Abolitionists take on slavery – online

Changemakers.net hosts global competition for innovative solutions to human trafficking.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    The emancipation network: Slavery survivors in Katmandu, Nepal, make handicrafts that are sold in the US to raise awareness of slavery.
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    The Emancipation Network: Nepali survivors of circus slavery create fashionable goods, which are sold to raise awareness of slavery.
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    The Emancipation Network: An woman works making cloth for table cloths, clothing, and handbags at the Sanlaap shelter in Kolkata, India. Block printing is a highly marketable and respected art form in India. The 'Made By Survivors' products are sold to help build an abolition movement in the US.
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How do you eliminate slavery and human trafficking? Modern abolitionists across the globe are tackling that question head on – and collaborating via the Internet on their efforts.

Through Changemakers.net, many have joined in a global competition to identify the most innovative antislavery programs and extend their impact.

More than 230 groups from 50 countries entered this summer's competition, titled "Ending Global Slavery: Everyday Heroes Leading the Way." Judges knowledgeable about slavery selected 15 finalists, and last week the online community voted for three winners.

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"We're incredibly proud of our online community who stepped forward to collaborate, discuss, and draw out the most effective ideas in this issue regarding human dignity," said Charlie Brown, Changemaker's executivedirector, on announcing the winners Aug. 6.

An initiative of Ashoka, a global association of social entrepreneurs, Changemakers has run 20 competitions online to promote innovative solutions in areas such as water and sanitation, geotourism, ending corruption, and sports for a better world. All applications in a competition go up on the Web, where others can comment, learn from, and help refine the ideas and programs.

"We wondered if the topic of slavery would be so sensitive or taboo that it might endanger people doing the work," says Tito Llantada, director of competitions. "But many more applications came in than usual."

The three winning programs pioneer differing approaches to fighting the complex problem:

• Carpets for Communities, a Cambodian organization, carries out grass-roots interventions into child trafficking and labor, providing mothers with an income (rugmaking at home) so that their children can go to school instead. Children are often sold or forced into working so their families can survive.

• The Code.org provides the international tourism industry with a tool to prevent and combat child sex tourism. According to UNICEF, about 2 million children fall victim to sex tourism, pornography, and trafficking every year. Some 600 companies so far have signed onto a code of conduct that addresses the tourism supply chain, from corporate ethical policies and training personnel to educating travelers, requiring standards of suppliers, and working with local officials in countries of destination.

• The Emancipation Network (TEN) raises awareness of slavery among Americans and creates jobs for survivors of slavery in several countries to help them achieve independence.

After seeing a documentary on efforts to rescue slaves in India, composer Sara Symons was inspired to switch her life focus. Once slaves are rescued and go to shelters, they often have no place to go. Trafficked as children, they lack the skills to live on their own and are stigmatized by society.

Ms. Symons realized in 2005 that the handicrafts they made for therapeutic purposes could turn into a full-blown economic opportunity.

Today, she and her husband, John Berger, who left a Wall Street career to join the venture, work with 18 shelters in eight countries that care for former slaves. TEN trains the survivors in business development and product design, and purchases and sells the handicrafts in the US (www.madebysurvivors.com).

They market the crafts online, in a store on Cape Cod, Mass., and particularly through home "awareness" parties. The home parties also serve as a means to educate people about slavery and build the abolition movement in the US, Mr. Berger says in an interview. (They also partner with Polaris Project and Free the Slaves, in the US.)

This summer, TEN opened the Destiny Production Center in a three-story house in Calcutta, India, where a number of women will work and provide for themselves. The $5,000 prize for winning the competition will go to the Center. "Thanks to this competition, we have found some new partners and programs to work with, and the prize will help us buy sewing machines and pay wages to the survivors," Berger says.

He sees the contest as bringing benefits to all involved, not just the winners. "The abolitionist movement is still small, and the competition provided a great opportunity for little-known but amazing programs to let the world know about their work," he adds. The comments from others also help groups modify and strengthen their programs.

Other nonprofits among the 15 finalists ranged from a coalition against trafficking of women and girls, which educates young men and groups such as cabdrivers about sexual exploitation, to an

antitrafficking task force focused on the ports in the Philippines.

"A lot of times folks on the ground with a great innovation that has impact don't have time to showcase it. We give them space to present their 'innovation blueprint,'" Mr. Llantada says. Each competition not only builds a community and spurs others to action, he adds, but serves to connect projects with foundations and other philanthropists.

The latest competition, now under way, is a Changemakers partnership with Citi, called "Banking for Social Change," which seeks cutting-edge methods that will "allow financial security to become a reality for everyone."

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