Lessons Learned from Inaugural Programs
In 2018, the Global Fund launched its first projects, with the support of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. This inaugural portfolio focused on sex trafficking in India, the Philippines, and Vietnam, forced labor in India’s construction industry, and exploitation and abuse of overseas migrant workers in the Philippines and Vietnam.
This report is a reflection on key lessons the Global Fund learned over four years of research, programming, adaptation, and partnership. Looking back on what these projects achieved and where they fell short, taking the time to examine learnings, both anticipated and unanticipated – these are necessary steps to make real and sustainable progress towards ending modern slavery.
Strengthening Criminal Justice Systems for Trafficking Victims in Maharashtra
India is a global hotspot for trafficking of women and minors for commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), and Maharashtra, as its financial and commercial capital, is one of the largest destinations for CSE in the country¹. While obtaining reliable estimates of the number of minor sex trafficking victims has historically been challenging owing to the hidden nature of this population, a 2020 study funded by GFEMS found that child victims comprised approximately 27% of the commercial sex industry in Maharashtra.
There is significant government will to combat sex trafficking in the state. However, the majority of key criminal justice actors lack the necessary attitudes, skills, and resources to effectively investigate and prosecute traffickers and protect survivors.
Between 2018 and 2022, GFEMS supported a series of anti-trafficking research and programming efforts focused on tackling commercial sexual exploitation in South Asia. This brief highlights key learnings from GFEMS-funded efforts to build the capacity of judicial and law enforcement stakeholders in Maharashtra to effectively investigate, prosecute, and try trafficking cases, led by implementing partners International Justice Mission (IJM) and Vipla Foundation. Findings from this programming inform recommendations to institutionalize trauma-informed and child-friendly practices among criminal justice actors and to strengthen more coordinated justice delivery mechanisms for trafficking survivors.
For more findings and recommendations, download the brief.
This research was funded by a grant from the US Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.
You Cannot Give from an Empty Cup: How One Anti-Trafficking Organization Centers Mental Health
This post is co-authored with staff from Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART).
It’s Thursday at 3 pm.
Like every Thursday afternoon, staff gather in a small conference room in Nairobi’s city center. Their casual chatter fades as the session’s facilitator enters. She smiles before she opens with her familiar greeting, “So, how do you feel?”
This meeting between staff and therapist has been a routine part of the HAART workweek for the last one year. Though not required, staff from all departments regularly attend. There is no formal structure or predetermined agenda. Rather, the sessions are just a way of checking in with staff, of making sure that they are ok.
The Global Fund may not be a direct service provider, but our partner Awareness Against Human Trafficking -HAART is. They have been supporting survivors of human trafficking in Kenya for over a decade- from basic needs support to psychosocial counseling to economic empowerment activities.
They work daily with girls, boys, men and women who have been abused or exploited and who are working to overcome that trauma. It’s rewarding and necessary work, for sure. But it can take a toll, and that toll can be greater than any even realize. As one member of the HAART team recalls, “I did not know I was experiencing secondary trauma, until during one of our debriefing sessions that I noticed I showed symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
While those who work directly with survivors understand the significance of mental health services for survivors, most give far less attention to their own mental wellbeing.
The daily stresses of the job are commonly overshadowed by the mission. For example, as HAART staff attest, direct service work is filled with uncertainties. “One-minute a survivor is okay, the next they are having suicidal ideation. You never know when you will receive a call for a rescue.” There is comfort in predictability. And uncertainty, especially when it is a constant, can create anxiety. But treating that anxiety is rarely top of mind when a survivor in your program is battling suicidal thoughts.
That anxiety is often exacerbated by an organization’s own limitations. There is only so much any one can do. HAART works with survivors to understand their needs and then tries to balance that with what the organization can provide.
While HAART provides counseling, training, economic assistance, school fees, health services, and legal aid to survivors, funds for victim assistance are very limited.
Staff often have to prioritize what kind of assistance to provide despite wanting to do more. And that too can be draining.
