January 11, 2021, by htaylor
“Survivor-Led Anti-Slavery Work is Central”: The Impacts and Future of Survivor Alliance
In conversation with Executive Director, Minh Dang
In the three years since its inception, Survivor Alliance has grown its membership base to 300 members in over 20 countries. The organisation, led by its Executive Director Minh Dang, unites and empowers survivors of slavery and human trafficking around the world, focusing its programs on meaningful survivor inclusion, economic empowerment and wellbeing. Survivor Alliance works to ensure that people with lived experience of modern slavery are supported to play a leading role in the anti-slavery movement.
In summer 2020, the organisation embarked on a Strategic Planning process, designed to support Survivor Alliance’s transition from a start-up NGO to an established organisation. As part of this process, an ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ [https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/beacons-of-excellence/rights-lab/resources/reports-and-briefings/2021/january/survivor-alliance-an-appreciative-inquiry.pdf] was undertaken by the Rights Lab, to hear from key stakeholders and partners, offering them the opportunity to reflect on their interactions with Survivor Alliance and how these interactions had influenced their organisational culture, policies or practice.
Nineteen individuals responded to the Inquiry; five based in the US, and fourteen in the UK, which included staff working within anti-slavery organisations, academics, and a human rights consultant. The ways in which Survivor Alliance had worked with respondents ranged from collaborating on research design and delivery, programme design, advising on campaigns, delivering training to event planning.
When asked whether they had benefited from engaging with Survivor Alliance, participants were united in their positive response. Respondents talked about having:
- Improved individual and organisational knowledge regarding survivor involvement and survivor leadership, and increased confidence in undertaking this work;
- Improved research, projects and programme design as a result of Survivor Alliance input;
- Access to timely resources and a trusted source of knowledge and support for the antislavery sector;
- Increased credibility and buy-in from NGO partners and funders for specific projects and for survivor involvement more generally.
To find out more about the findings from the Inquiry [https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/beacons-of-excellence/rights-lab/resources/reports-and-briefings/2021/january/survivor-alliance-an-appreciative-inquiry.pdf], and how Survivor Alliance intends to use them, we spoke to Minh Dang.
Q: What was your immediate response to reading the findings of the Inquiry? Did anything about the findings surprise you?
I was surprised to hear that our referrals for direct service were of note to some of our partners. We are very clear that we do not provide direct services and that we provide referrals to members who need support. Because it is not at the centre of what we do, we rarely consider that some partners might solely relate to us by receiving referrals, rather than sending referrals to us for potential members.
I was also surprised to hear Survivor Alliance credited with playing a part in the increase of interest in survivor engagement. I am very aware that I am a part of a long-lineage of survivor scholar-activists and our work builds on those who have come before us.
Q: Participants were asked to comment on whether they felt Survivor Alliance had any notable strengths or qualities. Some of the key strengths mentioned included integrity, representation, collaboration and the organisation’s ethos and values. Were the 10 key strengths identified the ones you would have expected to see?
I am not sure if I had any expectations, but I am very pleased to have some affirmation of these 10 strengths. I am especially glad to see Integrity and Collaboration emerge because we place high values in these and they are markers that are best assigned to us rather than by us. We want to believe we act with integrity and collaboratively but to have others say this is really reaffirming and encouraging.
Q: This Inquiry was undertaken as part of a wider strategic planning process. Have the findings influenced your organisational strategy for 2021 and beyond?
Yes, absolutely. It has given us the information we needed to confirm that our intended role in the anti-slavery field is (1) needed and (2) already having an impact. One of our key strategies for the next three years is to focus our Consulting Services on a few core issue areas, one of them is Allies Training and Development. We hope that in the next three years, we can raise the capacity level of professionals in the field on ethical and meaningful survivor engagement. The Appreciative Inquiry indicated that we are on the right track with this work and our current training offerings are well attended.
Q: Participants were unanimous that they wished to continue working with Survivor Alliance, and other survivor-led groups, in future, but recognised that there needs to be better support and funding to meet the ever-growing demand for survivor-informed and survivor-led antislavery work. Do you agree with this? Beyond funding, what other support and opportunities do survivor-led organisations and survivor leaders need to play a leading role in the antislavery movement?
I agree whole-heartedly. Anti-slavery scholars and leaders have indicated that the global anti-slavery movement is underfunded and will not be able to meet its aims of ending slavery and supporting survivors to recover without an infusion of much more financial capital. Unfortunately, the lack of capital is built into the global economic system that allows enslavement to occur. Anti-slavery efforts are subject to the ever-changing tides of political interest and will, continued support of philanthropists and individual donors, and the ability of governments and public institutions to provide adequate care and social services.
The remains a huge gap in provision of basic needs and most funding is directed there. This means that a focus on survivor leadership and survivor-led antislavery work takes a back seat because it is not an already established intervention or best practice. However, we believe that survivor involvement and survivor-led anti-slavery work is central to the aims of ending slavery and supporting sustainable freedom. The process of survivor engagement can contribute to the healing journey of survivors as well as contribute to more culturally sensitive, contextual, and effective anti-slavery interventions.
In addition to funding, the support that I think survivor leaders and survivor-led organisations need comes in the form of committed allyship. As individuals and institutions, we need others to:
(1) Challenge the exclusion and tokenisation of survivors with us. Don’t leave it to survivors to constantly be the challenging voice in the room.
(2) Proactively create opportunities to engage survivors. Start from the assumption that including survivors will be beneficial to your program, project or organisation, and
(3) Commit to trauma-informed, equity and inclusion practices. By being allies to Black, Indigenous, and people of colour, women, LGBTQI folks, people with mental and physical disabilities, and other systemically oppressed communities, we as individuals and our organisations will have greater capacity to interact with survivors of slavery. There is trauma in surviving racism, sexism, etc., just as there is trauma in survivor slavery. If we are not trauma-informed, we are ignoring many people in our communities, including survivors of slavery.
(4) And lastly, as we become more trauma-informed, we need to refrain from pathologizing people. Everyone response to trauma differently, but every response is what it had to be, in order for people to survive. To turn this against survivors and treat us as less than or fundamentally broken is an assault on our dignity, and I submit, an attempt to continue to alienate us from the rest of society.
To treat survivors as fully equal to non-survivors in the anti-slavery movement is to enact these four behaviours and quite literally, to invest time and resources into survivor leaders.
The launch of Survivor Alliance’s 2021-2023 Strategic Plan will take place on Monday 11th of January at 7pm GMT. The event is free to attend but you must first register here https://www.survivoralliance.org/spevent