A New, Powerful, and Representative Anti-Slavery Movement Led by Women and Survivors

Around the world today, an estimated 40 million people live in conditions akin to “modern slavery,” from girls forced into marriage or sex trafficking to laborers and migrants working in exploitative conditions in fishing, factories, and fields. Over 70% of victims are women and girls. Yet, very few anti-slavery organizations acknowledge or support women and survivors as leaders, even when their perspectives are needed the most.

In 2020, the Freedom Fund engaged Dalberg to design and build a first-of-its-kind leadership curriculum focused exclusively on front-line anti-slavery workers—women and survivor leaders who have traditionally been excluded from positions of leadership and influence. Starting in South India, the Freedom Rising program sought to support 60 emerging and established leaders in building their skills in organizational sustainability, self-aware leadership, resilience, and trauma-informed programming. During a preparatory online phase (designed and launched due to COVID) and then a year-long in-person program composed of four week-long residentials, the participants—70% of whom were women—went through an immersive and transformational leadership experience. Participants focused first on the self, then on how they work within their teams, how they can support organizational sustainability, and, ultimately, how they can drive movements and champion systemic change. 

The success of Freedom Rising was clear in participants’ sense of growth of their skill sets and in their overall rating of the experience. The program helped build, for the first time, a collaborative sense among organizations that were until then quite fragmented.

It helped raise awareness among established leaders regarding how they model inclusion and sensitivity to support young, female, emerging leaders. Moreover, the program created a space for the first time for both emerging and established leaders to learn from each other and to reflect on the difficult issues of gender, caste, and power. 

For Dalberg, working with Freedom Fund to design and implement Freedom Rising underscored the importance of bringing a trauma lens to working with leaders who were survivors themselves. In addition, adapting a curriculum—in the midst of COVID—to an audience that was primarily Tamil speaking, some of whom had never used Zoom before, meant that we needed to find creative ways to facilitate sessions. Dalberg and Freedom Fund also recognized the need to link the program with Freedom Fund’s separate technical skill building, as women and survivors would need computer literacy, report writing skills, and knowledge of the law and English to truly advance up the leadership chain. 

By supporting frontline leaders individually, Freedom Rising is strengthening and diversifying anti-slavery organizations while aiming to build a stronger and more inclusive anti-slavery movement that emphasizes collaboration and continuity. Drawing on this initial success—and valuable lessons learned—the program is currently expanding to North India and Brazil, with future rollouts planned for Nepal and Myanmar. 

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