This week, a groundbreaking new religious freedom & business resource highlights four ways that businesses are supporting interfaith understanding and peace today. The findings will be introduced during the 2014 Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) held in Bali, Indonesia, August 29-30. 
"BUSINESS: A Powerful Force for Supporting Interfaith Understanding and Peace" is co-published by the UN Global Compact Business for Peace platform and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. It discusses a variety of case studies from around the world that demonstrate the different ways businesses are making an impact. These include: 

1) Using Marketing Expertise to Bridge Borders: Companies are making positive contributions to peace in society by mobilizing advertising campaigns that bring people of various faiths and backgrounds together, as seen in the case study, "Coke Serves Up Understanding Across Borders." 

2) Incentivizing Innovation: Because cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation is an essential part of daily work for multinational companies, one company for instance, the BMW Group, incentivizes other organizations to create innovative approaches to interfaith understanding through an award organized in collaboration with the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Organizations that have won this award include a tour company in the Middle East, which offers new paths to build bridges and bring cultures together, as seen in Promoting Understanding Through Tourism in the Holy Lands. Another recognized intercultural innovator uses job placements agencies to help contribute to the religious diversity of workforces, as seen in Helping Muslim Youth in the Philippines.
3) Incubating and Catalyzing Social Entrepreneurship: Business can also provide common ground where religious differences give way to shared concern and enterprise. The case study "Opportunity and Entrepreneurship in Nigeria" describes an approach modeled by a peace-building organization showing how supporting companies and new entrepreneurs in conflict-affected areas can reduce extremism. In Brazil, where religious freedom is generally well respected, the Petrobras company supports a business incubation for Afro-Brazilians, showing how company support for new small enterprises can have a significant impact in developing and empowering marginalized communities. 

4) Supporting Workforce Diversity: When businesses are sensitive to the religious and cultural issues around them, they can not only increase employee morale and productivity, but also address unmet difficult social needs, as seen in Indonesia,  where businesses open their doors to faith, such as prayer rooms for various faiths, and actions including helping interfaith couples have easier access to marriage. 

Indeed, interfaith understanding – and its contribution to peace – is in the interest of business.
  • Recent research shows that economic growth and global competitiveness are stronger when social hostilities involving religion are low and Government respect for, and protection of, the universally recognized human right of freedom is high. 
  • Interfaith understanding also strengthens business by reducing corruption and encouraging broader freedoms while also increasing trust and fostering respect. Research shows that laws and practices stifling religion are related to higher levels of corruption. Similarly, religious freedom highly correlates with the presence of other freedoms and a range of social and economic goods, such as better health care and higher incomes for women. 
  • Positively engaging around the issue of interfaith understanding also helps business to advance trust and respect with consumers, employees and possible partner organizations, which can give companies a competitive advantage as sustainability and ethics come to the forefront of corporate engagement with society. 
  • With the shared vision of a more sustainable and inclusive global economy that delivers lasting benefits to people, communities and markets, it is clear that companies can make significant contributions to advancing interfaith understanding and peace through both core business and outreach activities. The examples in this publication offer an important step forward in providing companies with guidance on why and how they can make practical contributions in this area – in ways benefitting both their business and the societies where they operate. 
Commenting on the report, Georg Kell, Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact, observes, "Given its role in building economies, mobilizing people around a shared purpose and pioneering cross-cultural management styles, business has an important stake in promoting intercultural and interreligious understanding. Successfully managing diversity and fostering tolerance and understanding – among employees, consumers and other stakeholders – is increasingly essential for long-term business success." 

And Brian Grim, President, Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, noted that “Business is at the crossroads of culture, commerce and creativity. This means businesses have the resources to make the world more peaceful as well as the incentive to do so. Indeed, as these case studies show, business is good for interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace.” 

Through this new collaborative publication, the UN Global Compact’s Business for Peace platform and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation seek to raise awareness among business, Governments and other stakeholders of the ways in which business can and are contributing to interfaith understanding and peace. 

The Christian share of Iraq's population is nearly four times smaller today than it was when former dictator Saddam Hussein assumed power in the 1970s. While the decline in the Iraqi Christian population has occurred over time, the recent decades of war and the current attempt of the Islamic State* to wrest control of traditional Iraqi Christian homelands is making the country inhospitable to any religious diversity.
The Islamic State recently took over Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city in Iraq. The fall of the city comes after the Islamic State had taken over Mosul, issuing an ultimatum that non-Muslims convert to Islam, pay a fine, or face death by the sword. Many of the Christians in Mosul had previously fled to Qaraqosh. 

The World Religion Database estimates that the Christian share of people living in the territory of present-day Iraq dropped from 6.4% in 1900 to 3.8% in 1970 and to about 1% today. 

