooring to wedding dresses and baby furniture.

But Ireland keeps her focus not just on the bottom line. “Consider others as more important than yourself,” she said in an interview on NBC’s Today show earlier this year when asked to give advice for creating a successful business. “That can be counterintuitive in today’s world. It works. When you treat the people you work with the way you would want your family members to be treated, there is no limit to what you can accomplish together.”

Ireland and her company have long been involved in charitable work with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, the YWCA’s anti-racism initiative, 9-1-1 for Kids and the Nomi Network, which fights human trafficking. Ireland also supports the work of Hardwired, a woman-led peace initiative that trains business and community leaders and promotes religious pluralism and tolerance in war-torn areas such as the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Ireland has spoken out for Yazidi women, raised awareness about their plight at the hands of ISIS or Daesh and supported an appeal to Congress to act their behalf.

“My priorities are my faith, my family and then being of service to others through my work,” Ireland told Christianity Today.

At the Forbes Women’s Summit, Ireland explained why women and children are often the focus of her charitable work.

“I encourage women, please don’t let anyone or their opinion of you or your circumstances define or destroy you,” she said. “In my old job description as a model it was ‘shut up and pose.’ I reject that today. Allow people to refute you but please don’t ever allow anyone to dismiss you. We have got to let our voices be heard, and not only ours, but women’s everywhere. Proverbs 31 says, ‘Speak out for those who are voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable,’ so I just think it is something that we’ve got to do.”

Summary of Case

Religious discrimination and oppression are disintegrating opportunities for stability and freedom in the Middle East. This is made worse where community leaders and government officials fail to appreciate the socio-economic benefits of interfaith understanding and religious freedom.

Kathy Ireland, Founder and President of kathy ireland Worldwide, supports the extraordinary efforts of Hardwired, a women-led initiative that empowers community and national leaders to advance freedom and dignity in the face of religious oppression.

Beyond her support for Hardwired, Kathy engages personally. In one case, she hosted an event for Yazidi women escaping oppression, which included an appeal to Congress to take immediate action to stop ISIS atrocities against the Yazidi..

Message from Kathy Ireland

A Personal Message From Kathy Ireland About Hardwired’s Brave Ones Campaign.

Visit Hardwired Global at to learn how you can join Kathy Ireland to support the Yazidi women and children who have courageously escaped captivity under ISIS and are beginning the hard work of rebuilding their lives in refugee camps scattered throughout northern Iraq. Hardwired’s Brave Ones campaign provides everyone a chance to stand against the intolerance and hatred of ISIS militants by honoring the courage of the Brave Ones. You can join us by sending these young women and children a care package that includes personal care items and a booklet that teaches them about their rights and how to defend them. Together, we can build communities that ensure no one is oppressed for who they are or what they believe.

Introduction to Iraq

Demographics and Economy*

Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq was occupied by Britain during the course of World War I; in 1920, it was declared a League of Nations mandate under UK administration. In stages over the next dozen years, Iraq attained its independence as a kingdom in 1932. A “republic” was proclaimed in 1958, but in actuality a series of strongmen ruled the country until 2003. The last was SADDAM Husayn. Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly eight-year war (1980-88).

In August 1990, Iraq seized Kuwait but was expelled by US-led UN coalition forces during the Gulf War of January-February 1991. Following Kuwait’s liberation, the UN Security Council (UNSC) required Iraq to scrap all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles and to allow UN verification inspections. Continued Iraqi noncompliance with UNSC resolutions over a period of 12 years led to the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the ouster of the SADDAM Husayn regime. US forces remained in Iraq under a UNSC mandate through 2009 and under a bilateral security agreement thereafter, helping to provide security and to train and mentor Iraqi security forces.

In October 2005, Iraqis approved a constitution in a national referendum and, pursuant to this document, elected a 275-member Council of Representatives (COR) in December 2005. The COR approved most cabinet ministers in May 2006, marking the transition to Iraq’s first constitutional government in nearly a half century.

Nearly nine years after the start of the Second Gulf War in Iraq, US military operations there ended in mid-December 2011. In January 2009 and April 2013, Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all governorates except for the three comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government and Kirkuk Governorate. Iraq held a national legislative election in March 2010 – choosing 325 legislators in an expanded COR – and, after nine months of deadlock the COR approved the new government in December 2010.

In April 2014, Iraq held a national legislative election and expanded the COR to 328 legislators. Prime Minister Nuri al-MALIKI dropped his bid for a third term in office, enabling new Prime Minister Haydar al-ABADI, a Shia Muslim from Baghdad, to win parliamentary approval of his new cabinet in September 2014. Since early 2015, Iraq has been engaged in a military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to recapture territory lost in the western and northern portion of the country.

