The following is a conversation between Nick Grono, the Chief Executive Officer of the Freedom Fund, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.

Nick Grono, CEO of The Freedom Fund

Denver: Modern slavery is a hidden crime with over 40 million people around the world finding themselves in this horrific situation. Given that it is prohibited under international law in almost every country, why is it so widespread and pervasive? And what is being done to address it? For the answers to those questions, it’s a pleasure to have with us, Nick Grono, the chief executive officer of the Freedom Fund

Welcome to the Business of Giving, Nick! 

Nick: Thanks, Denver. It’s very good to be here. 

Denver: The Freedom Fund is the leader in the global movement to end modern slavery. How did the organization come into being? 

Nick: It’s interesting. Basically, what happened is that there were three foundations working on this issue separately. And highly unusually, I think, in the philanthropic space, these three organizations decided to come together, pool resources, and set up an organization with a common strategy. And that was the Freedom Fund. We were set up in 2014 with the three organizations: Legatum, Humanity United, and Minderoo as our founders, and we’ve gone on from there. 

It goes by many names. So it can be called human trafficking, forced labor, forced marriage, bonded labor, sex trafficking, but it’s that essence of violence and coercion to exploit someone that is the heart of modern-day slavery.

Denver: And it’s still unprecedented. You don’t hear that happening nearly as frequently as we would like to hear it happening in the sector. So, how would you define modern-day slavery? 

Nick: I think often when people hear you talk about modern-day slavery, there’s often a kind of a bit of a surprise like – “What do you mean slavery still exists?” But, of course, it does exist. And what we mean by slavery is a situation where perpetrators, the traffickers, use violence or the threat of violence and force to control other people and force them to work or to provide sex. It goes by many names. So it can be called human trafficking, forced labor, forced marriage, bonded labor, sex trafficking, but it’s that essence of violence and coercion to exploit someone that is the heart of modern-day slavery.

Denver: Talk a little bit more about that. How does a person fall into this, and how are they unable to escape? 

Nick: It’s a good question because not everyone ends up in a situation of slavery, right? It’s people who are particularly vulnerable that are the ones that most often end up being exploited. And vulnerability takes many forms. You can be a migrant, a desperate migrant worker. You can come from a minority, a religion, or ethnicity in a country where you are discriminated against. Often, being a woman or being a girl in a society that doesn’t really respect the rights of women and girls makes you vulnerable.

And so, let me give you one example because people often, when they think of slavery, kind of think of… they’ll think of what they see in movies, and they’ll think of people being kidnapped, and women and girls being kidnapped and forced into sex slavery, which is an aspect of it. But more often, it happens and you’ll have… now, look at, say, Nepal right now. It’s been hit by COVID. You have a vulnerable family. The parents are out of work. Large family. Desperately, desperately poor. Don’t know how they’re going to survive. No income. They’ve pulled their youngest girl out of school, and someone comes to their community and says, “Hey, I can get your girl a job in the big city, working in a restaurant or working in a bar somewhere, or whatever.” 

And now, this family may know that there are risks. They may have heard stories, but they’re just too desperate, and they’ve got a whole large family to feed, so they take the offer. And of course, the girl doesn’t end up working in a restaurant. She ends up being trafficked into a brothel or somewhere and exploited. So, it’s about this vulnerability and hugely vulnerable people, and people preying on that to exploit them. 

Denver: And we do know when people are in those circumstances, they make decisions that probably you and I would both make if we were in the same circumstances. But not in those circumstances you say, “How could anybody do that?” But that’s not the way it works. 

What’s the annual profits from forced labor around the world? Do we know that? 

Nick: So, the numbers in this space are all a bit soft because it’s a hidden crime, but the estimates are about $150 billion a year made from modern-day slavery. Because what you’re doing is you’re forcing people to work for next to nothing. And that can be working on fishing boats; it could be working in mines, in stone quarries, and brick kilns. And you coerce them; you pay them an absolute pittance, if anything at all, and you’ve got labor for free. 

And so, and you take 40 million people being exploited, and you multiply that upwards, and that generates the massive profits. And I suspect that’s an underestimate because that figure itself is an estimate from, I think, it’s about 2012 or so. So, when we finally update the figures, we’ll find it’s much, much higher than that. 

Denver: Well, unfortunately, that’s a very good explanation as to why it continues to thrive. That’s an awful lot of money. What are some of the hotspots of modern slavery around the world? 