Prior to the current wave of hostilities, the World Religion Database estimated that Christians would make up less than a half percent of Iraq's population by 2050. Given the severity of the ongoing Islamic State attacks, that statistic may be unrealistically high.

Christians are not the only religious minority facing the brutality of the Islamic State. World attention is focused on the plight of the Yazidis, one of Iraq's oldest minority faiths whose belief system is a combination of elements from Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam.

The Islamic State has killed over 500 Yazidis, while 30,000 were besieged in the Sinjar mountains with no food or water, prompting some international responses. The Islamic State has also taken hostage Yazidi women and children, with witnesses claiming the women are being sold or forced into marriage.

Islamic State The advances of the Islamic State – formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) – in the past months have been shocking. Iraqi government is yet to make any significant gains in its counter-attack. For more on the Islamic State, see the Religion & Geopolitics project of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
Exacerbating the situation in Iraq is an issue that surpassed religious conflict as a major public concern in 2012 - the economy.

A Pew Research survey conducted in 2012 (before the Islamic State gained ground) found that the large majority of Iraq's population (74%) considered unemployment to be a "very large problem" for the country. By contrast, fewer than half of the population (46%) considered conflict between religious groups to be a very large problem.

Majid Jafar, CEO of Crescent Petroleum and founder of the Arab Stabilisation Plan, and Erik Berglof, chief economist for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, argue that the dramatic events now unfolding in Iraq show the need for a coordinated economic plan to offer hope and enhance stability. In particular, they note that the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that the Middle East has the world's highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and it is rising.

This, however, does not mean that social hostilities involving religion are irrelevant. Rather, it highlights the dangers of a system where religion and religious identities become rallying points for other grievances. As the Shia-dominated Iraqi government favors other Shia Muslims -- long the underclass under Saddam Hussein -- this sets up new animosities that are easily grafted onto other issues, such as unemployment, inequality and unmet expectations. 

Although not the immediate solution to the current crisis, research shows that protecting religious freedom and the rights of all groups to contribute as equal members of society leads to peace, more inclusive societies and economic competitiveness. Any long term solution to the escalating Iraq crisis that ignores the religious context will miss one of the key elements that gives resiliency to societies and economies - religious freedom.

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Research from the Yearbook of International Religious Demography (Brill, 2014)* shows religious adherents of all faiths are globally on the rise. Continued growth of religious populations appears likely, as they are younger on average than the world’s religiously unaffiliated population.

36% of Americans report experiencing or witnessing workplace religious discrimination, according to a recent Tanenbaum survey, "What American Workers Really Think about Religion." 
Nearly half of non-Christian workers (49%) report experiencing or witnessing religious non-accomodation at work. White evangelical workers (48%) are equally as likely to report experiencing or witnessing religious non-accommodation at work. And two-in-five (40%) atheists also report experiencing or witnessing religious non-accomodation.

The survey notes that when it comes to addressing religion in the workplace, different religious groups have different needs for accommodation. For instance, a non-Christian may care more about the right to display a religious object or the right to pray during the day, while a Christian will be more concerned about attending service on Sunday. The survey found that the most commonly experienced or witnessed forms of religious non-accomadation are being required to work on Sabbath observances or religious holidays (24%) and attending company-sponsored events that did not include kosher, halal or vegetarian options (13%). 

Less than half of all workers report that their companies have the following key policies related to religious diversity: 1) flexible work hours to permit religious observance or prayer (44%); 2) materials explaining the company's policy on religious discrimination (42%); 3) a policy to allow employees to "swap holidays" (21%); and 4) programs to teach employees about religious diversity (14%).

The Tanenbaum survey found that 41% of workers at companies without clear processes for handling employee complaints - including religious discrimination complaints - say they are looking for a new job where they would be happier. This is nearly twice the rate as workers who say their companies do have clear processes (22%). Likewise, 32% of workers at companies without materials explaining the company’s policy on religious discrimination report that they are looking for a new job, significantly higher than workers at companies that offer these materials (25%).

Morale is higher in companies that provide flexible hours for religious observance. In such companies, 13% say that they do not look forward to coming to work, compared with 28% of workers at companies that do not provide this flexibility (13%) - more than a twofold difference. 

Tanenbaum concluded from the survey that companies gain a competitive edge by adopting proactive policies of religious accommodation. Doing so makes good business sense, in that it increases employee morale and corporate reputation with regards to employee recruitment and retention. 

  • The survey found that one-in-two U.S. workers have contact with people of different beliefs at work. 
  • Half of non-Christians say that their employers are ignoring their religious needs.
  • More than half of American workers believe that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims.
  • Nearly 6-in-10 atheists believe that people look down on their beliefs, as do nearly one-third of white evangelical Protestants and non-Christian religious workers.
  • Regardless of a company’s size, workers whose companies offer education programs about religious diversity and flexibility for religious practice report higher job satisfaction than workers in companies that do not offer such programs.

