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A Special Series for the 2015 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship

Each year at the Skoll World Forum, nearly 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners gather at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to exchange ideas, solutions and information.

We asked a number of speakers to discuss the critical issues, challenges and opportunities underpinning their sessions in advance of the Forum to ground a richer debate both online and in Oxford.

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We Stand For Freedom

We Stand For Freedom

March 16, 2015 | 3924 views

I was born in the Philippines, where I grew up in poverty and became a child laborer. As a teenager, I saw the hardship that the Marcos regime caused to the people of my country and I decided to fight against the dictatorship.

I became a rebel mother in the mountains. I gave birth in the mountains but had to be separated from my son. I saw my friends and colleagues brutally murdered while I was pregnant with my second child. My son, Kip, whose name means “captured”, spent his early childhood in prison. My daughter, who was also born in prison, is named Malaya, which means “freedom”.

That was 30 years ago. Today, in the Philippines, democracy has been restored. I and my organization, Visayan Forum Foundation, continue to fight a very difficult battle. Visayan Forum is the leading organization that innovates against modern slavery in the Philippines. According to the 2014 US Trafficking in Persons Report there are 20 million trafficking victims globally, while Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index estimates that 35.8 million men, women, and children are suffering under modern slavery. The International Labor Organization reports that forced labor generates over 150 billion dollars in profits per year.

Many Filipino women and children are trafficked within and across international borders. Every day, thousands attempt to escape poverty and conflict, but often end up in conditions of involuntary servitude, exploitation, and abuse in brothels, factories, agricultural plantations, cybersex businesses, and as domestic workers.

Visayan Forum is a formidable warrior in the mission of ending modern-day slavery. Together with our partners, VF staff risk their safety to fight this multibillion-dollar underground industry. For years, the organization faced threats from traffickers and exploitative slave-traders eager to shut down our operations. We have been sued, and libeled in the media on numerous occasions, but we withstood it all and today we are stronger than ever.

Being the head of this organization is a balancing act. I oversee fundraising activities, write reports for donors, and assess the impact of projects. I also engage policymakers; support our social workers, who run rescue operations, and our partner community watch groups; and mobilize young people, local government officials, and faith-based organizations on the ground to prevent trafficking. All of this work is equally important.

In the midst of all of this, we in VF have realized the following:

We find inspiration in the courage of survivors, staff and partners. I can never give up as long as there is a single person who isn’t free. While the fight is overwhelmingly difficult, the goal is clear and always serves as a source of strength when things get hard.

Honesty and self-awareness are important. Understanding our personal and institutional strengths, weaknesses, and limitations helps us to learn and improve our strategies. Nothing teaches you more than a failure.

One big benefit of failure is that when you are down, you will learn who your true friends and allies are. In my case, I had friends and allies like the Skoll Foundation, who were consistently advising us, and David Bussau, who helped strengthen VF institutionally. This allows you to change your fear into a source of courage and be reborn as a person and as an organization.

Be strategic. In times of crisis, you must be in control of your emotions and not let them cloud your focus on the bigger picture. Always remember the reason why you started on your path. In my case, my family kept reminding me about the carefree early days of the organization when it was all about idealism, changing the world, and the vision of a free society. That has never changed.

Anchoring yourself in the big picture makes you realize that you are in fact, both a leader and servant of your cause. When all else fails, go back to work.

No good deed goes unpunished. Accept this as a reality. If you try to make a difference, you will be criticized and attacked. Build institutional and personal resilience, and structures within your organizations that will help you withstand those attacks. In our case, we improved our financial management systems and strengthened our organizational structure.

As Winston Churchill once said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” In our case, we are the enemies of traffickers and no matter what the world throws at us, we will keep fighting because we stand for something bigger than our own lives. We stand for freedom.


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