The anti-trafficking movement is one of the most important movements for women’s equality, since a large proportion of survivors of trafficking are women. But often, the voices of the actual survivors of trafficking get excluded from approaches to solving this problem.
Recently, the Freedom Fund hosted a webinar to discuss ways that funders can work to include survivors in leadership. Amy Rahe, interim director of the Freedom Fund, moderated the discussion. Guest speakers included Mahendra Pandey, Senior Manager, Forced Labor & Human Trafficking for Humanity United, Natasha Dolby, Co-Founder, Freedom Forward, and Claire Falconer, Head of Global Initiatives and Movement Building, The Freedom Fund.
Mahendra Pandey, who works for Humanity United, acknowledged community and corporate leadership as a key factor in being able to focus their work in a survivor-centered way. “Survivors are courageous leaders. Integrating survivors into the work will inform better solutions and will ensure that laws start to change and repeat offenders will have to face consequences. “
Mahendra shared about an informal network of low-wage Nepali migrant workers, supported by Humanity United, which has played an essential role in raising awareness about illegal recruitment agencies. “By sharing information about these illegal practices,” said Pandey, the Nepalese government has been able to take action to reduce trafficking exploitation.
Claire Falconer of the Freedom Fund talked about the key principle of survivor inclusion for their organization. “The model at the Freedom Fund is based on community-led solutions, and so have the most direct and relevant expertise to address exploitation.”
The Freedom Fund is starting a fellowship for survivors as an added way to ensure their access to employment and contributions to leadership. “The first thing I want to say is that our commitment to survivor leadership is a process. It’s a journey we’re on.”
Falconer emphasized the need for funders to invest in long-term personal and financial security for survivors. She gave the example of helping workers to form collectives that give them financial control over their work, and offered a model of their forthcoming program in Ethiopia which helps survivors get jobs with quality employers, and then monitors their employment with to ensure the initial fit and stability of the job.
Driving home the point about external factors impactor survivors, Falconer added: “If survivors have to worry about their personal safety, job security or immigration status, there will be little capacity to do the work of survivor leadership.”
Amy Rahe responded to Falconer’s comments by emphasizing the process of adjusting to a different mindset when funding work that is survivor-led: “This is not something you get right straight away. It’s a process of looking externally at who we fund, and how we do the work, and how we include people with lived experience.”
What are the Challenges for Funders in Anti-Trafficking?
“We face challenges around what we are legally allowed to support,” said Mahendra Pandey. “For non-English speakers, it can be quite difficult for them to access the funding.” If funders are serious about supporting survivor-led, said Pandey, they must translate applications and hire translators to verbally communicate with non-native English speakers. He said that many organizations are still not taking this basic step to allow healthy communication with the beneficiaries of their work.
Claire Falconer added that, “Symbolic and token inclusion are rooted in a common belief that there are very specific and limited roles” for survivors in the anti-trafficking movement.
“Meaningful inclusion is about power-sharing,” said Claire. Amy Rahe responded that the goal should be about supporting survivors so they can progress into leadership roles in the anti-trafficking movement.
In Conversation with Survivors
Natasha Dolby of Freedom Forward put it this way: “I think if funders are serious about meaningful inclusion, they must be in conversation with survivors.” She added that feedback loops” need to “honor their input of survivors.”
“Let’s be honest. It will make some people feel uncomfortable.” she said. She said at her organization, Freedom Forward, a group of youth advisors chose a logo that she may not have chosen. Yet, she said, she and her staff were “blown away by the articulation of their mission,” and see the organization on a strong course for effectiveness. “I’m excited to see how survivor leadership changes the antislavery field,” she added.
Dolby is also “excited to see survivor leaders claiming their space and shaping the direction of the movement, and glad to see more organizations supporting them doing that.”
“The end of exploitation is just the start,” said Dolby, referring to the progression for survivors to a healthier form of living in their new life journey free from exploitation.
Dolby added that, “the culture of philanthropy is rooted in stories, all of which guide our behavior, but the most powerful stories that define our culture are not always the stories about how we make change.” Dolby wants to see more stories in our culture that show how change occurs for survivors and others.
“We need to break the mold of who is perceived as a leader,” she said, and create “better dialogue before, during, and after our investments as donors.” She is particularly excited about three pilots Freedom Forward is doing, one of which, in San Francisco, involves foster youth being housed by volunteers.
Claire Falconer also shared about some of the exciting things she sees happening in the survivor-led anti-trafficking movement. She is particularly excited about supporting Freedom Rising, and the growth of survivor-led groups like Survivor Alliance, led by Minh Dang.
Mahendra Pandey said he was most excited about public discourse on survivor leadership. “As funders we have unique ability to galvinize the change toward survivor leadership. As funders, we have an obligation to adjust the language of grant-making to make it centered on survivors with translators and translated texts.”
While Pandey is glad to see survivor leadership being highlighted, he said there is still more we can do. “Today and every day, we need to recognize survivor’s vital right to be part of the conversation. We should hold ourselves accountable for changes made, and what changes should be.”
He added: “I find conversations with the workers are humbling.”
How to Get Other Donors on Board
Falconer: “By making your commitment [to survivor leadership], making it explicit, and then demonstrating that commitment in the way that you work.” She added that it’s also important to be “open and honest about successes and challenges.”
Natasha Dolby recommended phone calls and emails to other funders. She also suggested writing an op-ed together with another funder, or several funders, to get your point across and make it public.
Pandey added his vision of how to get other donors on board. “As donors we have the power. We have the resources and the access. Workers have a similar kind of smartness. Within 5 or 6 years, there will be so much survivor leadership around the world, and the world will be different.”
You can watch the full video of the webinar here: https://freedomfund.org/video/webinar-how-anti-trafficking-funders-can-promote-survivor-leadership/