Faith and business are powerful forces for peace

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Jonathan Berezovsky | Founder & CEO of Migraflix

Case Study Outline

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

♦ Return to Templeton Religion Trust “Business Case Studies” Home

Learning Objectives

Jonathan Berezovsky, CEO of Migraflix in Brazil, helps immigrants and refugees integrate into Brazil through facilitating cultural exchanges between them and the local community. Migraflix also empowers immigrants and refugees by setting them up as instructors of classes to share skills and knowledge they have that is of interest to their new homelands. Migraflix sees newcomers as assets with new and needed skills that can contribute significantly to the local economies.

The learning objectives for this case study include:

  1. 1. Immigrants provide unique skills and business opportunities in their new countries.
  2. 2. Taking a “contrarian position” toward prevailing attitudes, such as negative attitudes toward immigrants, can present market opportunities.
  3. 3. Overcoming religious intolerance sometimes associated with new immigrants not only helps larger society be more tolerant but can also help newcomers integrate and not become negative toward their new host country.
  4. 4. Where some see cost, opportunities may abound.

    Main Category of Action

    Core business

    Championing interfaith understanding and peace through a company’s core business operations, including internal procedures, human resources hiring practices, training, product/service development, sourcing policies, supply chains, as well as the development of products and services that promote interfaith understanding and peace.


Jonathan’s Story

Jonathan Berezovsky has a big title — CEO and founder of an organization that stages cultural education programs in Sao Paolo, Brazil. But there is another title that matters more to him.

“I am an immigrant because I come from a family of immigrants,” he said.

Embracing the title of immigrant has taken the 29-year-old from Argentina, a country adopted by his Eastern European grandparents after World War II, to Israel, where he worked for a microfinancing nongovernmental organization. Four years ago, he moved to Brazil to start his own microfinance organization aimed at immigrants and refugees.

But when the legal obstacles to that proved too high, Berezovsky pivoted — how could he financially empower immigrants and refugees and, at the same time, enable their acceptance by the broader Brazilian society?

The answer is Migraflix, a 1-year-old company that trains and enables newcomers to Brazil to teach aspects of their culture — cooking, art, language and music — to curious Brazilians. Classes cost the equivalent of about $25, with the immigrant-teacher keeping 80 percent. Migraflix uses the other 20 percent to stage other workshops.

To date, there have been more than 70 workshops, ranging from Islamic calligraphy taught by an immigrant from Turkey to African percussion taught by an African refugee and Mediterranean cooking taught by a Syrian refugee.

“Besides teaching them how to make falafel or hummus, the idea is Brazilians will learn who the Syrian is, who the Turk is, who the African is,” Berezovsky said. “They will learn to identify themselves with that person as a human being. All of this leads to a dialogue between the teacher and the student, and that dialogue becomes a bridge to integration.”

Berezovsky comes from a Jewish background and attended some Jewish schools, but does not consider himself religious. He does not consciously model his business on tikkun olam — the Jewish idea of saving the world through good works — or tzedakah — the Jewish requirement to perform acts of charity — but acknowledges their influence on his worldview.

“I don’t do things because they are written in the Bible,” he said. “But I believe that there are many things that are positive in religion and I absorbed those things and they inspired me.”

Migraflix is looking to expand beyond Sao Paolo to other Brazilian cities and is engaged with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on starting a program based on its model.

Meanwhile, Berezovsky, who is also a musician, has formed Majeez, a band made up of immigrants — some of them Migraflix teachers — who come from countries traditionally at war with each other. The group performs in Sao Paolo synagogues, temples and churches.

“I am just trying to bring people together and show Muslims, Jews and Christians can become friends through culture and the arts,” he said.

Immigrants often face prejudice and intolerance due to different religious or cultural identities. When newcomers relocate to Brazil, Founder and CEO, Jonathan Berezovsky, and his organization, Migraflix, help to economically empower and integrate immigrants into local society. Migraflix does this by bringing natives and newcomers together with workshops and events offering live music, art, and food, allowing locals to embrace their international friends by first understanding their customs and culture. Migraflix aims to show the world that Jews, Muslims and Christians, some of whom have immigrated to Brazil from conflict in the Middle East, can come together through mutual understanding, interest, and respect.


Summary of Case

Immigrants sometimes face prejudice because of their religious and cultural identities when they relocate to Brazil.

Jonathan Berezovsky is founder and CEO of Migraflix, which helps to empower immigrants and refugees economically, and to integrate them into society. It does this through workshops and events that show how new cultures can enrich Brazil, such as through new ways of cooking.

