Recent events have compelled nonprofit organizations to change the way they get work done, how they deliver their services, and what they do to achieve a more just and equitable society. So, The Business of Giving has connected with those organizations that are doing this exceptionally well in a segment we call: The Paths Forward. Because there is more than just one way.

Denver: On this edition of The Paths Forward, we’re going to speak to team members at The Freedom Fund. Their mission is to mobilise the knowledge, capital and will needed to end slavery. We’ll begin with their CEO, Nick Grono, and then hear from other members of the staff.

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: The culture of the organization is transparent and one that is guided by values as you’ll hear from Dan and then Daniel.

Dan: One other word which is it’s quite a human culture. That’s probably not the right word actually, but it’s a culture where you don’t have to put on a kind of professional act when you go to work. I don’t know exactly how we got that culture in the first place, but since I’ve been there, I think we’ve all shown up and felt able to be ourselves. And it’s a transparent culture. We are all able to argue and disagree openly. There’s not a whole lot of feeling like you have to hold back your opinion if you’re speaking to someone who’s higher in the hierarchy

Daniel: I think, for me the values of the company are very important. So always ensuring that the team is connected across the board based on the values. So once we are emphasizing what the values, then the culture surely comes into the picture. Once the culture is created, it’s very rare to find some who is outside of that culture. Even during the pandemic and then afterwards, the culture is always here. I have been working with Freedom Fund since 2015 and I always see there’s a rich culture where the team is highly interconnected

Denver: Trust is the lifeblood of any organization. Hannah, Deepika and Dan share their thoughts on this.

Hannah: It’s not a whole therapy session, but I think it’s really important to understand how are they feeling or what are they experiencing today as we’re about to go through our agenda of various different things that we need to accomplish in the next week or in the next month. So I think that’s really important because if you have that human connection, the trust kind of comes out of that quite easily, I think. So that’s been my approach building trust remotely with colleagues I’ve never even met actually.

Deepika: And we were just able to very quickly pivot and provide huge amounts of emergency relief to these communities, through food kits and health kits. And because we know these communities so well, we were able to do it in a way that would really closely track where the relief was going. And the added positive outcome that was unexpected was how much goodwill it built within these communities. And that goodwill actually really propelled our existing programming because we built a lot of trust and they were a lot more enthusiastic about continuing with the existing programs that we were doing.

Dan: I think it probably started right from the beginning with our CEO. He makes a real effort to be transparent, not just about what dilemmas he’s got professionally, but he’ll even talk about personal life. He’ll talk about,the challenges of managing a schedule where he’s got to travel a lot and not see his kids as much as he’d like to. That I think everyone has picked up on that and it’s become part of the organizational DNA that we can all speak about our personal lives as well.

Denver: The Freedom Fund places a premium on local expertise as described by Deepika, Daniel and Nick.

Deepika: So we don’t just talk about focusing on the front lines and focusing on grassroots voices. We don’t just talk about focusing on survivor voices. It’s very much embedded in the design of the program where we talk about it, both within the high-level strategy, but also very much at the micro level as well. Everything down to how do we run community meetings or how do we talk to our NGO partners about how to deal with the challenges on the ground. It’s never us making our suggestions first, it’s always, what do you think your issues are and what do you think the solutions are and
how can we support you in doing that

Daniel: So the culture really encourages local expertise to say whatever they feel and whatever they think is feasible to work on the ground, so that gives you more confidence to maximize your potential on the ground. As a field staff, that’s what gives me more energy, more confidence to continue working with what I’m doing.

Nick: Google Docs in Bold 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?

Denver: Mental health and well-being have always been at the top of the list of concerns at the Freedom Fund but never more so than over the past two years according to Hannah & Deepika.

Hannah: But actually there was a big recognition that our partners and we’re under a lot of pressure during that time and they were implementing distributions and relief distributions, et cetera, and they were facing incredibly big challenges, personally and professionally. So we extended that kind of mental health support to our partner staff as well. So we paid for a therapist to have individual counseling sessions and group
counseling sessions, and it made a huge difference to our partners. And it was something that they wouldn’t have requested, but because our team recognized their struggles and the challenges, we identified that as a way to support them. So I think that was another kind of reflection of the Freedom Fund’s culture and what we prioritize, and what we recognize as important to extend to not just our staff, our consultants, but yeah, to our partners.

Deepika: And within my own team, we just started having a regular mental health check at every team meeting where anybody that kind of wanted to share, would just share, “Where are you?” Thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs in the middle, or rating it one to five, sharing as much or as little information as they wanted, which I think was really helpful because I think a lot of times with the teams on the ground too, the circumstances are just so difficult. And they’re just so brave and they’re just such warriors in the way they keep the work going, and they’re not going to do is come out and talk about their feelings unless you provide a space to allow them to do that.

Denver: Finally, Hannah and Dan close out this piece with their thoughts on Resilience and Inclusiveness.

Hannah: I was just reflecting on kind of this time of crisis, which was the pandemic and how that affected the organization. But really actually, again, going back to that, perhaps not all of everything that happened during the pandemic was completely new to the organization because our programs, our colleagues face crisis all the time. So if we have a program in a country where all of a sudden there’s a military coup, that completely changes everything for those colleagues. And there are things that happened all the time. There’s an earthquake, there’s a flood. I think that obviously the difference here was we were all experiencing the same crisis. But the organization, maybe specific programs, but the organization or the organizational leadership phase
crisis all the time in different ways. So in a way, it’s just something that needed to be done. It needs to be done constantly.

Dan: There’s been a couple of small things like that. So when we have our all-staff calls, our global calls, we put in a lot more effort to make sure that sort of the opening presentations are more often done by individuals, team members who are not at headquarters because I think we realized and then also got some feedback that conversations tend to be more dominated by headquarters staff. So we’ve done that. We’ve tried to get more opportunities for staff who are outside the UK or at least not in senior management posts, to have direct access to senior managers and have Zoom calls with them to share what they’re seeing.

Denver: I’d like to thank those who participated in this segment: Dan Vexler, Hannah de Ville, Daniel Melese and Deepika Allana. And for more on the Freedom Fund, come visit where you can hear or read the transcript of my full interview with Nick Grono, the CEO of the Freedom Fund.

Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Strategic Advisor and Executive Coach to NGO and Nonprofit CEOs and Board Chairs. His Book, The Business of Giving: The Non-Profit Leaders Guide to Transform Leadership, Philanthropy, and Organizational Success in a Changed World, will be released in the spring of 2022.

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