Viewing entries tagged
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Closer To Being Free: Rebuilding Lives of Human Trafficking Survivors

Closer To Being Free: Rebuilding Lives of Human Trafficking Survivors

Fifteen of us sat in a circle on the cool marble floor, drawing birds and flowers.  The girls ranged in age from a tiny seven-year-old named Jasminda with uncanny artistic abilities, to twenty-year old Rishi, who just started college and probably should have been studying, but she just couldn’t resist joining in the fun.

Leela stood alone in the corner, silently watching.  She looked about 16.  She wrapped her arms around her body, seeming cold despite the warm temperature. Her eyes were impossible to read.   Angry, afraid, yearning to join the group, depressed or completely detached?  I couldn’t tell.   She is in a safe place now, at the shelter for trafficking survivors built by Her Future Coalition last year near Darjeeling, India.  But until recently Leela was living a nightmare. Her existence is very hard to even imagine – used every night by 15-20 men on a filthy mattress without even a sheet. She was an outcast judged by passers-by on the street, betrayed by her family, controlled with physical violence, or worse, with shame. Shame is a tool her traffickers used with great skill, knowing it can be even more powerful than physical torture.

Leela had been rescued very recently.  She still showed physical and emotional signs of trauma and was not going to trust easily again.  The risk of hoping and being disappointed is too high.  But we have been in this situation before, many times with wounded girls like Leela who seemed impossible to reach.  At first, I despaired of them ever recovering.  But they did.  With love and time, their spirits came back into their bodies and they began building a new life.

I inched backwards until I was sitting near Leela’s feet.  Not looking her directly in the eye (too threatening), I gave her a sideways glance, inviting her to sit and draw with me.  She shook her head.  A younger girl came over and we drew together for a few minutes.  Eventually, Leela got tired of standing, or maybe it felt culturally inappropriate to remain looming over me, an adult.  She sat beside me, still unsmiling and remote.  We made the briefest eye contact.  I pushed across a piece of paper, and then my pencil. I gently pointed to an image in a book that I wanted to copy for the mural we planned to paint on the shelter wall.  She shook her head no.  I shrugged, that’s okay, no pressure.

But a few minutes later, Leela bit her lips, pushed the hair out her eyes, and began to draw.  She did so brilliantly - an exquisitely detailed peacock, a garden of flowers.  The others were called for lunch and the project came to an end.  Leela stayed on the floor, drawing for hours until we lost the light.

The next morning she was waiting at the shelter door when we arrived, eager to begin painting the mural.  On our last day, she cried the hardest of anyone.  But I know she will be okay.  She is a survivor.  She found the courage to come out of her isolation to sit on the floor with a stranger and draw a peacock.  Next she will learn a trade.  Perhaps she will choose to learn how to make jewelry and go through our two-year goldsmith training.  She could join the jewelry team at our sister organization, Relevée, and earn a good salary as a professional jeweler and designer. For now, it is enough for her to begin believing that not everyone is out to hurt or use her, that life can be sweet again.

-Sarah Symons, Executive Director of Her Future Coalition and Co-Founder of Relevée

“As we work to dismantle trafficking networks and help survivors rebuild their lives, we must also address the underlying forces that push so many into bondage. We must develop economies that create legitimate jobs, build a global sense of justice that says no child should ever be exploited, and empower our daughters and sons with the same chances to pursue their dreams. This month, I call on every nation, every community, and every individual to fight human trafficking wherever it exists. Let us declare as one that slavery has no place in our world, and let us finally restore to all people the most basic rights of freedom, dignity, and justice.”

-Barack Obama, 2013

 

Sarah Symons is the Founder and Executive Director of Her Future Coalition, an international nonprofit helping survivors of gender violence to rebuild their lives, and Co-Founder/CIO of Relevée, a social impact fine jewelry business participating in Miller Center's GSBI® Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins cohort..

Over the past ten years, Sarah and her team have helped over 2500 women and children in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand to build safe, independent futures through innovative shelter, education and employment programs.

Previously, Sarah worked as a composer of TV music and as a recording artist. 

Her book, This is No Ordinary Joy, is available on Amazon.com

 

Mobilizing for Migrants, Refugees, and Slaves

Mobilizing for Migrants, Refugees, and Slaves

Click on image to access the encyclical

Click on image to access the encyclical

The third Vatican impact investing conference will convene in Rome next month. It seeks to mobilize capital to address pressing, interconnected, global problems: migrants and refugees, climate change, youth underemployment, and health. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis notes the “tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation” (25) and notes “interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan.” (164).  I am honored to be the invited moderator of a panel on Migrants, Refugees, and SMEs.

In January, when Miller Center decided to launch the SEM accelerator program for social enterprises serving or led by refugees, migrants, or human trafficking survivors, we wondered how many and what kinds of these ventures existed.

We were surprised when many of the over 100 applicants told us the SEM cohort is the first they’d encountered focused on helping them scale their impact, as Program Manager Marie Haller notes. Their business models include impact sourcing, entrepreneurial support, and skills training. Technologies including blockchain and AI are part of the solutions they offer to refugees and modern-day slaves.