Tanenbaum’s 2013 Survey of American Workers and Religion was conducted by Public Religion Research LLC among a random sample of 2,024 American adults (age 18 and up) who are currently employed in a part-time or full-time position and who are part of GfK’s Knowledge Panel. Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between March 19 and April 1, 2013. The margin of sampling error is +/- 2.8 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

Tanenbaum is a secular, non-sectarian nonprofit that promotes mutual respect with practical programs that bridge religious difference and combat prejudice in schools, workplaces, health care settings and areas of armed conflict.

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Research from the Yearbook of International Religious Demography (Brill, 2014)* shows religious adherents of all faiths are globally on the rise. More than eight-in-ten people today follow a religion, and even among those who don’t, many still hold some spiritual beliefs or engage in some religious practices. Continued growth of religious populations appears likely, as they are younger on average than the world’s religiously unaffiliated population.
  • Religionists account for 88.4% of the world’s population in 2013, up from 80.8% in 1970, according to the book.
  • The world is becoming increasingly religious, from about 80% in 1970, projected to be over 90% by 2030.
For instance, Christians in Africa grew from 38% of the population in 1970 to 47% in 2000, with expected growth to 51% by 2030, outpacing Islam, which is poised to represent 42% of Africa by 2030. 

Muslims were the largest religious community in Asia by the year 2000 at 24%, growing to 26% by 2013, and expected to grow to 29% by 2030, largely through growth in Western and South-eastern Asia. 

In Latin America. Spiritists are the third-largest religious group (2.2% in 2013), rising from 1.6% in 1970. 

Large numbers of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus have moved to Northern America, especially in the latter half the twentieth century. By 2013, Muslims grew to 5.3 million, Buddhists to 4.6 million, and Hindus to 1.9 million in the region. 

And, nearly every major world religion present in Oceania experienced significant growth in the twentieth century (in terms of numbers of adherents). Between 1970 and 2013, the number of Christians in Oceania grew substantially, from 18.2 million to 28.2 million, with projected growth to 33 million by 2030.

The Yearbook of International Religious Demography presents an annual snapshot of the state of religious statistics around the world. Every year, large amounts of data are collected through censuses, surveys, polls, religious communities, scholars, and a host of other sources. These data are collated and analyzed by research centers and scholars around the world. Large amounts of data appear in analyzed form in the World Religion Database (Brill), aiming at a researcher’s audience. The Yearbook presents data in sets of tables and scholarly articles spanning social science, demography, history, and geography. Each issue offers findings, sources, methods, and implications surrounding international religious demography. Each year an assessment is made of new data made available since the previous issue of the yearbook.

  • In 2013, Asia had 5 times as many atheists and agnostics as Europe.
  • Muslims are expected to grow twice as fast from 2013 to 2030 in Africa as they are in Europe.
  • Protestantism and Catholicism are reported as likely independent predictors of fertility rates in Nigeria, with women from those traditions reporting lower rates of children ever born. Muslim women were more likely to report high fertility, early marriage and childbirth, and non-use of any modern contraceptives.
  • Christians in Europe are relatively old, with a median age of 41.7 years; among 25–44 year olds, 72% are Christian, compared to 84% of the 65+ population. Muslim age-relation in Europe goes the other way since most Muslims are fairly recent migrants.
  • In Mongolia, both Buddhist and non-religious women experienced fertility decline in the early 1990s and 2000s; however, in the mid-2000s Buddhist women reached a lower level of fertility than those from non-religious households and have fewer children. 
  • Each of the continents is becoming more religiously diverse over time.
  • Religious affiliation is likely to have independent influence on childbearing behavior in Nigeria: Affiliation with Protestantism and Catholicism might not significantly predict childbearing behavior among women in Nigeria, but affiliation with Islam is a significant independent predictor of childbearing behavior.
  • In 2013, in Buddhist-majority Thailand there were 4,977 churches and 391,138 Christians.
  • After experiencing dramatic growth in the early twentieth century, followed by significant declines later in the century, both agnostics and atheists are found in nearly every country today. 
  • The largest non-religious population in the world is in China, and North Korea is the most non-religious country by percentage.