When these are your typical workday challenges- when hearing trafficking experiences recounted and watching the struggles of recovery is “just another day at the office,” mental health support must similarly be part of the job. At HAART, it is.
It’s quite admirable really to see how much emphasis HAART puts on staff mental wellbeing. Several years ago, after realizing that staff burnout was not tied to case load but to the nature of the work, HAART committed to doing more to make sure its staff were taking care of themselves, mentally and emotionally. They began small- organizing all staff hiking trips, moving office meetings outdoors, practicing yoga together. And, like all good practitioners, they listened to feedback and adapted to do better.
Since then, HAART has added two full-time mental health professionals to its team.
These professionals engage staff in group sessions, including weekly departmental-level check-ins, and provide one-on-one support for any staff who want it. There is no limit to how many sessions staff can access. Managers too keep regular meetings with their staff. Even when there’s not much to discuss, the check-ins say a lot. The opportunity to chat with a supervisor not just about work but about life helps staff “feel valued.”
Mental health is not just a focus at the top, though advice to take time off and turn off after work hours has certainly helped foster that culture. Staff have their own self-care routines; they journal, they swim, they meditate, some even make dance videos. But what’s more, particularly for the protection team, they each have an accountability partner- a person who holds them accountable for making sure self-care remains a priority.
It’s human life, and that’s a feeling of responsibility that doesn’t end with the work day.
Of course, there are times when even an accountability partner is not enough. And those days when it seems impossible to abide the best-laid guidance for mental wellbeing. As HAART staff are always aware, “it’s human life,” and that’s a feeling of responsibility that doesn’t end with the work day.
However, staff are more aware of the benefits of taking care of self- a consequence of embedding mental health in HAART’s workplace culture. Morale is higher, productivity is greater. Decision-making is easier. Knowing that the work requires quick response and that those responses impact the lives of survivors, staff report they are able to make decisions with more clarity and confidence. All of that matters, not just for staff but for all those they work with. And that is why HAART continues to prioritize mental health, for as they frequently remind each other, “You cannot give from an empty cup.”
When Risks are High but Need is Great: Migration and Child Trafficking in Karamoja, Uganda
The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery is currently funding the Community Action to End Child Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation project to improve prevention and response to child sex trafficking in Karamoja, Uganda. As part of this project, ICF and the Department of Social Work and Social Administration, Makerere University recently conducted a household survey to measure knowledge, attitudes, and practices around child sex trafficking in the region and to estimate the prevalence of children at risk of and engaged in sex trafficking. The final sample included 986 households (adults) and 830 children aged 12 to 17. For more on research methodology, see our previous post.
**The audio included in this post is a composite narrative; it is based on research findings and does not depict any individual story. It incorporates feedback from the Global Fund’s local partners, Terre des Hommes Netherlands and Dwelling Places, and their project participants.
Karamoja in northeast Uganda is classified as one of the world’s poorest areas. Over sixty percent of its 1.2 million people live in poverty, making Karamoja the least socially and economically developed region in Uganda. In a recent household survey in Napak district, Karamoja, nearly two-thirds of children reported they went to sleep hungry one, two, or three nights in the last week. Indeed, food insecurity remains one of the region’s greatest challenges- one that is intensifying with shifting climate conditions. A study examining changes in the region from 1981 to 2015 found rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall, a trend likely to impose dire consequences in a region where livelihoods –cattle-raising and agriculture- are tied directly to the land.
These same livelihood-sustaining activities have influenced a culture of migration in the region. Groups have long migrated with their livestock to mobile cattle camps, referred to locally as kraals, during the dry season. However, in more recent years, there has been a change in migration patterns. Increasingly, it is children who are leaving Karamoja. Faced with chronic poverty and few options, Karamoja’s youth are leaving to find better opportunities for themselves and their families in Uganda’s urban centers. Indeed, nearly one-fifth of children recently surveyed in Karamoja believe that migrating is the only way to make enough money to survive.