Nick: Well, again, if you pick up this issue around vulnerability, and you look at rule of law as you started off in your introduction — slavery is illegal. So, it happens because the laws are not being enforced. 

And so, we find it’s highly prevalent in South Asia, highly prevalent in parts of Africa, but it exists everywhere. It exists in the US. There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands being exploited in the US. It exists here in the UK where I live and work. And when you start taking notice of it, you see stories about it everywhere. 

If you follow the news coming out of China, in Xinjiang, and people in forced labor camps, Uyghurs being forced to work and produce goods that make their way to our supermarkets. If you look at Africa, and all the rise in electric cars and the demand for batteries — well, they need this mineral, coltan, which is sourced from really, really dangerous areas of the Congo, where people are forced into forced labor to produce the minerals that make their way into our cars and our phone batteries. So, it’s everywhere.

Denver: What are some of the other industries? You’ve touched on a couple of them in terms of the direct trade and mining and things of that nature. 

Nick: So it’s anywhere where there is a benefit from sourcing extremely cheap labor in places with weak rule of law. So, cocoa, coffee. In West Africa, there are horrible stories about exploitation of children in the cocoa and coffee industries. Mica, which I didn’t know much about before I started in this job, which is a mineral that creates glitter, which is used in makeup and on car paint — that’s often mined by kids and families in a situation of forced labor. Seafood, the Thai seafood industry– heavily dependent on forced labor. 

And this is all documented. There are stories in the New York Times, in The Washington Post, and on the TV about all of this. But there aren’t enough incentives to tackle it, and that’s the real challenge. 

Denver: So taking this extremely vulnerable population, Nick, what has been the impact of the pandemic on all of this? 

Nick: I think you probably know the answer to that question, right? Which is you’ve got vulnerable people who have become even more vulnerable because of the pandemic, and particularly because of the lockdowns. In India, millions of migrant workers were thrown out of their jobs and forced to work, forced to walk home… often hundreds of miles, ostracized by their own communities. And so, they’ve become ever more desperate. 

And if you think of migrants, generally, and borders closing, and people desperate to earn incomes and they’re illegal, then they’re ripe for exploitation. We’re hearing tragic stories coming out of Nepal and Myanmar, and so many other places that we work in… about just desperately vulnerable communities becoming even more vulnerable.

Denver: That is a wonderful baseline in explaining the problem. Let’s turn to what the Freedom Fund is doing in order to be able to address it. And I know that you really believe in the power and the importance of frontline organizations and consequently, fund them. What makes them so effective, and how do you bring them together the way you do to create really outsized impact?

Nick: So, if the problem is one of vulnerable communities in India or in Thailand or Myanmar, then I’m not the person who knows the solution. I’m not the person who knows how to work with those communities to understand why they’re vulnerable, to understand where corruption is happening, where exploitation is happening. It’s the frontline partners, local organizations that have that knowledge. 

And so, what we try and do is bring the resources and the support that they need and encourage collaboration. We’re big believers in the power of collaboration, both with our funders and our philanthropists, but also on the ground. And collaboration is really hard. Anyone that’s worked in the nonprofit space or in any space knows that organizations aren’t really good at collaborating with each other because everyone believes that they have the best solution. 

But what we do is because we are bringing funding, we can encourage our partners to convene together. We don’t force them to work together, but we encourage them to convene together and to share experience and stories and come up with a common strategy. And that can be really powerful. It takes a little bit of time, but, of course, when you’re working with local partners in rural India, it’s not particularly expensive, so your investment funds, your philanthropic funds can go a long way. And if you can then start getting collaboration and coordination and working upwards — it’s tremendously powerful. 

There’s also benefits of scale. So I’m always blown away by the benefits of scale of working in somewhere like India. We work in one state in Uttar Pradesh where there’s a lot of exploitation, and local partners can go and lobby the state government, which has been willing to listen to them… has been really open. Well, that state government represents 200 million people. That state government is going to be much more interested in listening to local organizations on the ground than some white, western NGO leader coming out, telling them what they should be doing about issues that they want to grapple with.

I think the foresight of our founders — and they were ahead of their time — and it’s not rocket science, but willingness to give up a degree of control to achieve agreement was one insightful approach. And the other was this very strong focus on working on the front lines.