Part 1: The World by Religion (19 religions)
Part 2: Religions by Region (6 UN regions)
Part 3: Case Studies and Methods
 -   Measuring Jewish Populations
 -   Correlates of Religion and Childbearing Behavior in Nigeria
 -   What Made Jews a Demographic Avant-Garde 
 -   The Size and Demographic Structure of Religions in Europe
 -   Integrity and the Counting of Christians in Thailand
 -   Fertility Trends by Religion in Mongolia
 -   Residential Patterns by Religion and Ethnicity in Vienna
 -   Methodology of the Pew Research Global Religious Landscape Study
Part 4: Data Sources

* Editors: Brian J. Grim, Ph.D. (2005), Pennsylvania State University, is President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. He was previously Director of Cross-National Data and Senior Researcher in religion and world affairs at the Pew Research Center’s religion & public life project.  Todd M. Johnson, Ph.D. (1993), William Carey International University, is Associate Professor of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is co-author of the World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford, 2001) and of the Atlas of Global Christianity (Edinburgh, 2009).  Vegard Skirbekk, Ph.D. (2005), Rostock University, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), is head of the Age and Cohort Change Project, Professor at Jacobs University, and Senior Researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. His research is on religious fertility differentials and the global distribution and future of religion.  Gina A. Zurlo (Ph.D. candidate), Boston University, is a Research Associate at Boston University’s Institute of Culture, Religion and World Affairs and Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. 

The book can be purchased here.

Business is a powerful force for peace, interfaith understanding and religious freedom, finds a new study by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.* The study breaks new ground by showing that business is good for religious freedom. recent separate global analysis found the converse is also true - religious freedom is good for business.
While human rights organizations often focus on holding businesses accountable to human rights standards (perhaps understandably), these case studies look at a difference question: How can business be a force for social good and at the same time make a profit?

The new study looked at geographically diverse case studies and found that "impact investments" by businesses can result in tangible positive impact, especially when companies invest in areas where religious or ethnic minorities have yet to be fully integrated into society, or where cultural or religious differences create barriers.

The case studies come from diverse regions of the world - the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America - and are chosen to be illustrative, not exhaustive. The study's limitation, however, is that it does not show that business is necessarily a force for peace, interfaith understanding and religious freedom. Rather, the study shows that business can be, and some businesses certainly are.

  • Coke Serves Up Love and Peace with Small World Machines - Last year, Coca-Cola brought some laughter and joy to one of the most volatile and dangerous regions on earth, when it installed two Small World Machines in New Delhi, India, and Lahore, Pakistan. 
  • BMW AWARD, Driving Global Peace and Success - For luxury carmaker BMW, intercultural understanding is more than just a nice sentiment, it’s “an essential part of our daily work,” says Bill McAndrews, the company’s Vice President for Communications. Indeed, since 1997, BMW has been actively promoting cooperative dialogue between different cultures, giving out awards to support businesses that innovate interculturally. Awards highlighted are (1) Helping Muslim Youth in the Philippines; (2) Giving a Voice to the Voiceless in India; and (3) Promoting Understanding Through Tourism in the Holy Lands.
  • Nigerian Conflict: Is Business the Answer? - In Nigeria, businesses and economic development NGOs are working to stop widespread religious violence between Christians and Muslims, which has already taken hundreds of lives and threatens to thrust parts of the country into civil war.
  • World Cup Highlights Struggles & Contributions of Afro-Brazilians - In Brazil, where religious freedom is generally well-protected, Brazilians of African descent still face discrimination for their appearance and beliefs, including their religious beliefs. But an NGO, the Afro-Brazilian Incubator, is working to fight this discrimination by promoting entrepreneurship among Afro-Brazilians. 
  • Indonesian Businesses Open Their Doors to Faith and Action - In Indonesia, businesses are at the forefront of efforts to promote interfaith understanding. For instance, EXPRESS Taxi, with a fleet of more than 7,000 taxis in Jakarta, promotes a faith-friendly workplace by setting up prayer rooms and facilitating Muslim and Christian observances as well as celebrations of Chinese New Year. In addition, businesses in Indonesia have worked to fix large, seemingly intractable social problems such as helping 4,541 poor couples in interfaith marriages to receive the proper marriage licenses.
* The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation notes that the case studies do not imply an endorsement of any company profiled. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has no tie to any of the companies studied. The case studies are part of collaboration with the UN Global Compact's Business for Peace platform and will be presented at the next UN Alliance of Civilizations meeting in Bali, Indonesia, at the end of August 2014. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation also solicits more case studies, and will recognize and give global awards for the best innovations in religious freedom & business in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
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"For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians," said Louis Sako, who heads Iraq's largest Christian community. Mosul previously had upwards of 60,000 Christians, according to the World Religion Database.
AFP reports that Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) had already demanded that those Christians still in the city convert, pay a special tax or leave, but it was messages on local mosques' loudspeakers that seems to have sparked the exodus. An earlier statement by ISIS in Mosul had said there would be "nothing for them but the sword" if Christians did not abide by those conditions before noon (0900 GMT) on Saturday, according to AFP.

Al Jazeera reports that "Some families have had all their money and jewelry taken from them at an insurgent checkpoint as they fled the city." 

Human Rights Watch said on Saturday that the "Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) is killing, kidnapping, and threatening religious and ethnic minorities in and around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul."

And Business Week reports that to oust Christians from Mosul, Iraq, Islamic militants have begun turning off a precious utility: WATER.

