Here’s how Survivor Alliance is helping survivors of human trafficking change philanthropy – Inside Philanthropy
Perhaps one of the most promising trends that philanthropy has seen in recent years is to not only support marginalized voices, but also focus them. Across a range of issues, people from affected communities take on leadership roles to guide philanthropy towards more effective and meaningful change.
Minh Dang hopes to do the same for survivors of human trafficking. Dang, who is herself a survivor, is a leader in the anti-trafficking movement and has been named by President Barack Obama as a Champion for Change for her work to empower survivors of human trafficking and slavery.
In 2018, Dang co-founded Survivors Alliance and has since been its executive director. In the three years since its funding, Dang and his team have worked to unite and empower survivors of human trafficking around the world. Currently, Survivor Alliance has a network of over 350 survivors around the world.
Prior to co-founding Survivor Alliance, Dang worked as an independent consultant and found something sorely lacking in the anti-trafficking arena: the inclusion of survivors. “Many anti-trafficking organizations are focusing on direct services, which is necessary,” Dang said. “But there’s not much to really building community among survivors and helping survivors become leaders of social justice efforts and / or pursue them as long-term employment.”
According to Dang, Survivor Alliance was formed to fill this gap. A key part of its mission is to help survivors not only to participate in the field of anti-trafficking, but to lead it.
In addition to training leaders, Survivor Alliance works with politicians and policy-oriented organizations to offer insights and perspectives on the potential impact of policy. He also signs letters of support to ensure survivors have access to the care they need, including health and mental health services, and supports issues relevant to survivors, such as immigration and rights. immigrants.
A model of exclusion
The exclusion of genuine survivors has been a lasting model in anti-trafficking work. According to Lawanna Kimbro, CEO of Stardust Fund, one of the backers of Survivor Alliance, this speaks to a paternalism that has often permeated the field of anti-trafficking and philanthropy as a whole.
“Often the organizations that dominate or have the most funding or the most attention to them have not always centered the voices of the communities they serve,” said Kimbro. “Survivor Alliance has worked courageously and doggedly on many fronts, both within organizations, with funders like us, and on every platform I can think of to remind people that… the people closest to the problems are always the closest to solutions. “
This idea is not new, but it is increasingly present in philanthropy and advocacy circles.
Natasha Dolby, co-founder of Freedom ahead, echoed this. “Philanthropy is increasingly aware that a commitment to survivor leadership is rooted on this very simple principle that representation matters,” Dolby said. She added that the idea that representation matters has become important in the entertainment industry, in politics, on boards of directors and certainly in the fight against slavery.
“Philanthropy is paying different attention since the murder of George Floyd last year. And I think people are really starting to click that being inclusive of all voices and social justice movements isn’t “being nice” or because it’s the right thing to do. This is because it is really effective when you [incorporate] these perspectives on how you think about investing and changing, ”Dolby said.
Funders at the table
Survivor Alliance has attracted several notable backers. In addition to the Stardust Fund and Freedom Forward, United Way around the world and the UPS Foundation also support its work.
According to Nicole Clifton, who heads the UPS Foundation, UPS and its employees have donated more than $ 5 million since 2018 to the United Against Human Trafficking Impact Fund at the United Way Center on Human Trafficking & Slavery.
“Ultimately, survivors are able to shine a light on the realities of crime that many people working in philanthropies to end human trafficking have never actually experienced,” said Clifton. “This is what is needed to develop and support effective strategies to support survivors and end or prevent human trafficking.”
Mara Vanderslice Kelly is the Executive Director of the United Way Center on Human Trafficking and Slavery. She previously served in the The Obama administration for five years, where she helped lead the administration’s work on combating human trafficking. Vanderslice Kelly explained that the United Way sees itself not only as a funder of Survivor Alliance, but also as an organizer and a strategic thought leader.
In addition to funding Survivor Alliance’s first upcoming World Congress – more details below – the United Way has also provided a planning grant to develop a Survivors Fellowship, which Vanderslice Kelly says will place survivors in fighting organizations. against trafficking and provide survivors with the professional skills to be leaders in their own field.