Denver: I have always found that if you ever want to learn a lot about the organization, you go back to their founding, and the DNA of the organization is really baked in then. And it’s just interesting to hear you talk to us now about how the three organizations came together in a somewhat unprecedented way, and the impact that that has had to your theory of collaboration in frontline organizations. Do you see that thread? And is there anything from that beginning that really exemplifies how you go about your work now? 

Nick: I think that’s a really good point. Collaboration was baked in, and I can tell you, it’s not easy as a CEO working with three fairly strong-minded foundations who’ve all been very successful in their own way, so they all have visions of how things could work.

But what I really like is the fact that we do this– you know how I was just talking about how we bring the frontline organizations together and get them to share experience? Well, we do that with our funders as well, and we all sit in a room and we have board meetings, ideally, when we can meet, where we come together for a day or two and collaboratively talk about the issues and the approach. And it builds what we call a kind of trust and network capital between each of us, and people are willing to understand each other’s perspectives and then sign off on a common strategy. 

So I think the foresight of our founders — and they were ahead of their time — and it’s not rocket science, but willingness to give up a degree of control to achieve agreement was one insightful approach. And the other was this very strong focus on working on the front lines. Because now, as we’re talking about shifts in philanthropy, there’s a much stronger focus on working on the front lines, empowering local organizations, but we started there five years ago, six-, seven years ago and seeing that bear fruit now. 

Denver: And you’re even seeing this in America right now, in terms of giving circles, and mutual aid societies, and just letting the people who are closest to the problem, giving them the resources and letting them figure it out. 

Well, we talked about one of the problems is the weak rule of law. Not that there aren’t laws there, but they’re just not being enforced and enacted. And one of your initiatives around that is your legal strategies initiatives. Tell us a little bit about it. 

Nick: I’m a former lawyer, right? So, the risk is that I see every problem as a legal problem. But the reality of course is when it comes to slavery, it is a legal problem at its heart. Laws are not being enforced, and it’s fundamentally wrong. No one will defend slavery as a right thing. You can have all sorts of arguments about–I don’t know– about a whole bunch of social problems, but no one is going to kind of make a full-hearted defense of the goodness of slavery. 

Denver: “I’m for it – slavery.” No, you’re not going to get that. 

Nick: But on the other hand, it is highly prevalent. As we’ve talked about, 40 million people in slavery, companies with supply chains stretching across the world that have forced labor in their supply chains and don’t do anything about it. They don’t do anything about it because often, it’s like three or four layers down their supply chain all the way to a small factory in South Asia that they don’t really know much about. But in the end, it’s because they’re not required to look that deeply, and it will cost them to do so. 

So perhaps an analogy would be, say, the environmental movement 40 years ago when there was much greater readiness to pump chemicals and stuff into rivers and waterways because it was cheaper to do it than to actually dispose of it properly. And we passed regulation and started enforcing it and saying there are certain minimum standards that we believe in as a society. Well, if there’s a certain minimum standard, I think it has to include the fact that people shouldn’t be enslaved to make our goods and to produce things that end up on our shelves. 

And so, changing the incentives includes holding companies or individuals to account for enslaving people, or turning a blind eye to it more often than not.

Denver: And when these enslaved people become liberated, the story doesn’t end there, does it? That’s not enough. What has to happen next? 

Nick: You’ve got to go to the point that we started at, that these people are already vulnerable. So, if they are then liberated and then kind of told “Off you go. You’re free,” chances are they are still highly vulnerable. And chances are that without more, they’ll be exploited again because they’re still desperate, right? 

Denver: It hasn’t changed. 

Nick: So, we see it as a cycle. If they’re vulnerable in the beginning, how do we break that cycle of vulnerability? 

So, again, working with local partners. We work with partners who provide vocational training, who help communities set up little savings and loan groups so that they just have a little bit of money if there’s an economic shock, so they’re a bit more resilient. We provide… imagine if you have been enslaved for 10 years, forced to work in a stone quarry– and we talk about mental health– where you’re basically told you can’t make any decisions for yourself, and someone else is going to use violence to force you to do something for years. Then, of course, you have issues around your mental health. So, our partners support people with things like meditation and other forms of trying to strengthen and address mental health challenges.

And it’s never perfect. It really isn’t. But the benefits of working with a cluster of local organizations is you’ve got flex in the system. You can address particular needs. And of course, I’m in London. I’m not close to the problem, but our local partners are, and they can say, “Well, this is working, and this isn’t.” 