This latest atrocity is part of a global trend monitored by Pew Research. Overall, across the six years of the Pew Research study (2006-2012), religious groups face harassment in 185 countries . Members of the world’s two largest religious groups – Christians and Muslims – were harassed in the largest number of countries, 151 and 135, respectively.

The study found a six-year high in harassment of religious groups with the harassment of women showing the biggest increase of six rising religious hostilities.   
The six rising hostilities are: 
  • harassment of women, 
  • abuse of religious minorities, 
  • violent enforcement of religious norms, 
  • mob violence related to religion, 
  • religion-related terrorist violence, and 
  • sectarian conflict. 

As the latest violence in Iraq demonstrate, Muslims face harassment at the same time as Christians - both suffering under extremist violence. And perhaps just as concerning, the appeal and influence of ISIS is spreading beyond the region, including in parts of Asia.

PictureChurch destroyed, China
Also, the economic costs of these religious restrictions and hostilities are seen evident in the loss of the socio-economic contributions of houses of worship being destroyed by governments, not to mention the lost global competitiveness as societies focus on religious conflict rather than collaborative progress. While the prospects of religious freedom are dim, research shows that religious freedom, when protected and respected may be the antidote to this global tide of religious restrictions and hostilities.

For more on ISIS, see the new Religion & Geopolitics site of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

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As houses of worship, sacred places and other religious properties are demolished by governments worldwide - including the Wenzhou Sanjian Church (pictured below) - authorities might want to consider the economic benefits they are loosing by such actions. For instance, a recent study of 12 houses of worship in just one city (Philadelphia) shows that they annually contribute $52 million in economic benefits and services to the city and its people. And another study shows that religious freedom contributes to economic growth and global competitiveness.

PictureWenzhou church demolished in a day (Kyodo, AP Images, 2014)
Indeed, while the socio-economic benefits of houses of worship have been shown, the costs of their demise, while real, go unmeasured as China - one of the world's emerging and leading economies - experiences a wave of such demolitions.

For instance, Wenzhou's Sanjian Church in China's east coast province of Zhejiang was demolished on April 29, 2014, right before the completion of its construction. 

In the photo, the left side shows the start of demolition on April 28, and the right side shows the debris left the following day. Authorities cited zoning violations as the reason for the demolition, while other reports suggest that it was part of a move to limit the conspicuous visibility of places of worship. For instance, more recent reports indicate that the campaign includes removal of crosses atop another Wenzhou churches.

A recent Fact-Tank analysis by Pew Researcher Peter Henne documents that "governments damaged the property of religious groups in 34 countries around the world in 2012 ... [and although] such actions were most common in the Middle East-North Africa region (in seven of 20 countries in that region), property was damaged by governments in every region of the world." 

Countries with most documented cases were Russia, China and Tajikistan, where more than 100 properties were damaged or destroyed in each during 2012.

The Study: Determining the Economic Halo Effect of Historic Congregations

Picture© Partners for Sacred Places
A study of the economic contributions of houses of worship was carried out by Partners for Sacred Places and Prof. Ram Cnaan at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice in 2010. They found that the 12 congregations examined contribute $52 million in annual economic value to the city of Philadelphia, for an average of $4.3 million per congregation. 

The study assessed over 50 different factors and found that congregations serve as critical economic catalysts. The study categorized the dozens of ways congregations benefit their communities in three broad areas: 
1. direct spending ($28 million); 2. the value of day care and K-12 educational programs ($8.6 million); and 3. a range of catalyzing or leveraging economic values, such as Open Space, Magnet Effect, Individual Impact, Community Development and Invisible Safety Net ($15 million). 

The study observed that congregations provide clear economic value in a number of ways, including being: 
  • important employers
  • purchasers of local goods and services
  • magnets for bringing in cash, volunteer time and other resources from outside the city
  • educators of pro-social values 
  • providers of important value through the ‘invisible safety net’ of programs, counseling, and other services that help individuals and families be productive workers and citizens. 
The researchers suggest that the results can help guide decisions by community and business leaders as they consider policies and investments. For instance, the tourism sector should pay attention to how places of worship and other religious properties attract travelers regionally and nationally. And those wanting to strengthen commercial activities would benefit from understanding how the people attracted to these congregations support local businesses and how congregations incubate small enterprises. Furthermore, some congregations in effect manage mid-size urban parks that contribute the the economic and environmental well-being of the city and region.

Case Study: BBC Reports on Savings Due to Church Keeping People Out of Prison

PictureVideo on external link (BBC)
The BBC's Robert Piggot suggests that Rev. Wilson Goode's "Amachi" prison-mentoring scheme* could save American taxpayers millions. Goode's church, the First Baptist Church of Paschall in south-west Philadelphia, is one of the 12 included in the study.

