Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Leaders Speak

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation hosts a series of talks, interviews and articles where business, religious and civic leaders speak out on the values of increasing religious freedom, interfaith understanding and peace.

Business Leaders

Social Investment and Philanthropy


Kathy Ireland, founder, CEO and Chief Designer of kiWW (kathy ireland Worldwide), has been cited as one of 17 finalists for the first Global Business & Interfaith Peace Award given by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit operating in the award program together with the United Nations Global Compact Business for Peace initiative.*

The new tribute is dedicated to “honoring current and past business CEOs for distinctive leadership in promoting and fostering interfaith understanding.”

Winners of the prize will be announced Sept. 6 in Rio de Janeiro. Nominated CEOleaders head faith-assisting businesses from Indonesia, Brazil, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, the United Kingdom, United Arab Republic, Canada, Iraq, Mozambique and eight companies based in the United States.

“Business leaders are increasingly aware they have a responsibility to do good and not just make a profit,” said Brian Grim, the president and founder of The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. “Part of doing good is addressing some of the really tough challenges we face, such as extremism and communal conflict. These finalists, who come from around the world and a variety of business and religious backgrounds, have shown exceeding leadership in how religions can work together to achieve common good and positive change.”

Grim noted that Ms. Ireland founded her internationally successful lifestyle product design firm with dedication to assisting people of goodwill and all faiths in achieving fundamental rights and for providing assistance for challenged societies. He particularly noted that Kathy Ireland and kathy ireland Worldwide supports Hardwired, a women-led educational initiative in Iraq and Sudan. She has also drawn attention to the plight of Yazidi women escaping oppression. ”

“This nomination does not belong to me,” says Kathy. “It is the result of incredible efforts of the brave leadership, volunteers, contributors and supporters of Hardwired. Its young founder, Tina Ramirez, represents the kind of initiative that will make a more compassionate world.”

In other areas of compassionate activism, Kathy serves as Ambassador for the YWCAGreater Los Angeles campaign to address human trafficking, an issue she has also pursued in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. She also serves as Ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, carrying on the mission of her late friend and mentor, Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s efforts to fight the global epidemic.

Economic Development & Religious Freedom

Leaders-Speak-Fouad-Makhzoumi“Religious freedom is a key ingredient to peace and stability, as measured by the absence of violent religious persecution and conflict. This is particularly important for business because where stability exists; there are more opportunities to invest and to conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets.” — Fouad Makhzoumi

“Today, the majority of Muslim leaders have, of course, gone on record favoring religious freedom and tolerance, and with the sea of change happening now in the Muslim world, there has never been a better chance to apply the freedom principle. Moderate Muslims should insist upon religious freedom as an essential part of any new democratic order as it prevents instrumentalization and misinterpretation of religion and its political misuse.” — Fouad Makhzoumi

Read his full talk

Mr. Makhzoumi is a leading industrialist, philanthropist and statesman. In 1997, Mr. Makhzoumi founded the Makhzoumi Foundation, a private Lebanese non-profit organization that contributes through its vocational training, health care and micro-credit programs to Lebanese civil society development.

Mr. Makhzoumi gave a talk on the important contribution of religious freedom to economic development, including in the Arab world. He delivered his comments at a 21st August 2015 address to the Rimini Meeting, a gathering attracting up to 800,000 people from across Italy and the world each summer. Mr. Makhzoumi’s talk was part of a panel on how economic development can help counter violent extremism. It was held in collaboration with the European Parliament Information Office in Italy and the European Commission Representation in Italy.

Joining Mr. Makhzoumi on the panel was Brian Grim, President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation; Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Parliament; Lucio Battistotti, Director of the European Commission Representation in Italy; and Michele Valensise, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. The panel was introduced by Roberto Fontolan, Director of the International Center of Communion and Liberation, a global movement in the Catholic Church which has the purpose of forming its members in Christianity in order to make them coworkers in the Church’s mission in all areas of society.