The Iraqi population is comprised of approximately 75-80% of Arabs, 15-20% of Kurds with Turkoman, Assyrian and others representing 5% of the population.

* CIA Factbook

Religious Demographics

Nearly all Iraq’s people identify as Muslim (99%), according to the Pew Research Center. As of 2010, there were 31,340,000 Muslims in Iraq, out of a population of 31,670,000. This number is expected to grow to 53,220,000 by 2030. In 2010, the Christian population was at 270,000, with an expected growth to 380,000 in 2030. With similar years, the unaffiliated represented 40,000 with an expected growth to 60,000. The Muslim fertility rate is at 4.5, and the median age of Muslims is 18, according to Pew.

Conflict and Violence Related to Religion*

Iraq is in an unprecedented humanitarian crises. Following the brutal rise of the Islamic State (IS) in August 2014, many thousands of persons belonging to Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities have been murdered, maimed, abducted, tortured, displaced, including forced into marriage or sexual enslavement, and children taken into training camps. Property has been marked and looted while cultural and religious heritages have been destroyed.

Around 2 million displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Both the USA and the European Parliament has declared that IS/Daesh is committing a genocide against Christians and Yazidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities.

Christians, who numbered around 1.3 million in the year 2000, are now estimated to be as low as 250,000 persons only. Most Christians fled to the Christian suburb of Erbil called Ankawa. Here in 2014 they fled only to find themselves living in unfinished buildings with exposed wiring and water leaks, church halls and sanctuaries, gardens and in tents. Now, in 2016 and little hope of returning to their homes in the Nineveh Plains, they live in difficult conditions in internally displaced camps or sharing small apartments with many families.

Over 5000 Yezidi women and girls were captured and sold as sex slaves. Thousands still remain in captivity and are trafficked throughout Iraq, Syria and the Middle East. Those that have managed to escape have suffered unimaginable cruelty and trauma. Prior to June 2014 it was estimated that the Yezidi population was about 700 000, now it has fallen to 500 000, of which most live in displaced camps. They are desperately depending on aid for their survival.

* Taken from “Religious Minorities of Iraq” (Shai Fund)

As shown in the Pew Research chart below, the global median score for social hostilities involving religion is 2.4 on a 10-point scale, where 10 is high. Iraq’s rating is 7.4, meaning it has very high social hostilities involving religion. The global median score for governmental restrictions on religious freedom is 3.1. Iraq has high governmental restrictions on religious freedom with a score of 6.4.

More About Kathy and Hardwired

Kathy also has been instrumental in inspiring others to join Hardwired’s work for religious freedom. Kathy Ireland Worldwide has not only made donations to Hardwired, but has also come alongside to offer time and resources to help Hardwired, including producing a video to highlight the unique interfaith methodology Hardwired uses to train leaders worldwide in defending freedom for all. Kathy has also inspired her business partners to also come alongside Hardwired to publicize their work in various ways, including sharing contacts with the media and other resources to help Hardwired raise greater awareness about our work in Iraq and Sudan.

Hardwired (HW), a U.S.-based non-profit organization, focuses on expanding civil society space so that more people around the world can experience religious freedom.  HW has created the only training program in the world that is focused on training leaders in the skills to address local issues related to freedom of religion and belief (FORB) and to change worldviews that negatively impact and exacerbate oppression of religious minorities. HW trains local leaders in the legal, educational, religious, and media arenas to defend religious freedom by creating multi-faith coalitions which are prepared to counter serious legal threats and social hostilities in their countries for long-term, sustainable change. HW also provides educational training and resources for educators globally, and trains and provides policy recommendations to government leaders.

TrainingHardwired equips indigenous leaders throughout the world to pursue greater freedom. They can articulate and defend the human right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief as identified in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hardwired leaders work in diverse coalitions to defend victims of religious oppression, and influence changes in laws and social attitudes toward the rights and freedoms of others.

AdvocacyBrave Ones is a campaign of Hardwired that is working to restore the dignity and rights of 1,680 Yazidi women and children who have escaped enslavement by ISIS. They were abused, drugged and traded as sex slaves among jihadists; they are now living in refugee camps. Every dollar raised will go toward these girls and ensuring the survival of the Yazidi people in Iraq.

Discussion Questions

  1. 1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of celebrity business people taking on social causes? Identify several successful examples and several less successful examples.
  2. 2. Identify other women-led initiatives such as Hardwired supported by Kathy Ireland that are instrumental in both addressing issues faced by women and in helping women themselves make a significant difference. What are the advantages and disadvantages (if any) of women-led social initiatives?

Media and Added Resources



This case study was prepared by Melissa Grim, J.D., M.T.S., a senior research fellow with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. It is made possible through a generous grant by the Templeton Religion Trust.