21 October 2014

The Power of “Soft Power”

          The concept of “power” is frequently used but rarely is understood in all of its intricacies. How often in academic literature, political debates and even personal conversations do we ascribe power to a person or group without really discussing what this entails? In what ways is power expressed and how do we know when a person or group has power? Within the anti-human trafficking movement it is easy to fall prey to feelings of powerlessness. In our efforts to confront this global atrocity, the power of states, the power of the global economic system and the power of traffickers themselves may all seem superior to any power we possess. I would strongly argue, however, that the power of the anti-trafficking movement is quite formidable, especially if we know where to look.

Joseph S. Nye, a Harvard professor, famously introduced the concept of soft power and hard power into the academic and political worlds during the late 1980s, and suggested that power is not simply the capacity to coerce others into behaving in a certain manner such as through military force and economic strength. Rather, power also entails the capacity to attract and persuade others into behaving a particular way. While Nye focused his astute analysis primarily on states, we can extend this way of looking at power into the anti-trafficking movement. No one would ever argue that the movement possesses sufficient hard power to bring about positive changes. Chab Dai is certainly not going to threaten a state with military strikes, nor is any other nongovernmental organization. Instead, the anti-trafficking movement excels in the use of soft power and, in this sense, our power is continuously growing. 

In a multitude of contexts, through various public and private campaigns, the movement has produced positive changes in the fight against human trafficking. Take, for example, the U.S. TIP Report; while it is certainly produced and enforced by a state, it arguably would not exist at all if not for the soft power of the anti-trafficking movement. In order to create this revolutionary tool (putting aside arguments about its effectiveness or shortcomings), it was necessary to first persuade American politicians to enact appropriate legislation. This was not a victory due to the hard power of the anti-trafficking movement; the TIP reports are the direct result of the development and effective use of soft power. Not convinced? Numerous companies are now attempting to certify that their supply chains are “slave free.” This is remarkable, considering the fact that the exploitation of workers can often be concealed by major corporations fairly easily.   

Moreover, the use of exploited labour can potentially offer significant savings in labour costs for the company. Nevertheless, the soft power of the anti-trafficking movement is producing positive changes (check out FreeTheSlaves for more details). Still dubious? Thanks to the magic of “Google trends” we can see that “human trafficking,” as a search term, has steadily increased since 2004. Why does this matter? It shows that people are becoming more interested in the issue. While this clearly does not constitute an academic study, it is quite reasonable to suggest that the soft power of the anti-trafficking movement is attracting or persuading greater numbers of people of the worthiness of our cause. After all, more and more people are choosing to educate themselves on the issue, and global support is needed to effectively fight this global problem.

So the next time you find yourself wondering if we really stand a chance against the power of those who promote or benefit from human trafficking, take a closer look around at the victories being won due to the soft power of the movement. While Joseph S. Nye may argue that soft power brought down the Berlin Wall, I would argue it can also end human trafficking.

By Tyler Girard, Strategic Planning Officer for Chab Dai

09 October 2014

Celebrating a Community of More Than 1,000 Advocates! (Join Today)

The Freedom Collaborative and Freedom Registry Story

The vision of this project is to see the global anti-trafficking movement increase its capacity to collaborate, develop inter-country and cross-border referral mechanisms and learn from one another on evidence-based practices and emerging issues.

Evidenced-based practice was drawn from many years of implementing a grassroots level coalition in Cambodia working together to end trafficking and slavery.

Chab Dai’s Freedom Registry project began in 2009. While contextualizing the organization’s ethos and vision in the development of Chab Dai USA, we carried out research among the anti-trafficking movement on the gaps that existed.

The result was a need for a registry with vetted organisations  that could be used as a mapping tool and searchable referral mechanism.

This was initially piloted in 2011 among  U.S. stakeholders, and subsequently launched to the public in March 2012.

Global Expansion

In December 2013,  the full platform, including the Freedom Registry, was launched internationally and integrated with the additional tools of Freedom Library, Freedom News and Freedom Dialogues as the all-encompassing Freedom Collaborative.