Tolerance: A Virtuous Cycle for the Economy

Awaken-the-millionaire-within-report“Tolerance and respect embody the behavioral model that every entrepreneur must foster, because, in successful teams, the leader’s example will be reflected in those being led, creating a virtuous cycle. Freedom of expression, of conscience and of religion must be lived in practice and not only be one more article to fill up space in the Declaration of Human Rights. As is the case of faith without works, theory without practice is dead.” — Carlos W. Martins

“On the other hand, where such freedom is limited, a profession of some particular religious belief may mean the exclusion of entire families from the economic scene, leaving them to fend for themselves. This would represent an economically weakened marketplace, with a reduced rate of social development.” — Carlos W. Martins

Read his full article

Carlos Wizard Martins is the founder of Multi Group Education that serves one million students in 3000 schools, generating about 50,000 jobs in Brazil and worldwide. Having formed the largest network of teaching languages on the planet, the entrepreneurial spirit of Carlos Wizard has made him a market leader. He is also the author of the bestselling book “Awaken the Millionaire in You,” which provides lessons from life and faith that lead to his founding of the Wizard Language Institute. Mr. Martins is a Founding Member of the Brazilian Franchising Association.

Carlos is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s 2014-2016 Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith, which comprises the world’s foremost experts to provide thought leadership that furthers the faith agenda within World Economic Forum’s activities.

As part of his work on the Council on the Role of Faith, he produced the video below on the experience of Brazil with religious freedom, and how his own faith inspires his work and approach.

Iran is Economically Missing Out by Repressing Baha’i Faith

Rahmani Leader“Business can be a tremendous force for social good, and protecting religious freedom in Iran – including that of religious minorities like Baha’is – can greatly increase the diversity and strength of Iranian business. It’s long past time for the Iranian government to ensure that all of its citizens, including Baha’is, can freely contribute to the prosperity of their country.” — Bruce Rahmani

“[The] Iranian Baha’i diaspora provides further proof of what Baha’is are capable of: all over the world, Iranian Baha’is establish businesses, from carpet shops to high-tech start-ups, increasing prosperity in their adopted homelands. Baha’is in Iran ask for nothing more than the same opportunity – and the Iranian government would do well to welcome Baha’i businesses, rather than shuttering them.” — Bruce Rahmani

“When I came from Iran to the United States, after spending three years as a student in the UK, I was able to build a new life for myself here and eventually open, with a partner, my own business. Our business employs about 100 people, doing sales, design, installation and service of heating and air conditioning systems in residential and commercial properties in Virginia, Washington D.C and Maryland. I have been fortunate to find success in business, and I feel lucky, as an Iranian-American, that I’m able to contribute to the growth and well-being of my community. But in Iran, my fellow Baha’is are not so lucky.” — Bruce Rahmani

Read his full article

In this “Leaders Speak!” edition, U.S. entrepreneur Bruce Rahmani argues that Iran is missing a great resource for economic growth by repressing the country’s largest religious minority – the Baha’is. For instance, one noted Baha’i industrialist started Iran’s first taxi business, brought Pepsi-Cola to Iran, and opened Iran’s first TV station.

Corporate Pledge on Freedom of Religion and Belief is a “Beautiful Thing”

Michael FederAn Interview between Brian Grim and Michael Feder

Brian Grim (BG), President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, interviews Michael Feder (MF), Founder of PrayerSpark, the worlds first and only place designed for interfaith, real-time blessing and affirmation, with the aim of bringing this support to addiction recovery and stress management with clinical mobile apps. 

Read the full interview

BG: You recently signed the corporate pledge on freedom of religion or belief. The pledge commits to promoting sustainable and innovative business through protecting freedom of religion or belief, practicing non-discrimination and non-harassment on the basis of religion or belief, practicing religious accommodation and inclusion, and protecting and promoting freedom of religion or belief in the broader community. What prompted you to sign the pledge?

MF: “Frankly, the pledge represents both our core business model, and our core personal beliefs. Signing the pledge is simply a public way of stating what is already going on over here at PrayerSpark.”