“In almost every other social movement you have the people who are affected by the problem… who are working as leaders in the space, be it the gay rights movement, the women’s movement or the Black Lives movement. Matter. The people involved need to lead the way, and I think the anti-trafficking field has not always followed this model, ”said Vanderslice Kelly.
In addition to advocating for the inclusion of survivor voices on the ground, Survivor Alliance is also working to develop leaders in the movement.
“This is something that we need to work on proactively, and that funders and philanthropists should not only listen to policy experts and service providers, but also to the people who have been affected,” said Vanderslice Kelly.
According to Dang, Survivor Alliance seeks to develop a broad network of survivor leaders from around the world that organizations can turn to for their experience and expertise.
“Can the UN rapporteur on human trafficking be a surviving leader?” Can the State Department Ambassador for Trafficking in Persons be a Survivor? Dang asked. “So really starting to turn the tide in terms of survivors not being in addition to, but in fact in the foreground in the leadership roles around this issue.”
Correct the mistakes of the past
As part of its work, Survivor Alliance consults with donor organizations seeking to use best practices for including survivors. This includes guiding staff to think about the importance of including the lived experience of survivors.
“We help them think through ethical storytelling, how not to re-use the stories of survivors by kind of… symbolizing them and saying, ‘Well, we’re going to use their stories to raise money for us. ‘in a real re-exploitation. path. So how do we do this ethically, how do we get really, really informed consent, and also for their board to really start thinking, how do we include that as a measure of success, ”Dang said.
Gina Reiss, who sits on the board of Survivor Alliance, compared how Survivor Alliance is working to change philanthropy to how the LGBTQ + movement has evolved American foundations and businesses to be more inclusive . Just as the LGBTQ + movement has inspired funders and businesses to add gender identity and expression to their priorities and equal employment policies, Survivor Alliance wants to create a culture of inclusion for survivors of trafficking in human beings.
“Survivor Alliance is also working to educate survivors in the workplace about DCI issues,” Reiss said. “Employment equity for survivors, especially trauma-informed human resource policies, should generally be cornerstones of equality in the workplace – these are dialogues that SA helps lead then. that we consider the pathways to employment for survivors. ”
For Kimbro, change isn’t just about empty words. “If we say we care about the voices and leadership of survivors and center them in the room, we can’t just say it as a value,” Kimbro said. “We really have to build [centering them] in our funding and also in our programmatic work… because the correction does not happen by chance. Correction must be focused, powerful and directed to repair the harm. “
Survivors are more than their trauma
Part of the solution, which Kimbro says will be uncomfortable for many, is to relinquish power so that funding is done in a way that is neither exploitative nor extractive. For example, a significant problem in anti-trafficking work has been the practice of asking a survivor to tell their story over and over again as a fundraising tactic.
Telling this “singular story of pain,” said Kimbro, is not only a form of exploitation, it also suggests that survivors can only participate in anti-trafficking work by telling their story and not by telling their story. active leadership.
“There is this notion of being acted on as opposed to being agents of their own destiny,” Kimbro said, highlighting the paternalistic belief that survivors are just passive victims to be rescued and are not active in shaping their own life after release. traffic.
As Dang pointed out, survivors are more than their traumas and experiences. Equally important to ending trafficking is to support individuals once they have regained their freedom.
“One of the things that’s absolutely true is that survivors of human trafficking suffer severe trauma, and that’s kind of where we end the conversation,” Dang said. “We’re not talking about the lives that people eventually create, so there’s a sort of ‘we’re just traumatized people’ narrative.”
The Survivor Alliance Premiere World congress will take place online this year from July 26-30. There, survivors of human trafficking and slavery will come together to build a strong movement. Survivor Alliance wants the meeting to serve as a venue to increase leadership in the anti-slavery movement, increase the ability of survivors to engage in transnational collaborations, and increase the ability of allies to engage with survivors as peers. .
“Literally, we represent our own voice,” Dang said. “We can have our own voice. We show them that we are not just that recipient of services who needs trauma care. We’re doctors and social workers and all these other people.