SFGate: Human trafficking victims get chance at new lives

Original SFGate Article, 9/24

A year ago, I had the privilege of being in the room when President Obama delivered a landmark speech at the Clinton Global Initiative. He spoke before an audience of U.S. and international leaders not about U.S. economic interests, our military objectives or even the upcoming election. Rather, he talked about a crime that is almost unthinkable in the 21st century. In his words, an “injustice – the outrage of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name – modern slavery.”

This was the longest speech by a U.S. president on the issue of slavery since Abraham Lincoln.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are an estimated 21 million people living in bondage around the world, and trafficking in persons is estimated to be one of the top-grossing criminal industries in the world, with traffickers profiting an estimated $32 billion every year.

At Humanity United, our founders Pam and Pierre Omidyar set forth a vision that we work toward every day – a world free of conflict and injustice. We do this in our work to combat the crime against humanity that the president so appropriately labeled “modern slavery.”

We hear about cases of trafficking abroad, but the sad fact is modern-day slavery is happening right here at home in the United States. Tens of thousands of people across this country are living in some type of modern-day slavery. And while human rights organizations work to combat this crime, survivors face a plethora of obstacles as they enter a system that is not equipped to support and help them.

During his speech, President Obama announced a public-private initiative between the federal government and Humanity United to spur innovation in social services for survivors. Last week, we officially launched the Partnership for Freedom, a series of three innovation challenges to confront some of the deepest difficulties facing victims of modern-day slavery. This partnership is led by Humanity United, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with support from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative, Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation and a growing list of private donors.

In our first challenge, “Reimagine: Opportunity,” we are seeking new ways to help survivors in three areas of need – sustainable housing, economic empowerment and social services. We want to find new partners and groundbreaking ideas that increase the availability, reach or quality of these services. Winners will receive funding -a total of $1.8 million altogether – to bring their ideas to life.

To the survivors, President Obama said, “We see you. We hear you. We insist on your dignity. And we share your belief that if just given the chance, you will forge a life equal to your talents and worthy of your dreams.”

We are committed to helping survivors find the dignity they deserve.

Randy Newcomb is president and chief executive officer of Humanity United, a foundation in San Francisco committed to building peace and advancing human freedom. To learn more, go to the Partnership for Freedom website. Proposals are due Nov. 17.