Migraflix spreads a message of tolerance towards immigrants, regardless of nationality or religion. The company aims to show the world that Jews, Muslims and Christians, some of whom have immigrated to Brazil from conflict areas in the Middle East, can come together and understand each other through music, such as the interfaith Majeez band founded by Jonathan..


Interview with Jonathan Berezovsky

The following interview by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation was done during the inaugural Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards, which were held in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, Sept. 6, a day before the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Paralympic Games.

The awards recognize business leaders – current or past CEOs – who have demonstrated leadership in championing interfaith understanding and peace. The Awards are a partnership initiative of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF), and the United Nations Global Compact Business for Peace (B4P) platform, with collaboration from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. The next awards will be given in Seoul, Korea, ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics.

Note: Interview begins at 0:12 marker.


Introduction to Brazil

Demographics and Economy*

Following more than three centuries under Portuguese rule, Brazil gained its independence in 1822, maintaining a monarchical system of government until the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the subsequent proclamation of a republic by the military in 1889. Brazilian coffee exporters politically dominated the country until populist leader Getulio VARGAS rose to power in 1930. By far the largest and most populous country in South America, Brazil underwent more than a half century of populist and military government until 1985, when the military regime peacefully ceded power to civilian rulers. Brazil continues to pursue industrial and agricultural growth and development of its interior. Having successfully weathered a period of global financial difficulty in the late 20th century, Brazil was seen as one of the world’s strongest emerging markets and a contributor to global growth.

The awarding of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games, the first ever to be held in South America, was seen as symbolic of the country’s rise. However, since about 2013, Brazil has been plagued by a shrinking economy, growing unemployment, and rising inflation. Political scandal resulted in the impeachment of President Dilma ROUSSEFF in May 2016, a conviction that was upheld by the Senate in August 2016; her vice president, Michel TEMER, will serve as president until 2018, completing her second term.

Brazil has traditionally been a net recipient of immigrants, with its southeast being the prime destination. After the importation of African slaves was outlawed in the mid-19th century, Brazil sought Europeans (Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, and Germans) and later Asians (Japanese) to work in agriculture, especially coffee cultivation. Recent immigrants come mainly from Argentina, Chile, and Andean countries (many are unskilled illegal migrants) or are returning Brazilian nationals. Since Brazil’s economic downturn in the 1980s, emigration to the United States, Europe, and Japan has been rising but is negligible relative to Brazil’s total population. The majority of these emigrants are well-educated and middle-class. Fewer Brazilian peasants are emigrating to neighboring countries to take up agricultural work.

After strong growth in 2007 and 2008, the onset of the global financial crisis hit Brazil in 2008. Brazil experienced two quarters of recession, as global demand for Brazil’s commodity-based exports dwindled and external credit dried up. However, Brazil was one of the first emerging markets to begin a recovery. In 2010, consumer and investor confidence revived and GDP growth reached 7.5%, the highest growth rate in the past 25 years. GDP growth has slowed since 2011, due to several factors, including over-dependence on exports of raw commodities, low productivity, high operational costs, persistently high inflation, and low levels of investment. After reaching historic lows of 4.8% in 2014, the unemployment rate remains low, but is rising.

Brazil’s traditionally high level of income inequality has declined for the last 15 years. Brazil’s fiscal and current account balances have eroded during the past four years as the government attempted to boost economic growth through targeted tax cuts for industry and incentives to spur household consumption.

Brazil seeks to strengthen its workforce and its economy over the long run by imposing local content and technology transfer requirements on foreign businesses, by investing in education through social programs such as Bolsa Familia and the Brazil Science Mobility Program, and by investing in research in the areas of space, nanotechnology, healthcare, and energy.

* CIA Factbook

Religious Demographics

Nearly nine-in-ten of Brazil’s people identify as Christian (88.9%), according to the Pew Research Center. The religiously unaffiliated account for 7.9% of the population, followed by various folk religions (2.8%), and less than 1% of the population are Jews, Muslims or other religions.

 

The median age for Christians is 29 years, while the unaffiliated are slightly younger at 26. Members of folk religions are older, with a median age of 37 years.  The Christian fertility rate is 1.8 children per woman (Total Fertility Rate “TFR”), while the religiously unaffiliated fertility rate is 2.2. Other religions have TFRs lower than these. It is projected that by 2030, there will be nearly 193 million Christians in Brazil and about 19 million religiously unaffiliated. By comparison, currently there are 173 million Christians and 15 million religiously unaffiliated residing in the nation, according to Pew estimates.

