RIO DE JANEIRO — Seven business men and women from around the world were honored Tuesday for their work in interfaith relations, including three Americans. All of the leaders were recognized for using their businesses to bridge cultural and religious divides.
Winners of the first-ever Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards were awarded with Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in a ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 6, a day before the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games here.
The awards were presented by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit, in collaboration with the United Nations Global Compact’s Business for Peace Initiative. The foundation helps educate the global business community about how religious freedom is good for business and how they can promote respect for freedom of religion or belief.
“These business leaders show the value of religious freedom – it sets people of faith free to do good motivated by their deepest and most innovative ideals,” said Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation.
Winners come from a variety of religious backgrounds and manage companies and enterprises in the U.S., Indonesia, Mozambique, Uganda, Brazil, Lebanon and Iraq.
“The religious, geographic and business-type diversity of these business leaders shows that the values of interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace have universal appeal,” Grim went on to say.
The sole Gold Medal went to Indonesian businessman Y.W. Junardy for his facilitation of thousands of marriages for poor Indonesians of all faiths, providing their families with the legal status necessary to advance in Indonesian society.
A Silver Medal was awarded to Don Larson, founder and CEO of Sunshine Nut Company in Mozambique, who works across faith and cultural lines to revive the country’s cashew business.
Brittany Underwood, founder and president of AKOLA in Texas, U.S., and Uganda, tied for a Silver Medal. Underwood promotes gender equality and religious freedom by employing Ugandan women to create fashion jewelry. Underwood also created a Dallas-based organization that employs women who have survived human trafficking.
Four Bronze Medals were awarded. One went to Jonathan Berezovsky, CEO of Migraflix in Brazil, who helps immigrants and refugees integrate into Brazil through facilitating cultural exchanges between them and the local community.
Fouad Makhzoumi, the CEO of Future Pipe Industries Group Ltd., in the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon, promotes religious freedom through microcredit and vocational training to help over 10,000 Lebanese of all faiths set up sustainable businesses.
Bruce McEver, co-founder and president of Berkshire Capital Securities LLC in Connecticut, U.S. and U.K., has a foundation which works to cultivate inter-religious understanding through the promotion of religious literacy.
Emma Nicholson, Baroness of Winterbourne, executive chairman of the Iraq Britain Business council and founder and chairman of AMAR Foundation in the U.K. and Iraq, works to build business, technology, trade and investment in Iraq, with a special focus on women of religious minorities, such as Yazidis.
Grim said the finalists, who include Christians, Jews, Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated, exemplify the mission of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation – to show that religious freedom is vital to a fertile business climate.
Other finalists recognized during the awards included Jonathan Shen Jian, CEO, Shinework Media, which is based in China. Shen’s films promote global cultural diversity and interfaith understanding in China’s media market of one billion people. The late Tayyibah Taylor, CEO and founder of U.S.-based Azizah Magazine and WOW Publishing, Inc., used her magazine to help Muslim women and people of other faiths better understand Islam until her death in 2014. Her daughter Mariam Abdul-Aziz, of Atlanta, Georgia, accepted the award in her honor. Finalist and Dresser-Rand Regional Business Leader Joaquim Augusto Sanches Pereira works with the Vaga Lume initiative, promoting peace and cultural diversity through literary programs for children, teenagers and adults in the multicultural and diverse Amazon region.
The jury for the award was comprised of a small group of high-level experts, including from the United Nations: H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations; from the religious freedom community: Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice, and a former head of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom; and from the business and peace community: Per L. Saxegaard, Business CEO, and Founder and Executive Chairman of the Business for Peace Foundation, Oslo, Norway.
For more information on each winner and their global mission, please visit religiousfreedomandbusiness.org.
For videos about each winner, visit vimeo.com/rfbf/videos.