Addressing the Human Trafficking Crisis through Social Entrepreneurship

By Dyrud, Peter; Malik, Naveed et al. | Kennedy School Review, Annual 2007 | Go to article overview
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Addressing the Human Trafficking Crisis through Social Entrepreneurship


Dyrud, Peter, Malik, Naveed, Sunnanon, Tai, Kennedy School Review


   Every 10 minutes, there are anywhere from
   15--76 victims trafficked worldwide.
   --Children in Slavery: The 21st Century

As the global phenomenon of human trafficking pushes past current efforts to curb it, policy makers and professionals alike must consider new ways to approach the problem. We propose a new approach to combating human trafficking--one rooted in the spirit of social entrepreneurship. While hundreds of organizations of all sizes are working on antitrafficking programs around the world, they are, by and large, working alone. Countless professionals, policy makers and academics acknowledge the need for worldwide cooperation, yet no system for sharing information or coordinating operations exists.

Enormous obstacles stand in the way of establishing a "super-agency" to facilitate worldwide coordination, but there are other, simpler, low-cost ways to achieve these objectives. Creating and building extended social networks can help radically improve the effectiveness and efficiency of antitrafficking efforts. Increased political pressure on national governments to confront this crime head-on with their substantial financial, law enforcement, intelligence, and military resources can be achieved by the media and citizen action.

In addition to a review of leading publications on trafficking, we conducted interviews and surveyed stakeholders representing national governments, UN agencies, nonprofits and academic institutions across the globe. The results of this research are interpreted through the lens of social entrepreneurship, as are the recommendations formulated. This article shows how to use social entrepreneurship practices to combat the human trafficking epidemic.

It's Not a Problem, It's a Crisis

The most rapidly growing form of organized crime, human trafficking is considered by some to be "our modern-day slavery." By most narrowly defined estimates, between seven hundred thousand and possibly as many as four million people, primarily women and children, are trafficked around the world each year. The crime's elusive nature makes accurate estimates impossible. We do know that human trafficking has existed--and gone largely unchecked--for centuries. Most programs aimed at combating human trafficking, however, are still in their infancy. In the 2006 "Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns" report, Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), concedes that "efforts to counter trafficking have so far been uncoordinated and inefficient." Paradoxically, as the crime of trafficking continues to grow, funding for antitrafficking programs is declining. The UN, national governments, and NGOs now face the problem of coping with sophisticated international networks of traffickers with increasingly scarce resources.

This crime's global nature has prompted us to consider a complementary approach to current efforts. Social entrepreneurship can be defined a number of ways, but at its most basic level, it means a creative solution to a social problem; it does not require corporate involvement. The spirit of social entrepreneurship comes from the reinvention of the social sector in its quest for best practices to provide important goods and services and solve social problems. It involves activities such as mobilizing economic and human resources, taking initiative to create new structures or revamp existing ones, crafting alliances (social networks), measuring performance, and increasing accountability. As business, government, and the nonprofit sector share tools and models, entrepreneurial opportunities have emerged. It is with this new lens that this article approaches combating trafficking of human beings.

Defining Trafficking: A Dilemma unto Itself

Trafficking in Persons

Human trafficking involves the commercial trade of a person for an illegal or exploitative purpose.

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