Conflict and Violence Related to Religion

According to the U.S. State Department, the Brazilian Secretariat of Human Rights (SDH) announced that during the year its Dial 100 hotline registered 252 reports of religious discrimination related to cases of religious intolerance, an increase of 70 percent from 2014. Between 2011 and 2015, the Dial 100 hotline received 756 reports of religious discrimination, including violence, against adherents of African-originated religions. A report prepared by the Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance in Rio de Janeiro stated there were 39 complaints of religious intolerance reported to the SDH hotline from January to June. Rio de Janeiro State reported the greatest number of cases, followed by Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Bahia. In Rio de Janeiro, 71 percent of the cases of religious intolerance were reported to be related to adherents of African-originated religions.

The Palmares Foundation, linked to the Ministry of Culture, reported it registered 218 reports of violent acts against places of worship for religions of African origin since it began collecting data in 2010.

An article in BBC’s online magazine explored the reasons behind what it saw as the Neo-Pentecostal movement’s effort to demonize the practitioners of Umbanda and Candomble. A teacher in the article said the conflict was about contrasting religious beliefs and deep seated racism. Several leaders of the Jewish and interfaith communities stated that overt anti-Semitism remained limited in the country.

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. Brazil’s rating is 3.7, meaning it has high social hostilities involving religion. The global median score for governmental restrictions on religious freedom is 3.1. Mozambique has very low governmental restrictions on religious freedom with a score of 0.2.


More About Jonathan and Migraflix

Migraflix is a social business that empowers immigrants and refugees who live in Brazil both economically and socially, developing a sense of self autonomy and self-confidence. Moreover, the project integrates them into the local society by promoting their cultures. In Migraflix, immigrants have a chance to teach their culture to Brazilians through workshops about food, music, graphic arts and fashion. In each one of the Migraflix workshops given by immigrants, from countries such as Syria, Morocco, Togo and Colombia, a bridge is built through a friendly dialogue established between Brazilians and foreign cultures and religions.

The Migraflix team is represented by people from various nationalities who work together in harmony and with one goal in mind: to build bridges through cultural experiences. Migraflix also hosts inter-religious events at religious spots such as synagogues, churches and muslim centers. The last inter-religious event took place at a jewish synagogue in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In this event, two Muslim Syrian refugees told their stories to the public (mostly Jews) and then offered a Syrian dinner at the event. Moreover, there was a presentation of the Mazeej music band, which Jonathan Berezovsky created together with muslims from Syria and Palestinian territories, a christian from Lebanon and jews from Brazil.

Mazeej is proving to the world that Jews, Muslims and Christians can get together through culture, leaving aside our political differences. Migraflix and Mazeej have been featured in national and international press numerous times, spreading the message that people of different nationalities and religions can learn from each other through cultural encounters. In addition to the press, Migraflix has a partnership with Tedx Sao Paulo, in which it trains immigrants to present their stories at Ted and convey a message of tolerance.

The key lessons learned in Migraflix are that by leaving aside the patronizing relationship that usually tends to lead the relationship between locals and immigrants and approaching this group as a project that provides autonomy and self-confidence (as immigrants become teachers of their own cultures), it’s possible to change completely the mentality of the immigrant and of the society. Immigrants feels that they can contribute to the local society. This means that they are proud and not ashamed of their background. Local people who participate in the workshops or come across Migraflix in other events understand that their own bigotry (such as thinking that muslims are aggressive people) is based on no real grounds and have nothing to do with the muslim immigrants who have arrived in the country. The key lessons learned in Mazeej were that even though the jewish and the muslim members of the band may have completely opposite political views regarding the conflict in the middle east, they can get together every week to play inspiring songs and dream about a better world. Step by step, the members of the band get closer and they start thinking even about doing other projects together, such as a new play that the Lebanese singer is planning to produce with Jonathan.


Discussion Questions

  1. 1. What other unique skills and business opportunities do immigrants offer their new countries?
  2. 2. In what other ways can taking a “contrarian position” toward prevailing attitudes, such as negative attitudes toward immigrants, present market opportunities?
  3. 3. What are the dangers of not overcoming religious intolerance sometimes associated with new immigrants? What other ways can businesses be involved?
  4. 4. Identify other social situations that seem like costs that can be business opportunities that can advance interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace.

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, and Brian Grim, Ph.D., president of the foundation. It is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton Religion Trust.