And we do a lot of research as well. That’s the part I haven’t mentioned. Because it has been, when I entered the space about eight years ago, it was a bit of a data-free, evidence-free zone. And because people were doing great work and it was like, “Well, we see a real challenge, and we’ll bring people out of slavery,” and that’s all that’s needed. But we couldn’t answer the questions, and we still struggle: Is slavery going up or down? 

What we’re trying to do is answer it in defined geography. So, in the areas we work, we go in, and we do a baseline survey. And then three years later or four years later, we do an end-point survey so we can tell you where slavery has decreased in a period of time. Then we have to work out — Have we contributed to that change? And then there are other ways of doing that. And when you do that properly, it can be quite spectacular. 

We commissioned a couple of quite expensive studies of our work in India by the Institute for Development Studies, one of the leading international development researchers. And they looked at these highly vulnerable communities that had a very high degree of bonded labor. Over 50% of the households in these communities had at least one person who is in slavery. And four years later, that was down to under 12%. So it’s an 80% reduction in bondage and slavery in these communities. And that equated to about 120,000 less people in slavery than would otherwise have been the case. And that’s pretty, pretty stunning, I think. 

Denver: I do, too. And let me dig a little bit deeper on that because you just recently issued your 2020 annual impact report, and it was an impressive report. I did go through it. Share with us a couple of the highlights. 

Nick: Well, there’s so many highlights, and I would say that wouldn’t I? But you know– 

Denver: Yes, you would. That’s your job. 

Nick: I’m very proud. We try and measure things in two ways. And I’m sure people who listen to your podcast understand that good organizations and good nonprofits try and measure their impact. And there are a couple of ways you can measure impact. You can measure through what we call direct impact, which is people who have been directly liberated from slavery, from out of a stone quarry or a brothel, and those numbers are obviously absolutely fundamentally important. And we’re at the stage now where over the seven years that we’ve been operating, we’ve almost liberated 30,000 people directly — we and our partners. Whenever I say we, I mean our partners as well.

But that number only gets you so far. And this is where it gets a bit more complicated. Now, what if in the same time, 60,000 people have gone into slavery in other places? Is that a success or not a success? Because we could argue, well, it may have been 90,000 if we hadn’t intervened, but I would like to think that overall, the numbers have gone down. So, we’re also trying– this is really the hard part– trying to measure that overall change. And so that’s… 

So, we measure a whole lot of direct inputs. People directly liberated, kids back in school. Our programs have assisted almost 60,000 vulnerable kids to get back into school. And the reason that’s important is if you’re going to school, you’re far less vulnerable to be enslaved. We have set up — I’m just trying to get the exact numbers — we’ve set up… this is the number I really like, which is we’ve set up 10,000 community groups. And again, that may not sound like a lot, but a community group is a village or a group in the community coming together, talking about how are their kids being exploited, or how they can prevent it. 

So the example I started off about someone approaching the family and offering a job to their girl… well, if they had a community group there, they’d be talking about all of these risks. They’d be talking about the importance of keeping their girls in school, and they would have a much better protection against exactly these scenarios. So, think of 10,000 community groups all having these discussions and all working really hard to understand the risks and protect against them. 

So, there are other numbers as well, and people can go to our website. We are very focused on publishing all of our impact, and explaining it all, and exposing it to scrutiny because we think we improve when others kind of look at what we’re doing and critique it—

It’s about massive power differentials, isn’t it? Someone with the power can exploit someone who doesn’t have the power to resist.

In the end, the solution to the problem isn’t us in the North, the Global North coming in and providing solutions or trying to provide solutions. It’s about those that are on the front lines being empowered and being able to resist those that are trying to exploit them.

Denver: It’s very nicely broken down. You have it with all the hotspots and where you’re working and things of that sort, so it was a very impressive report. 

Speaking about girls, Nick. More than 70% of the people in modern slavery are women, and this was just one of the impetuses behind your Freedom Rising Initiative. Tell us about that. 

Nick: Well, there, you’re asking me about something I am very passionate about. And it comes back down to this issue about laws and in the end, it comes back to power. I suppose I should have used this when you asked me the first question about how do people end up in slavery. It’s about massive power differentials, isn’t it? Someone with the power can exploit someone who doesn’t have the power to resist. And one of the strategies that we’re trying to do is bring people together, so that helps build their power. And in the end, if we’re really serious about working on the front lines and with local organizations, we need a new generation of leaders that are ready to lead their communities and support them and kind of build and empower their own communities. 

