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United Way of Greater Atlanta: Paving the Way for Economic Mobility Through Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts

Betty* is a survivor of both domestic violence and human trafficking in Atlanta, Georgia. After living in transitional housing for nearly two years she faced the daunting challenge of rebuilding her life, but the process of gaining financial stability had proven to be slow and difficult. However, in January 2022, Betty joined United Way of Greater Atlanta’s financial empowerment program, which quickly became a lifeline, providing her with the economic support she needed to gain long-term stability. 

In the fight against human trafficking, United Way of Greater Atlanta stands at the forefront, utilizing a comprehensive approach that not only addresses the immediate needs of survivors but also ensures their long-term economic stability. Human trafficking – the act of compelling someone to work, for little or no pay, through force, fraud, or coercion – often stems from and contributes to economic instability for individuals and communities. Recognizing that traffickers seek out and exploit financially vulnerable individuals, United Way of Greater Atlanta has strategically integrated its anti-trafficking work into its Economic Stability investment priorities.  

In collaboration with survivor-led organization FreeFrom, United Way of Greater Atlanta has developed an innovative financial empowerment program for survivors of human trafficking. The program features a holistic economic stability curriculum and goes beyond traditional support models, emphasizing financial independence and resilience. It not only imparts essential financial literacy skills but also incorporates a unique element – direct cash transfers. Since 2022, 30 survivors, including Betty*, have been recipients of $250 cash transfers per month for one year.  

Survey results have shown that this direct cash assistance gives program participants autonomy and agency to address their most pressing needs in the ways they see fit. For example, during her time in the program, Betty consistently saved $100 or more each month and used the remaining funds for basic needs such as medication and groceries. After just 10 months in the program, these extra funds allowed Betty to finally exit the transitional housing program and move into her own permanent housing. Betty's success story is a testament to her resilience and the program's effectiveness in providing survivors with a pathway towards economic stability. 

The intersection of United Way of Greater Atlanta's anti-trafficking efforts with its core impact area of economic stability is evident in the success stories of people like Betty. By addressing the immediate financial needs of survivors, the organization is laying the groundwork for broader economic stability. Furthermore, their programs not only equip survivors with financial skills but also support each individual’s sense of agency and control over their lives. 

In addition to the organization’s own economic stability programs, United Way of Greater Atlanta also partners with other organizations – locally and globally – to promote financial freedom for survivors of human trafficking. For example, this past year, United Way of Greater Atlanta participated in The Pembrook Fellowship, a joint program of United Way Worldwide and Survivor Alliance. The Pembrook Fellowship is a pioneering program that provides survivors of human trafficking with fellowship placements at nonprofits and companies nationwide, while also equipping organizational partners, including United Way of Greater Atlanta, with the tools to create trauma-informed and inclusive workplaces. 

The fellowship program goes beyond traditional models by offering survivors competitive salaries, access to health benefits, and the opportunity to build a meaningful career. The comprehensive support structure ensures that fellows receive leadership training for diverse roles across the anti-trafficking sector, fostering professional growth and empowerment. The organization’s participation in The Pembrook Fellowship aligned seamlessly with its commitment to supporting sustainable, long-term economic stability for people with lived experience of human trafficking.  

Amy Barrow, Senior Director, Homelessness at United Way of Greater Atlanta says, “Human trafficking is a complex issue that often intersects with various cultural, social, and economic factors. Including survivors in the work ensures more comprehensive and nuanced solutions and is critical to building trust within the sector. This trust is essential for effective collaboration with community members, other organizations, and stakeholders. By participating in The Pembrook Fellowship we are creating more inclusive, effective, and sustainable efforts that address the diverse needs and experiences of individuals affected by human trafficking."   

United Way of Greater Atlanta's decision to integrate anti-trafficking work into its economic stability portfolio reflects a holistic understanding of the challenges faced by survivors. Economic stability is a critical component of the recovery process for people who have experienced human trafficking, and by incorporating this focus into their broader mission, United Way of Greater Atlanta is creating a sustainable impact that extends beyond immediate crises.  

Like United Way of Greater Atlanta, the entire United Way Network is well poised to address the issue of human trafficking. The following resources can help local United Ways and other community-based organizations get started:  

  1. The Strategy Guide to Combat Human Trafficking is a comprehensive resource that local United Ways can utilize to understand and address the issue of human trafficking in their communities. It aims to empower United Ways across the United States to combat this issue by leveraging existing strengths, partnerships, and programs, just as UWGA has done in their community. 
  2. You can learn more about the connection between combatting human trafficking and promoting economic mobility via this blog post, which explores the intersectionality of the two topics. 
  3. Survivor Alliance offers Allies Training in live facilitated and self-directed formats for organizations that want to be more inclusive of survivors in their work and programming. The organization also offers an array of other resources for allies on their website and via their Allies Newsletter

*This name and some story components have been changed to protect the identity of the individual.