BG: Being in the praying business, do you think the corporate pledge has a prayer getting widespread buy-in? For instance, do you know any other CEOs who would be willing to sign the pledge? What about Issac Tigrett as head of his new business, Bozo’s Bar-B-Q, or maybe Hard Rock Café’s current CEO, Hamish Dodds?

MF:  “Isaac is in India, and no longer actively pursuing Bozo’s. He has devoted his life now to his spirituality and spiritual beliefs, and he is writing a book. We are very fortunate to have Isaac involved in PrayerSpark, and I can tell you that the pledge totally represents what Isaac believes. And while I cannot speak for other corporate founders, I can say that the pledge is a beautiful thing, and that if I can in any way help to spread awareness, I’d be very honored to do so.”

BG: Michael, thanks so much for spending a bit of time with us today.

Religious Leaders

Role of Religious Leaders in Addressing Violent Extremism

“If our world is to move effectively towards a new era of respect for legitimate pluralism and the right to be different on the basis of a free conscience, then charity must begin at home. Religious communities have to get used to differences within their respective religious families. The Christian community has accepted this reality for many centuries. The times when heretics had no right to exist, and had only the choice between falling in line with rigid orthodoxy or get roasted at the stake are long gone. The aim of the world ecumenical movement has been to maintain some measure of mutual respect in one faith family despite our differences of doctrines and church institutions. Islam and other world religions cannot delay indefinitely this kind of process.” – +John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja – Nigeria

“Religious leaders should be in the front line of the defence of freedom of religion, not only for their own adherents, but for all others too. This is particularly necessary where persons belonging to a religious minority suffer discrimination. For example, Christian religious leaders in a predominant Christian country should spear-head action in defence of Muslim minority rights, just as Muslim religious leaders in a predominant Muslim country have a duty to defend the religious rights of the Christian minority. This is what will bring about peace and harmony among religious communities, and in the society at large.” – +John Cardinal Onaiyekan

Cardinal Onaiyekan is a member of the World Economic Forum’s 2014-2016 Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith, which comprises the world’s foremost experts to provide thought leadership that furthers the faith agenda within World Economic Forum’s activities.

As part of his work on the Council on the Role of Faith, Cardinal Onaiyekan welcomed having his comments included in this “Leaders Speak” series. He delivered these comments for the 3rd World Forum on Inter Cultural Dialogue, Baku – Azerbaijan, May 18-19, 2015.

Archbishop of Sweden

Role of Faith in Addressing 10 Critical Global Challenges

Antje JackelénAntje Jackelén, Archbishop of Sweden, together with Prof. Linda Woodhead (UK) and Brian Grim (US) – and input from the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Religion – looks at how faith interacts with each of the 10 key global challenges identified by the World Economic Forum ranging from climate change to gender parity.

Also, together with Linda Woodhead, Archbishop Jackelén argues for four reasons for the inclusion of religious traditions in addressing climate change. First, historic religious traditions have a tried and tested cultural integrity, spiritual depth and moral force which can greatly enhance secular approaches. Second, climate change is fundamentally a question of global justice. Third, religious traditions play a role in leadership. Fourth, the dimensions of the challenge can invoke anxiety as well as paralysis.

As Archbishop of Uppsala, Antje Jackelén is the first female head of the Church of Sweden.

In 2015 she made news by becoming the first woman archbishop to be welcomed to the Vatican for an official papal audience. In her address to Pope Francis she spoke of progress made in the dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans, including the joint document ‘From Conflict to Communion’ in preparation for a shared commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.

General Secretary of the Wesleyan Church

Religion holds women back. Or does it?

Jo Anne LyonRev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon is the General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church. She is also a member of the the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Religion. Together with Brian Grim, she looked at the role of religious freedom in gender empowerment. 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.

Dr. Lyon serves on the board of directors at many organizations she believes in representing The Wesleyan Church including the National Association of Evangelicals Executive Committee, Christian Community Development Association, National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Asbury Theological Seminary Board, Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith of the World Economic Forum, and serves as an Ex – Officio member for all Wesleyan Institutions of Higher Education.