So we’ve set up an initiative where we are training women and survivors of trafficking and finding ways to support their own leadership journey, I would say. But it’s not just leadership training. Leadership training is great, and it’d be great to pull people together and help equip them with skills. But actually, I like to call it “movement building” because the whole program goes for at least two years, and the idea being that you bring these women and other survivors together so that they establish their own networks and their own ability. It’s all about the power of collective organization.

And so, we’ve just started in India with our first cohort of tremendously impressive women, and we’re starting a second cohort in India later this year. And I hope it’s something that will really grow because in the end, the solution to the problem isn’t us in the North, the Global North coming in and providing solutions or trying to provide solutions. It’s about those that are on the front lines being empowered and being able to resist those that are trying to exploit them.

Denver: What are some of those cornerstones of the successful movement-building effort? Because that is one of your major focuses. And it’s a hard thing for a lot of other organizations to do. What have you learned about that? 

Nick: We’ve learned — not that it’s any great surprise — it is really hard. How do you get started with your movement? And I’ve done some of the reading about successful movements, but… I don’t know that there’s a science to it yet. 

What we know is, first of all, there is such an overwhelming need that even by providing our programs, we can at least make a start. And I think the ingredients…so, first of all, a deep, deep understanding of the challenge you’re trying to address; humility about our ability to solve that problem, and an understanding that solutions have to come from the ground and from the communities in question; and then thinking about ways: How do we support that leadership? Not: how do we drive the leadership or how are we in charge, but how do we bring together those that we’re trying to serve so that they can develop their own leadership and work together? It’s not unlike coaching in a sense, isn’t it? — 

Denver: No. You’re exactly right. Yes. You don’t have the answers. You provide the containers and let them figure out the answers.

Nick: And we turn to lots of other experts who have worked with vulnerable communities and have worked in these environments to help us as we navigate all of this.

Denver: Nick, who have you found that is deeply concerned about this issue and has come forward to financially support it? And talk a little bit more of what you did about these donor collaboratives because that’s kind of unique as well. 

Nick: So it’s been interesting to me on the kind of support, and as I said, we’re headquartered in London. I should acknowledge that the former Prime Minister here, Theresa May, when she became Prime Minister came out and said that this is the greatest human rights crime of our time and committed her government and funding to the cause. I suppose one of the things that make working on efforts against slavery special is: I’m not going to say it’s bipartisan; it’s just non-partisan. There isn’t a partisan divide around exploiting the most vulnerable. And so, politically, it’s easy to get support across the political boundaries. 

When it comes to donors, it’s very interesting. And again, I don’t want to get too much in the weeds, but you attract a spectrum of donors from what you might broadly call “libertarian donors” who believe in the concept of freedom as an inalienable individual right, to funders who are deeply focused on power and collective bargaining and labor rights. They might not necessarily be political bedfellows normally, but they come together around this kind of empowering of the individual and protecting them against exploitation. 

So you do get that spectrum of donors. But on the other hand, it’s a human rights issue. It’s a development issue. So, we’ve found there are a number of donors that get it and then really engage. My challenge is to expand that base of donors that really do engage in the issue. And we’re working on that, but it’s a challenge. 

Denver: Yes. It’s a challenge for all of us working on getting donors, I’ll tell you that. I’m very interested, Nick, in the systems approach that you have taken to all of this. And I do think that there’s a newfound appreciation for the power that systems have that grip people and really make it difficult for… whatever the field… to attack those problems because the system just holds things in place. 

Do you think that other fields are going to begin to approach the issues that they’re trying to address differently as a result of examples of folks like you, but also what’s happened from the pandemic… and people understanding that unless you’re dealing with the system, you really can’t make the change you need to? 

Nick: It’s a great question. Denver, you and I could talk about this for hours, right? Because I spend a lot of time thinking about this. I think you can think about systems in a number of ways, too. 

You can think of it as kind of root causes, which is pretty much the approach we bring to it. You can’t tackle a problem without understanding all of the drivers. And to give you a classic example in the slavery space, 20 years ago, most slavery organizations would work by knocking down the doors with the police at brothels, bringing people out of the brothels saying, “You’re liberated. Off you go.”

