Photo Caption: The Freedom Fund supports slavery survivors to create the changes that their communities seek. In 2022, a group of agricultural bonded labourers in Nepal, called the Harawa-Charawa were declared free by the government following a long campaign that was supported by the Freedom Fund.
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When the Freedom Fund took a chance and set up an unrestricted fund for organisations led by survivors of modern slavery, it resulted in a ripple effect with far reaching outcomes that the organisation itself may not have anticipated.
The Freedom Fund is a leader in the global movement to end slavery. It set up the Survivor Leadership Fund in 2021 with the specific goal of supporting survivor-led organisations at a grassroots level in the Global South. After spending a decade helping survivors to lead successful movements against forced, bonded and child labour in Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia and other countries, it became clear to the organisation that successful social movements must be led by the communities they are seeking change for.
In the anti-slavery movement, however, there are few organisations led by survivors, and those that exist are generally poorly funded and struggle to access capital that can help them deepen their work and become sustainable. In fact, the Freedom Fund itself recognised that in 2019, less than 10% of its local partners were survivor-led entities.
One year later, it was presented with an opportunity to address this limitation. It became the recipient of unrestricted funds, which prompted the organisation to think more creatively about its own giving, and how it might accomplish its aim of supporting survivor leadership. It began to map out the framework for a pooled fund that deployed unrestricted gifts to survivor-led organisations, believing that this approach could be a catalyst for more survivors to lead the anti-slavery movement, ensuring responses to slavery were relevant and inclusive. The Survivor Leadership Fund was born.
So far, the Fund has made unrestricted grants of between USD 15,000 and USD 20,000 each to 54 organisations in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. The fund specifically targets less formal organisations that are led by survivors with lived experiences of exploitation, including human trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour or forced marriage. The majority of these organisations have never received funding from an international donor – many had relied on donations from members and communities, and the support of volunteers to carry out their work.
The flexible format of the grant has given greater decision-making powers to grantees, allowing them to focus on organisational development, paying salaries, and capital expenses. One grantee commented: “We had never received major funding before SLF. With the unrestricted nature of SLF, meaning that the agreement was not cast on stone, meaning we could do anything that supports the organizational development to individual capacity building , as well as community work and survivor leadership. So it really helped us in equipping the office, we didn’t have enough furniture as we have now. We also able to put other policies such as sexual harassment policies that we did not have, we did not have a strategic plan. We did not have electricity connection and we bought solar panels. Therefore, due to the unrestricted nature of the SLF, we were able to do quite a lot”.
It has also allowed these grassroots organisations to focus on more than just survival: a common theme among grantees is using the funds to invest in other survivors; in their recovery, education, employment and health, as well as supporting them to become leaders in their communities.
Take Yayasan Sakura Indonesia Al Jamaan as an example. This organisation was founded by survivors on the premise that being part of anti-modern slavery work contributes to survivors’ healing process. The organisation used the Survivor Leadership Fund grant to support survivors to start small businesses and provide training on small business management. The organisation also conducted training on prevention and assistance to survivors, and provided psychosocial support and accommodation to survivors living in their shelter.
Another grantee was given to Azadi, an organization established by survivors in 2020 who identified a need for both community and support, and in particular a need for a physical space where survivors could connect. Using funds from the Survivor Leadership Fund, Azadi established a resource centre in Nairobi where survivors can meet, lead, and receive services. Here, survivors can access therapy, yoga sessions, and support for economic empowerment, including job preparedness training and referrals. Survivors also use the space to build community and leadership in the sector, such as participating in policy advocacy and program development. One survivor said: “The Resource Centre is the only place I have felt safe enough to be myself without being judged”
Another grantee, Set Free to Thrive, used the funds to hire two survivors as field officers who help to identify and work with survivors, support their families, and facilitate conversations with law enforcement and NGOs. In this way, the funds support both the economic empowerment of survivors as professionals, but also ensure that the work of the organisation continues to be informed and led by survivors at all levels.
The Freedom Fund has observed that the diversity of purposes for which the funds have been used demonstrates the diverse needs of survivor-led organisations and that the value of providing flexible funding is that it allows for unforeseen gaps to be filled while also contributing to organisational development and growth.
The gift that keeps on giving
Since its inception, the Survivor Leadership Fund has attracted scepticism, including questions around how the organisation would identify survivor-led grantees, the size of the grant, and whether due diligence and accountability standards were acceptable for the amount of risk. The Freedom Fund says the reaction is healthy and understandable, given that the outcomes were unclear at the start.
“We knew others took a chance on us, so why shouldn’t we try for others? … as the recipient of trust-based giving, we want to pass this gift on to others, so they can also benefit from the space and confidence that such a gift provides.” – Amy Rahe, The Freedom Fund
Unrestricted funding has allowed the Freedom Fund to be more bold and inclusive in its own grantmaking. It is now able to deploy funds to organisations that do not meet the requirements of more restrictive donors – those that are newer or less structured, and may otherwise be deemed too risky; precisely the types of grassroots, survivor-led organisations that have shown that they can accomplish meaningful outcomes for their communities when empowered to make change where they see it is most needed.
The Freedom Fund is a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery. It identifies and invests in the most effective frontline efforts to eradicate modern slavery in the countries where it is most prevalent. Partnering with visionary investors, governments, anti-slavery organisations and those at risk of exploitation, it tackles the systems that allow slavery to persist and thrive by protecting vulnerable populations, liberating and reintegrating survivors, and prosecuting those responsible. The Freedom Fund is a member of AVPN.
This article is part of an ongoing AVPN initiative on Trust-based Philanthropy where we share our learnings, develop insights with our partners, and lead the conversation about this essential and evolving approach to giving in Asia. To learn more and get connected please click here.