Though many young people consider migration their best or only option, migration presents its own risks. Arriving in cities with no money and no family, migrant children are preyed upon by traffickers eager to exploit this vulnerability. An estimated 90% of children living on the streets or in other vulnerable conditions in Kampala are from Karamoja. Children are exploited in forced begging, domestic work, and commercial sex brothels. Recently, there have been reports of children from Karamoja being sold at markets for 20,000-50,000 UGX ($5.48- $13.70). Among children surveyed in Karamoja, the majority expressed an understanding of the risks associated with migration- many worried they would not make any money, nor have enough food to eat. Others feared they might contract a disease, be beaten, or trafficked for sex. Many children reported that migration brought the risk of being separated from friends and family forever. Yet, despite an awareness of these risks, children from Karamoja continue to migrate.
LISTEN: STORIES FROM KARAMOJA
Adults and children participating in the survey nearly universally agreed in the importance of education, but most children in Karamoja do not regularly attend school. Almost 60% of the children surveyed had not completed primary school while a further 38% of child respondents had no formal schooling at all. The overall literacy rate for the region stands at just 25% (compared to a national average of 68%.)
Evidence shows that girls kept out of school are more likely to bear children at an early age, an outcome with tremendous and long-lasting educational, social, and economic impact. Surveyed boys and girls who reported they had never attended school were significantly more likely to agree that migration is the only way to make enough money to survive. For these children, migration is their only option, no matter the risk.
School is not a priority for many families in the region whose livelihoods are tied to livestock and agriculture. Even as nearly all parents agreed that attending school would enable their children to make more money in the future, parents expect their children will graze cattle and engage in other household-sustaining activities. Almost half of parents surveyed believe that children should begin participating in elejileij or income-generating activities between the ages of 12 and 15. More than 40% of adults believe that it is good for a child under age 18 to migrate in pursuit of food and money.
While expecting their children to earn for the household, parents also expressed an understanding of the risks that migration carries, including children not making any money, not having enough food to eat, contracting a disease, or being beaten. More than half of adults believe that children who leave home often end up being sexually exploited for commercial gain. Although many adults expect children to generate income, either locally or in another town, those surveyed nearly universally agreed that parents must protect their children from people taking advantage of and hurting them. Given that many parents recognize the risks of migration but still think it is good for children to migrate, it may be that they believe that earning experience is key to their long-term ability to avoid harm. Or it may be that, for many, there seems little alternative. The risk of remaining at home is as great as leaving. In other words, people living in extreme deprivation may look for hope elsewhere even when they are aware of risks.
LISTEN: STORIES FROM KARAMOJA
A child’s risk of exploitation is influenced by other factors. In Karamoja, research shows that the relationship between child and caregiver is significant. Children that are ridiculed by caregivers are far more likely to be involved in child sex trafficking that those who are not. More than one third of the children surveyed in Karamoja reported being ridiculed or put down by their caregivers. Having a close friend exploited in sex trafficking also indicates a high level of vulnerability- nearly one-fifth of children surveyed in Karamoja have at least one friend who has been exploited in child sex trafficking. Researchers found that keeping secrets from a caregiver is another significant predictor that a child might be involved in sex trafficking. Significantly, responses showed that caregivers underestimate how often their children keep secrets from them.
Drawing on results of the household survey and children’s and parents’ responses, researchers estimate that one out of every five children in Napak are at high risk of sex trafficking.
LISTEN: STORIES FROM KARAMOJA
The research conducted in Napak district produced alarming results. But it also produced evidence to help us build more targeted interventions. Read more about our programming to combat child sex trafficking in Napak district here.
Research and programs referenced in this article are funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.
“It Takes a Village”: Engaging the Community to End Child Trafficking
In September 2021, our partners in Uganda, Terre des Hommes Netherlands (TdH NL) and Dwelling Places, hosted the first-ever National Dialogue on Child Trafficking. While diplomats, Government leaders, media representatives, and civil society organizations (CSOs) gathered to take stock of Uganda’s collective response to child trafficking, three young girls from Napak District in northeast Uganda joined to raise their voices.