That’s not tackling the system. That’s not stopping the waiting supply of vulnerable women and the demand and all the rest of it. So you then need to look at: Well, why is there a demand? Where are they coming from? Where are the vulnerabilities? So that’s a systems approach. It also… systems means kind of just learning as you’re doing, understanding that it’s not a set approach, that if you’re working in these complex environments, things change, and you have to adapt. 

And then finally, also it’s about the solution, and this, I think is the interesting part. Because in the past, particularly with funders who come from a very strong business investment mindset, often, their definition of success is to find an NGO, an organization that works, and scale it massively because that’s the commercial approach. Amazon works because of scale. Apple works because of scale. 

In the nonprofit world, scale doesn’t necessarily work because your approach in Nepal to tackling slavery, be it sex trafficking or forced labor, is going to be very, very different to your approach in Brazil. Things like different local contexts, different laws and legislation, different drivers. Of course, there are certain fundamentals, but you can’t, which is why I think the whole approach of bringing together a cluster of local organizations who really understand that context is really important. That’s a systems approach.

But then there’s also a — I’m sure you’re seeing this, too. Systems thinking has suddenly become the flavor of the month. So everything, everyone is doing systems thinking and systems work, and every problem is a systems problem, and I think we risk lacking rigor in our approach.

I think when we talk about systems, people have to start being a lot clearer about what they’re talking about, and even more importantly, they have to start trying to measure the change that they’re seeing which is why I keep on coming back to measurement… because if you’re working on a system, but you don’t know if it’s getting better or worse, then I don’t know if that’s really going to assist us. 

But measuring systems is really, really hard because it’s not just measuring the number of people you’ve brought out of the stone quarry; it’s measuring the overall change in the system, how it’s changed, and all the rest of it. So it’s a real challenge, but I think that’s where we should all be thinking and focusing our efforts right now.

Denver: I think you’re absolutely right. And systems is becoming a little too ubiquitous. Everybody’s talking about it. Everybody wants to stick it in their grant proposal, figuring they’re going to get a grant from it, and you take something which is so vital and important, and you cheapen it and devalue it by using it almost everywhere.

What has been the toughest challenge or maybe the most difficult decision that you’ve had to make, Nick, since the start of the pandemic? And how did you go about doing it?

Nick: Well, there’s a few, isn’t there? So, let me give you a considerate answer here. I’m trying to think. So, when I think of the pandemic, I think of the organization itself. But we have come through the pandemic in reasonably good shape because we have long-standing funders who are deeply committed to the cause, and we were well-positioned to work remotely and adjust. 

I suppose the biggest challenge for us has been watching the overwhelming need of those that we serve. There was already a huge need. We’re working on slavery. We’re working with the most vulnerable in the world. And then, suddenly, to see an exponential increase in that need. 

Just to talk about India over the last month. Not only are the vulnerable populations we are working with being horrendously hit by the impact of COVID. And first around… it was particularly around loss of any kind of employment, loss of any kind of income. And this time, it’s about health and people. Everyone in India knows people who have died, are dying, or are extremely ill. My staff aren’t exempt. So we have about 15 staff in India, so it’s about protecting our staff and looking after our staff. At the same time, it’s trying to serve the 40 or 50 organizations that we partner with in India. 

So we have twice now set up an emergency…. We don’t do emergency fundraising appeals, but we have just reached out to our small group of donors who have committed significant additional funds so that we can provide direct support immediately. And the need now is not programming and setting up community groups. It’s direct cash transfers to the most vulnerable, which is not our normal programming, but this is not a normal situation. 

And part of the obligation of being close to your partners in the communities is that you are driven by their needs. and their needs right now are direct support, finding ways to make sure authorities pay attention to them. Because if you’re the most vulnerable, you’re often the most neglected. I find that… How do I say this? It’s tough for all of us. My heart breaks for… And if you’re migrants, even internal migrants in India, authorities won’t often listen to you. But the advantage of having local partners and local NGOs is they can go reach out to local officials and say “Well, you’ve got a population in need here.”

So it’s been an ongoing challenge for our staff that are on the ground, working very, very closely with these communities and being exposed to it in a situation of hard stress. So the other part of the equation is supporting our staff and supporting our partners, not just now, but over the longer term. 

It takes a real toll. I can’t emphasize how horrendous some of the stories coming out of India, Nepal, Brazil, Myanmar are. So it’s being there also for the long-term. But then that’s where our model works. We are there for the long-term, and we’re there to support our partners. 