Piggot notes that it takes $35,000/year to keep a prisoner behind bars in Philadelphia, a city that spends more on its prisons than it does on its schools.  

Amachi's volunteers help turn the generational cycle of crime by mentoring the children of prisoners.  "I'm here on behalf of your children", he tells inmates at a prison in north Philadelphia, "because if we do nothing, 70% of them will end up in jail themselves."

Amachi” is a Nigerian Ibo word that means “Who knows but what God has brought us through this child.” Amachi began in Philadelphia in September 2000 with funding from Pew Charitable Trusts as a partnership between Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter David O'Reilly, summarized the additional social and economic benefits of places of worship with a series of questions: "What is the dollar value of a marriage saved? A suicide averted? An addiction conquered? A teenager taught right from wrong?  In short: What is a church's economic worth to the community it serves?" 

O'Reilly concludes quoting Robert Jaeger, executive director of the research group Partners for Sacred Places, noting that the "study shows the contribution of religious congregations to be 20 to 30 times bigger than we knew. ... It will give congregations dozens of new ways to articulate their value, broaden their constituencies, and survive and grow."

All this could have important and under-recognized impact on economic growth and competitiveness, according to recent studies:

Religious freedom is one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth, according to a new study by researchers at Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project and Brigham Young University. The study looked at GDP growth for 173 countries in 2011 and controlled for two-dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences. 

Religious investors, in economic terms the third largest group to invest on the world’s stock markets, can post high placement profits and remain faithful to their religious creed, as reported by the Academy of Business in Society in the study, From Stewardship to Power: Religious Organizations and their Investment Potentials

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As government restrictions on religion have steadily risen in Ethiopia, the country's global economic competitiveness has also become weaker. A recent study of global competitiveness and economic growth suggests the two might be connected.

Government restrictions on religion went from low-moderate in 2007 (2.6 on a scale of 10) to "high" (5.3) in 2012, according to a Pew Research study (see chart). According to the study, the increases were attributable to more instances of government restrictions or interference on a number of religious activities including: worship, literature/broadcasting, wearing of religious symbols, religious minorities, and the use of force in response to religious hostilities or threats.  

Ethiopian Economic Growth: Sustainable?

Ethiopia’s economy grew by 9.7% , the tenth year in a row of robust growth. In 2012, Ethiopia was the twelfth fastest growing economy in the world, according to the African Development Bank Group. While this momentum is expected to continue for some time, it is expected to be at a slower pace because of constraints on private-sector growth. 

Similarly, over the past decade, African countries have had relatively good economic growth performance. But average investment rates on the continent remain low relative to what is considered necessary to achieve national development goals, according to a new report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). UNCTAD also shows that they are also low relative to the average rate for developing countries. These facts suggest that Africa’s recent growth may be fragile and that it is unlikely to be sustained in the medium to long term if current trends continue. The key question, then, is how can African Governments catalyse investment for sustained and transformative growth?

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has warned that African economies will not sustain the current high economic growth rates driven by consumption of goods and services, which has partly lowered the manufacturing capacity, reports African Manager.  

Speaking at the launch of UNCTAD's latest report, the Economic Development in Africa Report 2014, UNCTAD Director for Africa Taffere Tesfachew said the high economic growth rates recorded in Africa in the past few years have not had a positive effect, because it had been driven by consumption, reports African Manager

"This report provides useful insight which countries like Ethiopia can use," said Ethiopian Minister Mekonnen Manyazewal. "This report has given us the intellectual knowledge to address our current challenges." UNCTAD recommends that countries balance the contributions of consumption and investment to the growth sectors because consumption driven growth would not last, reports African Manager.

An Unexpected Connection: Religious Freedom?

Religious freedom is one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth, according to a new study by researchers at Georgetown University and Brigham Young University. The study looked at GDP growth for 173 countries in 2011 and controlled for two-dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences.

As the world navigates away from years of poor economic performance, religious freedom may be an unrecognized asset to economic recovery and growth, according to this new study. The study examines and finds a positive relationship between religious freedom and ten of the twelve pillars of global competitiveness, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (see example in chart).
The study, however, goes beyond simple correlations by empirically testing and finding the tandem effects of government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion (as measured by the Pew Research Center) to be detrimental to economic growth while controlling for 23 other theoretical, economic, political, social, and demographic factors.

The new study also furthers previous work in the field, including The Price of Freedom Denied (by Brian Grim & Roger Finke, Cambridge, 2011). Grim & Finke's research showed that 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 is more opportunity to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets. 

The new study observes that religious hostilities and restrictions create climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies. Such has occurred in the ongoing cycle of religious regulation and hostilities in Egypt, which has adversely affected the tourism industry, among other sectors. Perhaps most significant for future economic growth, the study notes that young entrepreneurs are pushed to take their talents elsewhere due to the instability associated with high and rising religious restrictions and hostilities.