One of these girls, joining virtually and speaking off camera, described the circumstances that led her to leave Karamoja. She had gone to Nairobi to escape hunger at home and earn enough money to pursue the education her parents could not afford. She was also fleeing an impending marriage, forced to enter a union to which she objected. Demonstrating that they were indeed more than their stories of exploitation and survival, these three young girls took the opportunity to press for action.
The girls asked the leaders in attendance to bring their friends- children still being exploited in Nairobi- back home to Uganda. They then requested steps be taken to support children from Karamoja, Napak District to access education. Many children dropped out of school because their parents could not afford the fees. The girls pondered why Karamoja saw so many of its children trafficked and why so many migrated from the region only to end up in child labor, begging, or sexual exploitation.
The State Minister for Disaster Preparedness, the Guest of Honor, offered a response to the girls. She called on the private sector to do its part to end child trafficking and advised civil society organizations to harmonize and coordinate services to ensure all survivors receive the same standard of care and protection. She committed her Ministry to provide food relief for survivors at the Koblin rehabilitation centre in Napak District; and she pledged her advocacy on behalf of education for children in Karamoja. Addressing the girls, she promised the government would do more to end child trafficking.
The following week, in Karamoja, TdH NL facilitated the participation of eight children in the first Annual Stakeholders’ feedback meeting, an opportunity to give feedback on the GFEMS-funded TdH NL project and share their opinions and recommendations. To the Resident District Commissioner, the District Chairperson, the District Education Officer, and other local Government leaders, to the child protection champions, teachers and administrators, and religious and cultural leaders in attendance, the children made several requests. They asked for the continuation of trainings and dialogues on positive parenting to sensitize parents and caregivers on risks of child trafficking. They also requested stricter enforcement of laws against child trafficking, and asked for support and advocacy to change harmful cultural practices and social norms. In addition, they requested more opportunities for their voices to be heard in discussions on how to protect children.
But the children were not done. In one last urgent appeal, they requested that the Government reopen schools immediately. For children in the region, these young advocates explained, schools play a critical role in preventing child trafficking and sexual exploitation. Recognizing the significance of schools in protecting children, the District Education Officer committed to working with local groups to provide access to education until the nation’s schools re-open. Amongst an audience of local officials and decision-makers, these children made their voices heard.
TdH NL and Dwelling Places (TdH NL’s implementing partner) have been working to prevent child sex trafficking in the Napak district of Karamoja and other hot spots in Eastern Uganda since 2014. It is from this experience that TdH NL and Dwelling Places have learned the value and necessity of listening to children most affected by the issue and supporting them to be agents of change in their communities. Indeed, engaging children and youth to combat sexual exploitation and abuse has been and remains a defining feature of TdH NL’s programming, and it may be the most critical. It is part of a comprehensive strategy to protect Karamoja’s children, a strategy that calls the entire community to action to end child trafficking.
A Community at Risk
Karamoja is a young population. The average age is just 15 years old. It is also a growing population. On average, a woman in Karamoja will give birth to eight children, much higher than a national average of five children and soaring above Kampala’s average of three children. With a poverty rate among the highest in the world and a literacy rate of just 25%, Karamoja’s children confront various challenges that put them at increased risk of exploitation.
To reduce these vulnerabilities, TdH NL and Dwelling Places, with funding from the Global Fund, are creating referral, response, and reporting mechanisms to build a “protective shield” for 2,000 children in Karamoja. They are engaging children, parents, teachers, survivors, community leaders, and law enforcement to raise awareness of child trafficking risks, enhance prevention and monitoring, and shift harmful cultural norms. Protecting Karamoja’s children, now and in the future, requires participation and support of the entire community. This is what our partners are working to do.