We had hoped that launching the SEM program might reveal entrepreneurial solutions to serve the most marginalized among our common human family. The quality and quantity of applicant social enterprises and their profound passion in our pioneering program amazed and heartened us. Convening this group of social entrepreneurs has built momentum among a variety of stakeholders interested in finding new solutions for these global crises.  

Vodafone Americas Foundation, The Chao Foundation/Transparent Fish Fund, and Skoll Foundation have stepped forward to provide Miller Center financial support as we accompany the SEM social enterprises; we are grateful.

ImpactAlpha recently ran a story entitled Entrepreneurs and investors mobilize to tackle challenges of refugees, migrants, and modern day slaves, identifying a growing “market” of the forcibly displaced and enslaved and consequent growing pools of capital. We are thrilled that this story names four of the twenty-one social enterprises in our Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM)cohort and humbled by the Reuters headline, California executives mentor businesses helping migrants and slaves.

When journalists and foundations use phrases like “stock the pipeline” of investment-ready social enterprises, and “an emerging ecosystem”, it suggests a bigger movement is afoot to define an impact sector focused on the needs of the displaced and enslaved.  

We need it now more than ever. Tomorrow, June 20, is World Refugee Day. We hope you’ll join us on this journey to discern a common plan that affords refugees dignified livelihoods and eradicates modern-day slavery.  


Photo credits: banner image by geralt on Pixabay.com; screenshot of Pope Francis from laudatosi.com; UNHCR, image from UN Refugee Agency post embedded from Facebook by Markel Redondo)

Behind the scenes: Takeaways from our cohort selection process

Behind the scenes: Takeaways from our cohort selection process

Mentors have been carefully selected and introductions have been made to the 21 social enterprises joining Miller Center’s new cohort, Social Entrepreneurship at the Margins (SEM). After spending January through April recruiting these entrepreneurs from a pool of over 100 applicants, it feels exciting to finally start learning and collaborating together.

Through the recruitment process, I heard from many folks that this was the first program they’d found supporting entrepreneurs focused on working with refugees, migrants and human trafficking survivors. It was surprising news given the unprecedented numbers of people who are currently displaced from their homes globally. We began to realize there is a large opportunity here to bring together innovators and other stakeholders from all over the world to learn from each other and change the way we support the most marginalized in our communities.

Photo credit: Makers Unite

Photo credit: Makers Unite

As the interviews unfolded, we learned more about the types of solutions people are creating to fill in the gaps that humanitarian aid doesn’t cover. We ultimately selected a cohort of 21 organizations that have impact in 24 countries globally, with the most businesses working regionally in Southeast Asia, East Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. A quick scan of the headlines should make it clear why those are the hotspots, including Europe. We heard from several members of our cohort, such as Refugee Company and More than One Perspective,that the large number of refugees who were resettled in the EU, in 2015 inspired them to help these newcomers build community and livelihoods.

Despite this global distribution, the strong majority (14 out of 21) of the organizations are focused on job or entrepreneurial training programs and/or job placement services for people who have been displaced and need support rebuilding their lives. It seems clear from this data point alone that this is a big challenge in the current system that needs to be solved creatively. Many of these entrepreneurs are working on it, with models clustered around 3 primary areas:

  • Digital skills – “Impact sourcing” organizations and coding schools that train displaced people and human trafficking survivors to gain transferable skills and do digital work remotely. Cohort participants refugees{code}, Regenesys BPO, and WorkAround are enterprises doing work in this area.
  • Entrepreneurial Support – Providing refugee entrepreneurs with education and direct investment for their start-ups. SEM participants doing work in this space include African Entrepreneur Collective, and Five One Labs.
  • Learning a trade – Organizations are training and hiring migrants, refugees, and human trafficking survivors in industries as varied as coffee, high-end artisan crafts, solar energy, fine jewelry and many others. 1951 Coffee Company, Destiny Reflection, and Relevee are SEM enterprises doing transformational work in this way.
Photo credit: Talent Beyond Boundaries

Photo credit: Talent Beyond Boundaries

Over the next 6 months, we hope to learn a lot more alongside these organizations about what alternative, sustainable solutions could look like that help restore dignity for people who are displaced or forced into modern-day slavery. During the virtual kick-off last week, we had cohort members asking when and how they can start collaborating, as well as saying hello to other entrepreneurs in their region that they’ve met before. We’ll be bringing them together virtually through “office hours” over the next few months and in-person October 19-23 to share their expertise with each other and catalyze systemic change within the sector. We hope you’ll join us for the showcase on October 23 to hear directly from the entrepreneurs about their progress and the impact they’re making on the ground.

You don’t have to search hard to find news headlines detailing this global crisis we are all facing, but hopefully it won’t be much longer until we see more headlines showcasing new types of solutions that work for everyone.  

 

Banner photo courtesy of African Entrepreneur Collective