As of today, this is how the community of anti-trafficking and anti-slavery movement are using the platform:


1,007 Registered Individual Users from

135 Countries  who have registered

926 Organisations from diverse program focus within the 4 P's
Protection: 574
Prosecution: 42

Spending 2,775 total hours on the platform


2,087 User-added studies, reports, journal articles, laws, articles, books and videos. from

245 Countries and territories, in

29 Languages

Expanding into the Future

After years of working with our partners, building grassroots organisations and developing Freedom Collaborative, we still see so much potential for growth that will see the platform expand from its current form into an interactive, macro-level tool that helps us address human trafficking and slavery from a multi-sectoral perspective working not only in victim referral mechanisms but also developing tools to suppress the environment that allows and enables slavery to flourish in this world.

Watch this space…

07 October 2014

Telling Better Stories: Where "Compassion Campaigns" Fail

Have you ever faced the challenge of summarizing a very complex issue in a succinct yet engaging manner? I have. When I was visiting home recently, I was asked about my work in counter-trafficking and what is it that I do.  I always appreciate these moments and try to share information on human trafficking and Chab Dai's work in raising the standards of care for vulnerable people and building collaboration. I can think of many examples, such as our support team working on cases of forced marriage in China, the labor cases on Thai fishing boats or the thousands of villagers and community leaders in Cambodia that are now educated on safe migration, human trafficking and/or parenting skills. But these opportunities are also challenging as I try to describe what I've been working on for the past couple of years; a process that has been so challenging and precious that it hard to put into words, let alone a 30 second response.

I found it hard to share these stories in a way that sums up the complexity of these issues in a dignified and non-sensationalist manner. And the more I talk with my peers and colleagues about the reasons for this struggle, the more I realize that others in the field are facing the same challenges. Rachel Kurzyp, the Communications Director at WhyDev, wrote in her blog post, NGOs Need to Tell Better Stories, "When I re-tell these stories and others, I feel conflicted. I want the individuals within the stories to be respected and have dignity. I don’t want them to be viewed as helpless and weak. I try to make sense of their situation the best way I can. But I know the supporters and donors don’t like to read stories without happy endings or pieces that question the world’s inequality and their part in it."

There is almost always an expectation to hear an emotionally charged story with a dramatic rescue and heroic finish. A call to action usually comes through heart-wrenching images such as a powerless woman in a prison cell or a child picking up rubbish at a garbage dump. However, such stories often fall into a narrative of saviors and victims, glorifying images of rescuers during brothel raids while other seemingly more mundane, but equally important, actions go unnoticed. This kind of "compassion" marketing oversimplifies and dilutes the stories of individuals who live in these very complex sets of circumstances.

A proven risk of these "compassion" marketing campaigns is that they end up hurting the very people they set out to help. Many of the people we see in the images and we hear telling their stories end up being re-traumatized from the constant re-living of their experiences or through the stigma they face in their communities if their stories leak out. Another risk of such marketing is that once donors get tired of the same story, they move on to a new one, resulting in a loss of funding that forces projects and cases to close down. 

Many quick-fix campaigns lack a more holistic and long-term solution. They may even misidentify the underlining problems. Even though donations to these programs are given in good faith, the solutions they support in the long run might be creating more dependency rather than true empowerment.

And at the end of the day, the individuals and communities we advocate with and for are the ones who will ultimately either benefit or be deprived.

Still, there are good examples of dignified story-telling and community engagement. Contrary to the scenarios unpacked above, there are organizations and individuals who are conscious of the complexities of working alongside those who are vulnerable. More often than not, these programs run quietly and steadily with the dedication of a team of committed staff and volunteers. I have friends and colleagues who work very hard to bring change to their communities. This gives me hope. Hope that there are good initiatives to be part of with those that are informed by grassroots strategies and can galvanize a community of well-informed people who are committed to a cause that is sustainable, and one that promotes long term engagement and commitment to maintaining the dignity of the very population they serve.

30 September 2014

Does Collaboration Help?: Asking the Hard Questions

At Chab Dai we have been facilitating collaboration and coordination for years, but is that truly enough? Are we really making a difference?