Building Community Awareness
In the communities of Karamoja, this begins with raising awareness. Community dialogues are at the core of TdH NL’s awareness-raising activities. These are an opportunity for community members to learn more about what makes children susceptible to trafficking or exploitation and what families and the community can do to better protect their children. Building from the findings in a recent Global Fund commissioned study on child sex trafficking, parents are made aware of behaviors and interactions that can negatively affect their children and even contribute to increasing vulnerabilities to trafficking or exploitation. For example, findings show that children who are ridiculed by caregivers are far more likely to be involved in child sex trafficking than those who are not. Among children surveyed in Karamoja, more than one third reported being ridiculed or put down by their caregivers. (See our previous post for more research findings.) For many participants, TdH NL reported, the training was a real “eye-opener”, revealing links between parent-child relationships and trafficking risks. When TdH NL introduced positive parenting messaging, parents were receptive. They pledged to change their behavior and relation to their children, and committed to sharing positive parenting messaging with others in their communities.
Building awareness means educating parents and community members on risk factors for child trafficking and how to reduce those risks. But it also means changing cultural norms that harm children. Girls in particular experience high rates of gender-based violence, fueled by its widespread cultural acceptance in the region. Early marriage or forced marriage is common. Married young, it is more likely a girl will not earn an education, experience poor health, have more children over her lifetime, and earn less in adulthood. In other words, she becomes more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Boys too suffer the consequences of entrenched gender norms. Traditional perceptions of male masculinity contribute to a culture of repression, silence, and continued exploitation for young boys who fall victim to child trafficking. Findings from a recent Global Fund commissioned study on child trafficking indicate that boys are just as likely to be trafficking victims as girls, but this is a largely unseen and unreported problem. Reluctant to report, boys are unlikely to receive the support they need to recover. Community dialogues explain the harm that such culturally-accepted practices can inflict and encourage participants to rethink practices and customs that put children at risk. Local religious and cultural leaders- community members who hold incredible sway and garner trust in Karamojong villages- are encouraged to lead change.
Significantly, community dialogues are not a one-way conversation. Participants share their experiences and concerns, feedback that is critical to building programs that work best for Karamojong communities. While explaining the challenges that families and children in Karamoja confront, including food insecurity and hunger, raids, unemployment, high dropout rates and low enrollment in schools, forced marriage, and peer pressure, community members also offer insight on what can be done to make their children less vulnerable. In multiple dialogues, for example, participants expressed that children needed more opportunities for education or vocational training. The indefinite closure of schools in response to the pandemic has made children even more vulnerable, a trend that will certainly outlast the outbreak as 30 percent of Ugandan learners are likely never to return to school.
Turning Awareness into Action
While raising awareness of the risks and signs of child trafficking or exploitation is a critical first step in protecting a community’s children, it is not enough. Community members must know how to respond. Information on where and how to report child trafficking is shared during community dialogues, but TdH NL also conducts more targeted outreach. They train teachers and administrators throughout Napak district to monitor for exploitation- for example, to pay attention to attendance and behavior patterns and to take action against it. Most critically, students and youth are engaged to play an active role in prevention, monitoring, and response.
As members of Community Child Rights Clubs (CCRCs), peer support groups facilitated by TdH NL, young Karamojongs learn about their rights and actions that violate them; they are taught about reporting and referring mechanisms; and they are encouraged to share this knowledge with other young people in their communities. Adults, including teachers, serve as club patrons and Child Protection Champions or child advocates supporting the CCRCs. To date, this project has supported the establishment of 35 CCRCs, engaging more than 680 children and youth.
Children, parents, teachers, survivors, village leaders, government officials- the entire community plays a role in preventing child trafficking. With programs informed by on-the-ground research, our partners are engaging the community to protect Karamoja’s children, and they are changing systems to ensure freedom and opportunity for all children.
To learn more about the Global Fund and how you can get involved, click here.
Programs referenced in this article are funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.
Assessing Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices Regarding Child Sex Trafficking in Coastal Kenya
Victim-blaming is commonplace in Kenya’s coastal counties.
This briefing note presents a summary of methods, findings, and recommendations from a baseline knowledge, attitudes, and practices (KAP) study conducted in coastal Kenya by NORC at the University of Chicago in collaboration with Kantar Public.