Ethiopia's Falls in Global Competitiveness Despite Economic Growth

According to the World Economic Forum's latest 2013-14 report on global competitiveness, Ethiopia falls six places to 127th this year, facing challenges across all twelve of the pillars of competitiveness measured by the study. Indeed, in 2013-14, 86% of countries in the world were stronger in terms of economic competitiveness than Ethiopia, up from 75% just two years earlier (see chart). 

The WEF report notes that Ethiopia "ranks above 100th only for its market size (67th) and the quality of its institutions (95th), although it should be noted that the assessment of institutions has been falling over recent years across almost all indicators, including property rights, ethics and corruption, undue influence, and government efficiency. Furthermore, the country’s goods (136th) and labor markets (108th) seem to be deteriorating, with more procedures and time required to start a business along with increasing concerns about the quality of labor-employer relations (121st), hiring and firing practices (99th), and the alignment between pay and productivity (125th). Ethiopia also requires significant improvements in the areas of infrastructure (124th), higher education and training (137th), and technological readiness (139th). On a more positive note, security—ranked 55th—is better than in many of its sub-Saharan peers, primary education with a net enrollment rate of 87 percent is comparatively good (although the quality of primary education is very low), and women account for a high percentage of the country’s labor force."

Poor Performance on Minority Shareholder Protection: A reflection of larger minority problems? 

Protecting investors matters for the ability of companies to raise the capital they need to grow, innovate, diversify and compete, according to the World Bank's Doing Business index (2014, Ethiopia Profile, p. 55). If the laws do not protect minority shareholders, investors may be reluctant to provide funding to companies through the purchase of shares unless they become the controlling shareholders. Doing Business measures the strength of minority shareholder protections against directors’ use of corporate assets for personal gain—or self-dealing. According to this measure, Ethiopia ranks very low in investor protection, on average scoring lower than the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, and its other nearby neighbors (see chart). 

While the World Bank does not make a direct connection with minority investment vulnerability and government containment of minority religious groups deemed to be a security threat, data from the Pew Research study indicate that the government has shown hostility to minority faiths in recent years. 


While there is no smoking gun connection between rising religious restrictions and declining global competitiveness, the data suggest that any steps the Ethiopian government can do to reduce religious restrictions and tensions may be to the benefit of not only the nation's security but also its economy.
- June 30: Melissa E. Grim, of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, analyzes innovations helping members of Afro-religions overcome discrimination through start-up entrepreneurial businesses. 
In Brazil, where religious freedom is generally well protected and respected, members of Afro-religions still face discrimination for their religious beliefs, which has a negative economic impact. 

Having been brought to Brazil as slaves, Afro-Brazilians face unique challenges where race becomes a factor in cases of religious discrimination. A prominent example is the harassment that a soccer star faced leading up to the World Cup, causing the Brazilian President to label this the "anti-racism World Cup."

In a recent case, a federal judge ruled, “Afro-Brazilian religious practices do not constitute a religion” because “the religious manifestations (African) do not contain necessary traits of a religion.” The case revolved around 16 Google videos created by a Neo-Pentecostal church encouraging intolerance and prejudice against religious practices of African origin (Candomblé and Umbanda). The judge, facing public outcry, quickly reversed the statement, and recognized Afro-religions as religions.

While Brazilian law forbids “the use of the media to disseminate images and contents that expose a person or group to hatred or contempt on the grounds of religion with African roots,” cultural and religious discrimination towards Afro-Brazilians adversely affects their economic wellbeing.

Afro-Brazilian Entrepreneurs

Brazil has a new kind of incubator. Everyone knows that incubators are most often used to hatch chickens or keep newborns warm, but Brazil has one that helps an ethno-religious minority grow economically. In response to the situation faced by Brazilians of African origin, the Afro-Brazilian Incubator company aims to decrease discrimination helping the Afro-Brazilian population integrate economically with the wider society through entrepreneurship. By strengthening micro and small businesses areas of commerce and services, the Incubator helps develop positive recognition for Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurs.

The Incubator offers four free services: Management Training; Consultancy (economics, law, accounting, marketing, finance); Logistic Support; and Remote Assistance (visits to help the entrepreneur put his or her business plan in to action). It currently supports over 1000 businesses in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, and takes part in the network of institutions that comprise the National Association of Entities Promoting Innovative Enterprises (ANPROTEC). The organization also works in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
The Afro-Brazilian Incubator alumni remain active with the organization even after they graduate.  Many return to participate in technology and business fairs, to help new entrepreneurs succeed in the business market, while making new contacts of their own.

