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.
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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.
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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.

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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

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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."

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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?

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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?

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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

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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? 

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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. 

Observations

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. 
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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

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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. 

 
 
June 16 - Brian J.Grim
 
Previous Weekly Numbers have documented growing religious hostilities in Iraq. The missing headline -- as the Sunni-led Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), formerly affiliated with al-Qaeda, battle Shia-dominated government forces -- is a phrase from Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign strategist James Carville, "It's the economy, stupid." But, it's not oil and the negative impact on the global economy I'm referring to.
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A Pew Research survey conducted in 2012 (before ISIS 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 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. 

For more, see the recent study showing that religious freedom is linked to economic growth.

 
 
Innovation is more than twice as likely among countries with low religious restrictions and hostilities finds a new global study.* Where stability exists, there is more opportunity to invest and conduct normal and predictable business operations, especially in emerging and new markets. 
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Conversely the 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 - making innovation much more difficult. High restrictions have a significant impact for future economic growth, the study notes as young entrepreneurs are pushed to take their talents elsewhere due to the instability associated with high and rising religious restrictions and hostilities.

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 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.

On a global level, the ongoing cycle of religious regulation and hostilities in Egypt demonstrates the harm that is done when they are restricted, where its tourism industry has been adversely affected, among other sectors, and entrepreneurship by its youth has been stunted. 

The study's findings are timely given the rising tide of restrictions on religious freedom documented by Pew Research, showing that 76% of the world's people currently live with high religious restrictions or hostilities. And the findings are especially relevant because the research shows that the largest markets for potential growth are in countries where religious freedom is highly restricted.

Given that religious freedom contributes to better economic and business outcomes, advances in religious freedom are in the self-interest of businesses, governments and societies. While this observation does not suggest that religious freedom is the sole or even main anecdote to poor economic performance, it does suggest that religious freedom is related to economic success and innovation. Certainly, businesses would benefit from taking religious freedom considerations into account in their strategic planning, labor management and community interactions. 

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

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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.

Religious freedom when respected within a company can also directly benefit the bottom line. This includes both improved morale and lower costs. For instance, the clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch fought and lost a religious discrimination case in 2013 related to firing a Muslim stock girl for wearing a scarf in violation of the company’s dress code. The case resulted not only in substantial legal costs but also in negative national publicity. 

Moreover, freedom of religion or belief is a human right protected in numerous treaties and agreements, including the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The study suggests that businesses may gain a competitive advantage by meeting the expectations of stakeholders who are increasingly demanding that companies play a positive role in addressing issues of social concern and fairness. 

The study's findings are timely given the rising tide of restrictions on religious freedom documented by Pew Research, showing that 76% of the world's people currently live with high religious restrictions or hostilities. And the findings are especially relevant because the research shows that the largest markets for potential growth are in countries where religious freedom is highly restricted - casting a question mark over the long-term sustainability of growth in countries such as China. 

  • 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. 

For related content see: Seven Reasons Why Religious Freedom is Good for Business


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The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization working globally to show how religious freedom is good for sustainable business and innovation. The Foundation educates the global business community about how religious freedom is good for business, and engages the business community in joining forces with government and non-government organizations in promoting respect for freedom of religion or belief. It does not take positions on political debates.

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Media inquiries, contact Melissa Grim, 410-268-7809, melissa@religiousfreedomandbusiness.org 

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Pope Francis calls Israeli-Palestinian stalemate unacceptable in his visit this weekend. Data show that social hostilities involving religion reached six-year highs, with no signs of reversing.
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According to a 2014 Pew Research study, these social hostilities involving religion include mob or sectarian violence, religion-related terrorism or conflict, organized attempts to dominate public life with a particular perspective on religion, harassment over attire for religious reasons, and other religion-related intimidation or abuse.

Such social hostilities involving religion are not necessarily a direct reflection on the policies of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. However, in a dramatic move, as Israel's GDP growth declined again in 2013, this spring prominent business leaders in Israel launched a media blitz arguing that peace is good for business and business is good for peace.

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The business leaders involved in the media blitz are part of a group Israelis and Palestinians in the Breaking the Impasse (BTI) movement that favors advancing a diplomatic solution. Those involved reportedly include Mellanox cofounder Eyal Waldman, high-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi and Osem International/Nestle Israel CEO Gad Propper. 

The group reportedly hired a PR firm to mount a 10-day media and billboard campaign at a cost of 1 million shekels ($286,000). The campaign calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians. 

The economic argument associated with the BTI movement has surfaced at other venues, including at a May 2013 World Economic Forum event in Jordan, heartily supported by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as well as former U.K. Prime Minister and Quartet Representative Tony Blair

The plan seeks to improve the economic situation for Palestinians, thereby removing economic sources of tension and winning greater buy-in for a peaceful and sustainable future. 

Detractors of the plan criticize it for failing to deal with underlying social, security, political and sovereignty issues. 

Indeed, research highlighted by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation shows that underlying issues, such as restrictions on religious freedom, are important contextual elements that must be addressed in order for religious hostilities, violence and conflict to be reduced. When they are, this leads to greater stability, promotes innovation and fosters peace, all of which contribute to a better business environment.

Innovative Business Projects

Some micro-economic initiatives, however, are developing projects that aim to remove the mistrust that has developed in the region. For instance, the Abraham's Path Initiative is promoting a long-distance walking trail across the Middle East that would stimulate economic and cultural cooperation where it is currently in short supply. 

Similar initiatives by Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) bring together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists promoting cooperative efforts to protect their shared environmental heritage. In so doing, they seek to advance both sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in the region. 

Another micro-economic initiative was developed by Aziz Abu Sarah, Co-Executive Director at George Mason University's Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution. In 2009, he co-founded Middle East Justice and Development Initiative (MEJDI Tours) to use as a bridge between conflict resolution and business. For his work, he won the Intercultural Innovation award from the UN Alliance of Civilizations and was also named a National Geographic Explorer in 2011.