As a part of its partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) has launched a series of projects to combat CSEC in Kwale and Kilifi counties. Implemented by Terre des Hommes Netherlands in partnership with Kesho Kenya, the “Building A Future” (BAF) project focuses on implementing community-based prevention methods, formal education for young survivors, skills training and apprenticeships for older survivors, and improving livelihoods for the most vulnerable families. Targeting known sex trafficking hotspots in coastal Kenya, the project works to address both the supply of vulnerable individuals and the enabling environments that allow CSEC to persist.
NORC was contracted by GFEMS to lead an independent impact evaluation to assess whether BAF’s package of community interventions is leading to measurable change in community knowledge, attitudes, and practices vis-à-vis CSEC in coastal Kenya.
The study showed that although generally communities oppose CSEC, There is little sensitivity to or awareness of the negative psychosocial effects CSEC has on victims.
To learn more about the studies’ findings and to see our recommendations, download the briefing:
Prevalence Estimate: Child Sexual Exploitation in Coastal Kenya
Victims report that their parents are largely unaware of their involvement in CSEC.
As a part of its partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office), the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (GFEMS) has launched a series of projects to combat commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in coastal Kenya. NORC at the University of Chicago was contracted by GFEMS to lead an independent research study to obtain pre- and post-intervention point estimates of the count of CSEC victims in Mombasa, Kilifi, and Kwale counties of Kenya.
This briefing presents pre-intervention estimates of CSEC victims in region. The findings were striking, and show a considerable size of the child population is engaged in CSEC.
To see more of our key findings and read our recommendations for risk and prevalence reduction, download the briefing.
How Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices Shape Vulnerability to Child Sex Trafficking in India
West Bengal is a central transit hub for large numbers of vulnerable women and children.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of India, the state of West Bengal witnesses one of the highest levels of child trafficking. Traffickers systematically victimize socioeconomically fragile communities for commercial sexual and labor exploitation. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the region is also facing an increase in cyber trafficking, as traffickers shift their tactics into more hidden means of coercion.
In India, awareness campaigns targeting vulnerable communities have long been employed by government and civil society actors to address vulnerabilities to trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. Despite the widespread use of information campaigns, there is minimal evidence on the effectiveness of behavioral change campaign (BCC) approaches to make communities more resilient  . Seefar—an international NGO with proven anti-trafficking expertise in complex environments—and My Choices Foundation (MCF), a locally-based Indian NGO with a broad grassroots network and pre-existing trafficking prevention model, are testing BCC campaigns and source community-strengthening activities in rural West Bengal. They aim to reach the most vulnerable individuals and communities and empower them to recognize, prevent, and respond to risks of trafficking and exploitation.
This collaboration strengthens traditional prevention programming approaches by integrating analytically rigorous methods for targeting, content design, and assessment. In February 2021, Seefar completed a rigorous household-level baseline study to further inform delivery and content strategies for their BCC programming, and ensure the evaluability of program outcomes. The study found high levels of risk among children and low levels of understanding risk by parents.
Download to learn more about their findings:
 Tjaden, J., S. Morgenstern and F. Laczko (2018), “Evaluating the impact of information campaigns in the field of migration: A systematic review of the evidence and practical guidance”, Central Mediterranean Route Thematic Report Series. International Organization for Migration, Geneva.
 Pocock NS, Kiss L, Dash M, Mak J, Zimmerman C (2020) Challenges to pre-migration interventions to prevent human trafficking: Results from a before-and-after learning assessment of training for prospective female migrants in Odisha, India. PLoS ONE 15(9): e0238778. https://doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pone.0238778
Building Skills and a Better Future: How the Hospitality Sector Can Support Survivors to Achieve Sustainable Employment
“Towering above Mumbai’s upscale commercial hub, Four Seasons combines chic modern style with an intimate, boutique atmosphere and panoramic sea views. Let our expert team connect you with local culture, shopping and entertainment. At day’s end, return to our rooftop AER – Bar and Lounge for sunset cocktails and mingling with Mumbai’s elite.”
