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Address. Assess. Adapt. Repeat: What COVID19 has taught us (so far)

As our country begins reopening, we have some hindsight. We look back just long enough to address our early efforts and assess what is working and what is not. We then adapt as needed and start the cycle over again. We persevere because as restrictions begin to lift and businesses begin to reopen, it is imperative remember those who continue to be exploited by the business of human trafficking. Predators are not relenting because stores are opening up, neither should our efforts to bring them to justice. 

At i-5 Freedom Network, we serve those forgotten in the daily pandemic news cycle, those taken advantage of at work or even by landlords asking for sex when rent is short. As we lead this organization to provide ongoing and innovative support to individuals who are being exploited and trafficked, we have to both reflect on what’s worked and prepare for the long road ahead. 

So now, 5 things COVID-19 has taught us (so far)

  1. Preparing for an ice age means finding resilience in austerity, and finding a better igloo

  2. Serving others does not always solve problems

  3. Solving problems does not always serve others 

  4. Being agile means sometimes you sprain your ankle

  5. Assumptions: Out with the old, in with the new 

You may have heard the analogy by now that we may be entering an economic ice age. This article compares 3 harsh realities: A blizzard is immediate survival-- think 9/11 and the grounding of all planes. Winter is a season requiring endurance but shall pass-- as in the housing market. Finally, an ice age is a total shift in the economic landscape requiring creativity to thrive: survival leads to endurance which leads to innovation.

As we continue the Great COVID-19 Pivot, here is how our organization is responding:

Everything about how we operated as a nonprofit is preparing for the ice age and building resilience. From revenue streams to volunteer opportunities, to supporting survivors, we are reimagining what our nonprofit looks like. We learned that our programs can be adapted AND effective online! As a corporate trainer and public speaker, I turned my nose up at virtual events, in person was the only way to really reach your audience. Well, not true. Our webinars are reaching larger audiences with less logistical planning, our survivor workshops are seeing transformational results, and they are all much more scalable. We have even had attendees from Canada in the Zoom Room.

In our commitment to serve others, we are not always solving problems. After consulting with survivor-leaders about our WAY2WORK program, they told us survivors need jobs and ways to mitigate the enormous stress they are under, not practice in public speaking skills. As a result, we shifted our WAY2WORK program to provide stress management workshops. These 90-minute sessions offer immediate tools to help get through the day (Click here to contribute toward a scholarship!).

In a rush to provide solutions, we may not always be serving others. We are working tirelessly to close the illicit massage establishments through our local City Council. But that does not address the victims inside, it merely moves them to the next city. Until we are effective in offering them resources that they are willing to accept, we aren’t serving those being exploited behind closed doors. More on this particular story soon.

Another response to addressing the serve-solve situation is our Community Q&A forums. The goal of the webinars is to bring community members opportunities to take informed action. We invite other organizations doing work related to exploitation, vulnerability, or predatory practices then offer solutions and ways to make a collective impact. Our next one is June 9th (our first sprained ankle was learning the frequency and adjusting to zoom fatigue) focusing on survivors.

We have to be agile in our efforts, and recover quickly from minor injuries. When the coronavirus hit, many nonprofits had to act quickly to maintain their programs. We had to adapt quickly. The reality is, when you’re moving at a fast pace to bring brand new solutions to brand new problems, missteps are inevitable. But we need to ice it and move on, we do not have the luxury of time for the 100% solution, a 70% attempt is worth giving it a shot. And then try again.

What we used to assume about our organization’s goals and resources has changed indefinitely. Our former assumption was that our hotel training toolkit to train associates to identify illicit activity could also provide revenue for our nonprofit. Being sensitive to the challenges and realities hotels are facing, we made it available for free. We also have to assume that our primary fundraising events, also our major source of income, will not be happening for a while, potentially a long while. A moment of silence for the Big Cheese 2021… Virtual fundraisers and giving campaigns are the next learning curve.

As we prepare for the ice age in our economy and its domino effect on those struggling financially, we are working every angle to build a new igloo to sustain our ability to serve.

The ramifications of the pandemic will be devastating for a group of people who were already in the margins. Victims of sex trafficking and exploitation are being forced to offer COVID-19 specials. Survivors are experiencing higher levels of PTSD and trauma triggers as a result of the limited freedom of movement and financial insecurity. 

The needs are ever-changing and ever-increasing. We need an innovative response to the systematic issues that have widened the economic gap. 

It can be overwhelming to hear how predators are exploiting kids at home. It is horrific to think of out-of-work individuals without relief packages or unemployment left to be vulnerable to labor or sex trafficking in order to survive. We have to mobilize and work together as a community to advocate for those in need. Those who can, should. 

So Mobilize with us, join our Network!  By giving just $5 a month, you are a part of a team of people determined to serve and solve: serving those who feel like no one is there for them, and solving upriver problems to end human trafficking. Together, it can be done!

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