John Kania and Mark Kramer wrote an article discussing collective impact, a difference made through broad cross-sector coordination, which is exactly what Chab Dai aims for. In this paper they cover three case studies: an education initiative, a conservation project and an effort to reduce childhood obesity, all of these are seen as astounding collaborative successes. They found five commonalities between the efforts, all of which are interesting and pretty simple:

1. Common Agenda
The Millennium Development
Goals, do we need these for
human trafficking? 
2. Shared Measurement System
3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities
4. Continuous Communication
5. A Backbone Support Organization

Now let's assess if Chab Dai, as a coalition, has these characteristics.

1. Common Agenda: Yes! In the most general sense, we are committed to addressing issues of abuse, exploitation and trafficking by working together and providing opportunities for learning.

2. Shared Measurement System: We've developed Chab Dai Charter and Freedom Registry, both of which measure organizational capacity across organizations Charter through a shared assessment tool and Freedom Registry through documentation of national good practices.

What about shared impact measurement? These are a start, but globally I'd advocate for some type of Millennium Development Goals system for trafficking to get everyone on the same page for at least the first 3 of these 5 aspects. An ambitious goal, but certainly possible.

3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Absolutely; coordination and referrals are our specialty.

4. Continuous Communication: In Cambodian culture, collectivism thrives in a formal and informal sense. We achieve this not only through forums, member meetings and emails, but it's the very core of our coalition and Freedom Collaborative project.

5. Backbone Support Organization: We've actually been expanding more and more from coordination support into capacity-building support for our local Khmer member organizations. Freedom Collaborative aims to be a backbone tool for the global movement.

Kevin Bales says only .0043 percent of the global population is affected by human trafficking. That's .0043 percent too much, but it does make the problem seem surmountable. This is something we can eradicate. If, then, we are indeed using a model that is proven to work, why are we still addressing trafficking? Can we move on to another issue?

Well let's look back at those case studies. The education initiative was able to show success in 34 of 53 indicators, which is great but still only a 64% percent success rate. An education initiative, perhaps shouldn't see a D grade as success.  

The conservation project was able to protect and restore 1,000 acres and 27 species are now thriving. However, this took 15 years and included perhaps one of the most powerful partners around, the U.S. Navy's 1,000 acres is also a tiny fraction of the millions of acres of land under threat around the world.

The childhood obesity reduction effort was able, over it's first year, to reduce "approximately one pound of weight gain over 8 months for an 8-year-old child." The effort itself said this result "may seem small."

Now, the conclusion to draw from this is not that collaboration isn't effective or that these case studies are not as successful as they're made out to be. The case studies, and please check them out for yourself, are absolutely impressive and are certainly much more effective than the sum of each stakeholder working independently.

The lesson here is that the work of collaboration addressing any issue is incredibly difficult, and the Chab Dai Coalition is actually doing quite well and more importantly collaboration can make a difference if it's done right. For us, collaboration is difficult in general, which is further compounded by the complexity of trafficking, which is then compounded even further by a Cambodian context with present corruption and lack of resources.

Going up against this, Chab Dai is not just doing well, we are doing really well. Chab Dai, as a previous blog post has mentioned, is a model for countries that are much more developed and are less corrupt than the Kingdom of Wonder, including, from our experience, countries like the U.S. and Canada. If you want further evidence, please check the December 2012 evaluation of our coalition. 

We have seen tremendous growth in our collaborative efforts with other organizations and have witnessed changed lives; empowered women, men and children; educated responses; sustainable opportunities and freedom for thousands. And it has taken the collaboration of NGOs, professionals, practitioners, students, volunteers, the Khmer community and international efforts to get us here. We hope to see more people engage in collective impact in this effort to fight human trafficking. 

23 September 2014

#WhyIStayed and Victim Shaming

Recently, video footage was released that showed Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancée (now wife), Janay Palmer, in an elevator this past February. The video has lead to Rice's release from the Ravens and indefinite suspension from the NFL (which he is appealing), and sparked two social outcries.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
The first criticism circling through the media is regarding the NFL's delayed/lack of action against Rice until the widespread viewing of the footage, and the subsequent accusation that their lax policies on domestic violence are directly allowing such abuse to continue. A valid argument with many supporting examples that demands to be addressed, but this isn't the platform to delve into that conversation.