The website for the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai sells an experience of luxury and indulgence, one that appeals to many travellers, both foreign and domestic. But it is not one that youth often imagine themselves a part of, especially youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Though many young people may not envision their futures in a five-star hotel, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance (the Alliance) understands the tremendous opportunity that the hospitality industry affords. Unlike many other sectors, the bar for entry into the hospitality sector is not set at education or even job experience. Rather, there is a unique appreciation for self-confidence, on-the-job training and practical skills development that opens the hospitality industry to youth of any background. The Alliance works with hotel members and philanthropic, government, nonprofit, and private sector partners across the globe to connect young people with these opportunities. In helping youth develop skills to advance in the hospitality sector or related professions, the Alliance is reducing youth vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation and supporting young people to achieve financial security and a better future.
In 2020, 1 in 5 youth were not in employment, education or training (NEET). This number continues to rise as the world struggles under the weight of a global pandemic. In many cases, youth were the first let go during economic shutdowns- 1 in 6 are estimated to have lost their jobs since the outbreak began. While one month of being unemployed at age 18-20 can cause a permanent income loss of 2% in the future, poverty, malnutrition and financial insecurity are the consequences youth experience more immediately. Confronting increasingly desperate circumstances, young people are more susceptible to exploitation, abuse, and modern slavery.
Despite the heavy blow that COVID-related travel restrictions and national lockdowns dealt to the industry, hospitality can play a critical role in recovery. It remains an important driver of economic growth and job opportunities, and provides young people the chance to develop skills and experience to ensure sustainable employment, within the industry and beyond. Though GFEMS partnership with the Alliance began in 2018, the devastating effects of COVID have highlighted the significance of the intervention. In supporting young people to develop professional and personal skills and practical experience, the Alliance is building youth resilience and empowering young people with greater control over their futures.
A Partnership to Reduce Youth Vulnerabilities and Support Young Survivors
The Alliance initiated its youth employment program in 2004 to support at-risk youth (ages 18-24), including those from impoverished communities or low-income families, those living with disabilities, survivors of human trafficking, and refugees, to achieve sustainable employment. Viewing hospitality as a solution to the problem of youth unemployment, the Alliance has forged partnerships with over 200 hotels in four countries since it began 15 years ago. To date, over 6,000 young people have graduated from the Alliance’s youth employment program.
GFEMS partnered with the Alliance as part of its anti-trafficking efforts in Vietnam and Maharashtra, India, two regions with high prevalence of sex trafficking. Through this partnership, the Alliance is directly engaging survivors and at-risk individuals in its employment program, and supporting them to develop skills and experience to make them less vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. While this project is making a difference in the lives of the youth it engages, it is also informing the development of a model to be scaled and replicated across countries and industries.
A Program to Build Survivor Skills and Confidence
The Alliance’s youth employment program begins and ends at partnership. To be successful and sustainable, it needs both hotels to conduct practical training and community organizations to connect young people with the opportunity. To build these partnerships, the Alliance first conducts workshops in the region of operation to introduce representatives of hotels and local nonprofits to the program and share best practices for working with survivors. Participating nonprofit partners, including anti-trafficking organizations and youth shelters, commit to mobilizing survivors and at-risk youth for the program. (Some even travelling to harder-to-reach but high prevalence areas to engage vulnerable youth.) Hotels that join the program agree to provide on-site skills training or apprenticeships for youth who complete initial training.
Once partnerships are established, youth are enrolled and begin one month of “pre-training” focused on soft skills development. Consisting of three modules- Life Skills, English for Hospitality, and Introduction to Hospitality- the employment program curriculum develops core employability skills that are relevant to the hospitality sector. In honing digital skills, building financial literacy, and learning to effectively communicate, students are equipped with skills that transfer to virtually any industry. The program also strengthens confidence and job-readiness, soft skills to set young people on a successful career path.
When core training is completed, students are placed for practical skills training, generally with local hotels. On-site training typically lasts two months. After successful completion, graduates are supported to find employment in the hospitality sector or related fields.
“The training has made me employable and capable to be part of the housekeeping team in a hotel. I am learning how to provide service to guests. This training has prepared me to be confident and speak up. I feel self-motivated, excited, and willing to learn.”