I think if we can encourage and support others to work much more closely with frontline organizations, we will be making a huge benefit to the kind of vulnerable populations that we’re working with

Denver: Final question, Nick. Maybe not the long-term, but certainly the intermediate-term. What do you hope to achieve, and what are you aiming to do between now and 2025? 

Nick: There’s lots of things. And obviously, driving a big measurable reduction in slavery is absolutely at the forefront of it. But in fact, I think that the Freedom Fund has a really powerful model, and I want to start sharing more of those lessons. And again, this is quite boring and maybe quite– 

 Denver: Not to me!

Nick: So working with a local… so let me pitch this to you, Denver, because this is something we’re working on right now. Working with local organizations is really tough. It’s great in theory to say “Yes. Let’s work with a small organization in rural Bihar,” and you’re talking to a funder, and you’ll say, “Well, we’re giving organization to a small organization in rural India,” and I’ll say, “That’s great. OK.” What about the risks — the financial risks, the safeguarding risks, and all of these issues? 

So it’s incumbent on us to provide support and do a lot of due diligence to set up systems. So we do things like we have process around selecting partners, doing a due diligence, monitoring evaluation, supporting, assessing the capacity, risk safeguarding. I want to take all of that outstanding material and report and publish it for everyone else to use, because I think there’s a great shift towards supporting frontline organizations, but people don’t really know how to do it. 

So we’re going to just professionalize all of the templates and all the learning that we’ve got, and put it out in the public domain so that others that want to start working much more closely… because I think if we can encourage and support others to work much more closely with frontline organizations, we will be making a huge benefit to the kind of vulnerable populations that we’re working with. That’s one of my ambitions over the next couple of years is to just assist everyone that wants to get much, much closer to the communities they’re serving. 

Denver: That is a great ambition. I’ll tell you. You know, I think that sometimes funders have to recognize it isn’t so bad if you support one of those local groups and they fail because that’s part of the risk of you need to take because you’re going to get great successes. But you have to be careful about the reputation of the organization that’s doing it. And that’s something you can’t afford because a couple of big missteps along those lines that you just described… if you haven’t done that due diligence, it can hurt the entire enterprise, right? 

Nick: Exactly. And so we’re trying to de-risk and share the learnings, and I just think that others will benefit from that. And we will obviously benefit from lessons that we pick up from others. And I want to encourage… I think it’s starting to happen, a shift of philanthropy. Instead of thinking we go into a country and build a big office and a big operation and bring in all of our staff, how do we work much more closely with frontline partners? But I want to encourage that shift and support it. 

Denver: Right. I can’t wait to read it. And then, you’re going to learn a lot yourself, I bet, because what happens is you do things that you don’t even recognize that you’re doing because they come so naturally. And it’s only when you write it down, you say, “Oh, this is how we do it,” and it becomes far more intentional. So it’s like teaching a course. You end up learning a lot more explaining something to your kid. 

Hey, for listeners who want to learn more about the Freedom Fund or financially support this incredible work you’re doing, tell us about your website and the kind of information that they can find there

Nick: So our website is — you won’t be surprised to hear — And as I said, not only do we talk about the kind of work we’re doing, but we are scrupulous in publishing all of the information on impact. And we’re also very transparent about funding and funding sources and what we do with it.

But there’s a lot of information there about what is slavery and what can be done. So if you’re interested in a topic, I’d encourage you to go to the website, and check it out. And there are many ways you can support us. So we welcome all and any support. 

Denver: Well, thanks, Nick. I want to really show my gratitude for you being here today. It was just great to have you on the program. 

Nick: Well, I really enjoyed this conversation, and I could have happily talked with you for another hour or so because these are the big topics in philanthropy. I think… some of the things that we’ve touched upon. 

Denver: No question about it. And I don’t think we share enough in the sector, just to your point. There’s too many people who are just looking straight ahead, putting one foot in front of the other, and they’ve lost their peripheral vision. And I think we could all benefit from what you’re doing in terms of learning. And we tend not to do that. And to the extent we do it, we do it within our own field. We do it in the field of health or education while there’s so much that we can learn from one another. 

Nick: Well, thank you for providing us with the opportunity to talk about it, Denver. It’s been great talking. 

Denver: Likewise, Nick.

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