The purpose of this post is to highlight the second major criticism, one that is not at all unique to the NFL or even domestic violence: victim blaming/shaming.

Victim blaming occurs whenever the victim of a crime or abuse or other wrongdoing is held responsible, at least in part, for the actions of the perpetrator. Have you heard the claim that a woman who has been raped shouldn't have been wearing such a short dress? Or that a store owner who was robbed brought it on himself because he forgot to lock the door? Or recently, when celebrities' intimate photos were stolen and leaked online that those individuals should have been more careful where they stored such personal files? All absurd claims. All victim blaming. The ONLY person responsible for a crime is the person who committed it.

Let me be very clear. If someone hurts you, be it physically, verbally, emotionally (including use of manipulation) or otherwise, it is not your fault. You are not culpable for the actions of others. Period.

Ray Rice, former Baltimore Raven
After the video of Rice and Palmer surfaced, a lot of people started speaking out with statements like, “I can't believe she still married him after that” and “Well, she lunged at him before he hit her, so it's partially her fault.” No. It's not Palmer's fault that Rice, a very strong professional athlete, struck her so hard that she fell unconscious to the floor and had to be dragged out of the elevator, completely limp. I don't care what they were arguing about. I don't care if he'd had a rough day. I don't care if she said something that hurt his feelings. His behavior was unacceptable and was also 100% not her fault. Ray Rice is the sole individual in charge of what his own fists do and don't hit.

As the shaming amped up, Beverly Gooden decided she needed to respond. As a former victim of domestic abuse, she understands the nuances involved in a relationship involving violence, and knew she needed to spread some awareness. So she headed over to Twitter and began sending out reasons for #WhyIStayed. The hashtag took off, with people all over contributing their own stories of why they stayed in a violent situation. If you want to read some of those, I'd encourage you to start with this article. Stories include elements of fear, manipulation, believing they deserved the abuse, love for their partners. They reveal the complexities of relationships and how it's not a simple matter of just walking away. There are multiple layers to any such situation, and it's not always clear how to best handle them – and that's assuming the victim can even recognize they are being abused and acknowledge they should be treated differently.

Why does this topic belong on a blog written by a counter-trafficking organization? Because these same tactics – fear, manipulation, physical restraint, threatening loved ones or children – are used by traffickers to control their victims. Additionally, many victims of trafficking believe they are in love with their abusers. They often willingly enter into a relationship with the trafficker, seeing him or her as a boyfriend or girlfriend, seeking love and acceptance and approval they've previously been denied, not realizing they are being prepped for exploitation. By the time the abuse sets in, victims can't see it, can't cope with it, won't accept or address it, and will deny that it is even an issue.

So, then, when an outsider makes the statement of, “Why doesn't she just leave?” it's not only insensitive, it's also ignorant. Think of the bond created between lovers, and the devotion that develops as the relationship strengthens. You're committed to that person, and willing/desirous to see life through with them, no matter what. Those same elements still exist when domestic violence or trafficking occurs. Those desires to please your significant other, to work out whatever “struggles” arise, to overcome “challenges” your relationship may face. When struggles and challenges take the form of abuse, the bond/devotion/love doesn't just go away.

That's also why so many victims return to their traffickers. The emotional connection they feel and the elements of fear/manipulation engrained in them keep pulling them back. Until we can understand that, at least on a logical level if not an empathetic one, we cannot begin to offer any real relief from abuse. The psychological hold is a difficult one to break, worse than any substance addiction you might experience.

So the next time you see someone locked into a cycle of abuse, don't respond with condemnation and accusation. Unless you've been there yourself, you have no idea what they're going through. Let's stop blaming victims for the actions of their abusers and adding yet another element of guilt on top of their already-weighty emotional state. Whatever you think about Janay Palmer's decision to go through with her marriage to Ray Rice and to stand by him as he appeals his suspension, you're looking at the situation as an outsider. Try to remember that.