Lessons to Build Stronger Programs and Scalable Solutions
Programs are rarely implemented without challenges. Learning from these challenges and adapting to meet them is how we can build effective and sustainable strategies to end trafficking and modern slavery. During the second year of program implementation, circumstances on the ground supported the decision to end the youth employment program in Vietnam. As many of the students enrolled in the Hanoi program came from rural provinces, a change in government policy that shifted support for trafficking survivors to their regions of origin deterred many from traveling to Hanoi. With the decentralization of government support, most survivors chose to remain near family and community networks. Indeed, several of the Alliance’s nonprofit partners reported that their shelters in Hanoi no longer housed any survivors.
Adding to this challenge was an important learning uncovered during the course of program implementation. While encouraging that over sixty per cent of Hanoi graduates did in fact secure full-time employment in the hospitality sector, almost half of those who enrolled in the program did not graduate. The Alliance worked with its local nonprofit partners to understand why students were dropping out of the program at such a high rate. The key finding was that location mattered. Students from rural provinces had trouble adapting in Hanoi. Separated from family and community, they lacked networks of support to fully engage with the program.
Though disheartening, this learning, reinforced by findings from other GFEMS-funded projects in Vietnam, demonstrates the significance of locally-accessible programming and tailoring programs to match survivor needs. The Alliance and GFEMS shifted remaining funding to scale up programming in India, but the Hanoi program should not be counted a loss. From this knowledge, the Alliance and GFEMS are building stronger programs, programs that take account of local circumstances and survivor needs, programs that can be scaled-up effectively within the hotel industry and replicated across sectors.
Challenges to program implementation were not confined to Hanoi. Like the rest of the world, the Alliance experienced the disruptions wrought by a global health crisis and national lockdowns. The hospitality industry was especially hard hit. Many hotels and restaurants were forced to shutter their doors and others froze new hiring, making new placements all but impossible. The Alliance also had to suspend in-person soft skills trainings indefinitely.
While no one could have predicted a global pandemic, the Alliance worked quickly to mitigate its impact on the project and more importantly, on the young people it supported. Almost immediately, the Alliance began outreach to students engaged in the employment program. These young people were provided mental health and professional counselling through one-on-one calls with trained staff from Alliance’s local partner, Kherwadi.
Moreover, the Alliance very quickly transitioned its soft-skills training to an online format to ensure students could continue learning even during the chaos and uncertainty of COVID. Further adapting to COVID challenges, the Alliance collaborated with GFEMS to find new practical skills training opportunities. Identifying industries where students’ soft skills readily transferred and where students could still gain relevant experience, the Alliance began offering placements in healthcare, food & beverage, housekeeping, and customer service. Though some students opted to defer placement until positions could be secured in the hospitality sector, many others readily engaged with these opportunities. Despite the disruptions caused by COVID, 68% of students who entered the Mumbai program in summer 2020 graduated by spring 2021. 74% had secured employment before leaving the program.
The Alliance’s youth employment program in Mumbai continues to thrive. The success of the program inspired two additional nonprofit organizations to partner with the Alliance last quarter to mobilize more students. Drop-out rates have steadily declined and students are increasingly asserting more agency in decisions about their futures. Placements may be taking a bit longer now, but it is no longer because of COVID. With enhanced knowledge and confidence, students are more aware of their options and waiting for the right employment opportunity.
“The training program has helped me to be a courageous and independent individual. I have a strong feeling that the things that I have learned in this training will help me to work towards building my career. I wish to work and make it to a higher position in a top-tiered hotel.”
In June, the Alliance publicly launched the curriculum that lies at the heart of its youth employment program. The core employability curriculum, developed with inputs from industry experts and education specialists, is designed to empower youth with relevant and transferable job skills. It is a free resource, for use by community and training organizations around the world. In supporting young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to build skills and confidence, the Alliance is opening sustainable employment pathways, and reducing vulnerability to abuse and exploitation.
Programs referenced in this article are funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.