Photo courtesy of National Domestic Workers Alliance

Reflections on Four Years of the Anti-Trafficking Fund

As for so many, the past year has been a time of upheaval, flexibility and evolution for the Anti-Trafficking Fund (ATF) and our grantees.

With the departure of our anchor funder, the Oak Foundation, ATF is at a juncture, hoping to launch a new phase of our work, with a new name, funders and vision. As we attract new resources, we are excited to commit this new fund to amplifying the leadership of exploited and excluded workers, especially leaders of color, in their quest to change the power dynamics in their sectors and uproot the causes of exploitation.  

We are proud of what we have accomplished with the Oak Foundation over the last four years. We funded diverse organizations, supporting them with general operating support and capacity building opportunities, and creating a safe space for them to connect with peer organizations. We have learned through experimentation and error as well as success. We have made a difference for many important and groundbreaking organizations at critical points in their development. In this blog post, we wanted to feature their work and their voices and so, we asked a few of these grantees to reflect on their journey with the Anti-Trafficking Fund. 

Milk with Dignity

Milk with Dignity Standards Council received support at its earliest stage from ATF, enabling it to train staff and set up operations before formally opening their doors.  

“When we first connected with ATF, Milk with Dignity was still a dream of a small group of dairy farmworkers who were several years into a campaign to persuade major dairy buyers to join a real human rights enforcement program,” said Tom Fritzsche, MDSC executive director.  “They faced challenges including extreme isolation and even intimidation and targeting by federal immigration enforcement agencies, and the odds were certainly stacked against the program ever breaking through. Yet here we are, just four years later. Milk with Dignity is alive and well, the only monitoring program successfully ensuring human rights protections in the dairy industry.  

“ATF’s early financial and technical support allowed us to build a rigorous program with deep accessibility to migrant farmworkers, detailed protocols and training, and bilingual staff accountable to the farmworker community,” explained Fritzsche. “Sienna (ATF Director) provided guidance about several aspects of our work and does so from a base of knowledge and experience deeply grounded in understanding small organizations rooted in social movements. The farmworker community set crucial but ambitious goals, and because of ATF, we are well on our way to meeting them.” 

ATF partnered with the Milk with Dignity Program to elevate their potential.  Together, we turned our first site visit to Vermont into a funder tour, putting Milk with Dignity on the map and gaining the program new funders.  Kike Balcazar, Milk with Dignity’s lead organizer, was nominated by ATF for the Discount Foundation’s Legacy Award, which honors unsung heroes fighting for the rights of low-wage workers. He won the award and delivered a moving call to action to a room of hundreds of leaders in philanthropy in the acceptance ceremony.  ATF also brought Milk with Dignity organizers to the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders Conference to teach funders to center labor rights in their food systems interventions. In our next phase we will support more grassroots organizations building transformative interventions, giving them the kind of support they need to succeed. 

Sex Workers Project

The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center is a unique organization at the intersection of sex worker rights and anti-trafficking that the Oak Foundation has long supported. In 2017, the Sex Workers Project went through a leadership transition and hired a new Director with experience as a sex worker and as a human rights lawyer. ATF provided moral support, listening, and capacity development through this transition, to ensure the longevity of this important organization. 

As RJ Thompson, the new SWP Director, reflected, “ATF’s Sienna Baskin is one of the only funders in the United States consistently educating and advocating for the philanthropic sector, especially foundation funders, to move resources to the sex worker rights movement in the U.S.  She understands this is a labor and worker rights issue, a migrant rights issue, a racial justice issue and a sexual liberation issue.  ATF has grown the grantee cohort to include more sex worker rights organizations, as well as domestic worker and farm worker rights organizations.  Their ability to bring different worker rights movements together to combat human trafficking from a human rights and harm reduction frame is the best solution short and long term to ending human trafficking.”

As part of our cohort of grantees, SWP connected with peer organizations who had gone through leadership transitions and had lessons to offer. SWP eagerly engaged with our capacity-building offerings: communications and fundraising training, as well as executive coaching for RJ. With our resources, RJ brought SWP through an assessment and alignment process, building trust internally and getting ready for growth. With new funding coming in, SWP has recently expanded into a national organization. RJ reflected, “The support SWP has received from ATF has been crucial.  Beyond the grant, ATF’s understanding of the holistic needs of a growing NGO, rooted in Sienna’s lived experience as an NGO Director, proved invaluable to SWP in times of both struggle and abundance.   I am forever grateful to ATF for their care, support, guidance and strategic thinking.”

Freedom Network USA

The Freedom Network USA is a crucial part of the human rights infrastructure in the US. In 2017, FNUSA had few funders and was evolving from a largely volunteer-run network of nonprofits to a staffed organization. 

ATF connected the Freedom Network USA staff with other grantees contemplating how to foster collaboration and network strength, and made this a topic for our peer learning webinars. FNUSA decided to lead its own strategic planning process with consultant guidance made possible by an additional grant from NEO and the Oak Foundation, enabling FNUSA to settle into its new shape and leadership model. FNUSA enthusiastically joined our cohort-wide Communications Initative, and is now able to take a strong role in advising the field on narrative and messaging. 

Jean Bruggeman, ED of FNUSA reflected, “ATF has not only provided the critical unrestricted, multi-year funding but also the strategic counsel and collaboration that has supported Freedom Network USA’s 500 percent growth over the past 5 years. ATF’s support in developing our communications capacity and expertise has enabled FNUSA to effectively combat racism, xenophobia, and misogyny in human trafficking disinformation campaigns launched by the former Administration and QAnon. Overall, ATF provides critical financial, strategic, and social support for the human rights-based approach, at a critical time in the political history of the US.”

In the past four years, we have made mistakes, learned and iterated. We learned that it is not always easy for small nonprofits to absorb capacity building opportunities – especially if they don’t match the culture or learning style of the organization. We learned that it is hard for grassroots organizations to compete for national dollars, even when they are generating the ideas and changes that we need.    These reflections and lessons strengthen our resolve to keep funding this important work.  While we consider the possible futures of the Fund, we know we will continue to champion excluded and exploited workers and their vision for a world in which all can thrive. 

“Sienna and ATF know what it takes to work with and in close proximity to precarious communities that have been marginalized, isolated and demonized. Their passion for not only justice, but also transformation of landscapes that cultivate exploitation, shines through in all their work.”

Tom Fritzsche

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