For instance, Nildilene, a successful entrepreneur credits Afro Brazilian Incubator with her success. She was one of six children and because of her families economic needs she was not able to go beyond elementary school. Through hard work she ended up in Rio de Janeiro. While working at a hotel she started selling Brazilian cake and candy. By incorporating the business advice and management skills that she got from the Incubator, she was able to eventually quit working at the hotel and now has nine employees working for her business and multiple rotary carts serving the downtown area.

The Incubator also provides a forum in which it connects prospective entrepreneurs with other national and international opportunities. For instance, its members met with the Senior Advisor for Intergovernmental Coordination to the Secretary of the State, Reta Jo Jewis, as well as with the Director of the same office, Rhonda Binda, and the U.S. Consulate for Political Affairs in Rio de Janeiro, Kevin Wilson. The primary purpose of the meeting was to foster the development of Afro-Brazilian micro and small enterprises that participated in the 2014 World Cup and will participate in the 2016 Summer Olympics. 

Nationally, the Incubator provides connections to organizations such as SEBREA, one of Brazil’s largest networks facilitating micro business startups. Currently the Incubator provided information and encouraged it’s female entrepreneurs to apply for the SEBREA “Business Woman” Award, which looks to help women who have started their own business in varying fields, but inclusive of those that have a small environmental footprint.
Against a global backdrop of steadily rising religious restrictions and hostilities, a recent study expands the religious economies theory by articulating how religious freedom contributes to better economic and business outcomes. It examines and finds a positive relationship between global economic competitiveness and religious freedom as exemplified by low government restrictions on religion and low social hostilities involving religion. 

The full report, “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business?: A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis,” is available on the website of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (IJRR). The authors of the study are Brian J. Grim, Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, and Greg Clark and Robert Edward Snyder, Brigham Young University's International Center for Law and Religion Studies.

Why competitiveness is stronger with religious freedom: Findings from the study

As anticipated by the religious economies theory, the vast majority of indicators of global competitiveness—ten of the twelve—are stronger in countries with low religious hostilities and low government restrictions on religious freedom. While it is beyond the scope of this article to establish the contributing factors for each, a few general observations can be made.

Given the global role religious groups play in providing educational and health services, it is not surprising that health as well as primary, secondary, and technical education is stronger in countries with more religious freedom and less religious hostility. Environments with religious freedom allow religious groups to better provide educational and health services, which are often part of their core mission.

Religious freedom may contribute to innovation and technological readiness to the degree to which these are stimulated by the ability of people to act freely and without fear of government or social reprisals for new thoughts. Indeed, a core component of religious freedom is that there is no religious board by which innovative ideas and technologies must be passed; for example, there is no threat that innovation will carry a death penalty if it crosses a religious red line such as blasphemy. This does not minimize the importance of religiously inspired ethical codes and standards, but religious freedom implies that such codes are not enforced by government or religious authorities over matters in which they may have no particular expertise. Rather, these are matters for professional deliberation, perhaps informed as appropriate by such moral codes.

Indeed, it seems that religious freedom may encourage ethical codes, as shown by the stronger relationship with the CGI pillar that takes ethics into account: institutional environment promoting wealth. This pillar is captured in the CGI by measures of the absence of onerous government bureaucracy, overregulation, corruption, dishonesty in dealing with public contracts, lack of transparency, and trustworthiness. The degree to which religious freedom fosters greater religious participation, as suggested by religious economies theory, may help to explain why religious freedom relates to a stronger institutional environment promoting wealth.

Similarly, the development of communications infrastructure may be stimulated when there are no excessive restrictions on broadcasting and literature, as are found in countries with high levels of religious restrictions.

Business sophistication, a measure of the quality of business networks and strategies, may be helped along by a competitive religious economy. In such environments, religious groups engage in branding, marketing, distribution, and the production of unique and sophisticated products and services. Indeed, while religion involves core spiritual dimensions, the service, publication, and outreach activities of religious groups provide large segments of the population with local and perhaps homegrown examples of sophisticated networking and growth strategies.

Regarding the labor pillar, religious freedom may relate to stronger labor market efficiency to the degree to which it is associated with a lack of discrimination with regard to religion in the workplace, allowing all workers to realize their most effective place in an economy with the incentive to give their best effort on the job.

When it comes to indicators that are associated with market size and the macroeconomic environment, the relationships are somewhat different. The dip in the economy in the West that triggered fiscal deficits may explain why only 11 percent of countries with low government restrictions had strong macroeconomic environments, whereas the relative strength of the economy in countries such China may explain why countries with high government restrictions scored higher on this measure.

Finally, the data show that market size is stronger (i.e., larger) in countries with high government restrictions (such as China) and high social hostilities (such as India). However, rather than religious freedom being a determinant of market size, this indicates that future growth potential is in countries that currently have large market sizes, many of which have high government restrictions on religion. On the basis of the other indicators of global competitiveness, size alone is not likely to ensure sustainable growth.