Public Square

The Market Project: Healing for Trafficked and Traumatized People through Work

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Editor’s Note: With the rise of human trafficking, many nonprofit organizations are working not only on prevention and law enforcement but also on healing—to bring hope to those who have been rescued. I recently interviewed Dorothy Douglas Taft, executive director of The Market Project, a new organization seeking to create market-driven businesses to provide a safe and healing work atmosphere for people who have been trafficked or exposed to trauma. The work of The Market Project is providing “a hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11) to many trauma victims who might otherwise remain vulnerable.

IFWE: What are the key issues that The Market Project is seeking to address?

Dorothy Taft (DT): Currently, one of the largest gaps in the anti-slavery movement is the need for sustainable employment for those who have endured complex trauma. The Market Project (TMP) seeks to bridge that gap by creating jobs for survivors of trafficking, abuse, abandonment, or exploitation, in partnership with other organizations who address their psychological and social needs. TMP works to address further challenges the survivors face, such as hopelessness, retraumatization, vulnerability to further exploitation, and providing for their daily material needs.

IFWE: How does The Market Project fit into the wider anti-trafficking community?

DT: We employ survivors in thriving, safe businesses we create. Within our trauma-informed workplaces, survivors are equipped with transferable job skills, practical business training over time, and mentoring that ultimately encourages integration back into the community. Work helps stabilize individuals and their families. Having their dignity affirmed in the workplace helps develop our employees’ sense of agency—the ability to make informed choices and take actions that impact the trajectory of their own lives.

One such business is Nguvu Dairy, Limited, in northern Uganda, which produces and sells nutritious yogurt at a price point that is affordable for most Ugandans. We are also conducting market research in Chernigov, Ukraine where we are testing business ideas that would create jobs for men and women impacted by disability. This is a community that is highly vulnerable to exploitation.

IFWE: It looks like you have made significant progress in Uganda. What can you tell us about the people you serve there?

DT: Uganda is still dealing with the effects of its 20-year, brutal civil war: children born in captivity, child soldiers, the orphaned, and a generation who are war-affected. Moreover, Uganda now hosts 800,000+ refugees from Congo and Sudan. Domestic and gender-based violence is widespread and largely committed against women and girls. We welcome employees who have these stories. Dehumanizing past experiences are daily replaced with respect and safety (emotional, psychological, and physical). This healing journey allows survivors to build healthy autonomy and community.

IFWE: What are some of the necessary components of a “trauma-informed” workplace?

DT: In a “trauma-informed” workplace, managers recognize the impact trauma has had on the individual and create a work environment to enable the employee to thrive. We emphasize a strengths-based approach by cross-training workers and providing a range of work experiences that reaffirm the dignity of each employee. All supervisory personnel in the businesses we launch are trained, using evidence-based practices, to understand trauma and its impact in the workplace.

Being “trauma-informed” is multifaceted and TMP’s policy offers greater detail.

Let me highlight one key aspect: granting empowerment through a worker’s “voice and choice.” As supervisors recognize and build competencies among employees, employees learn to exercise their “voice” within the teams. Having work-related goals helps increase their sense of control over their daily lives. We are seeing impressive goal-setting and achievements, particularly among employees who work on commission!

A Nguvu sales representative selling yogurt in the community.
IFWE: How is the work that is being offered by The Market Project informed by the market?

DT: TMP invests significant time and resources in our market research. We identify products or services that could fill niches in the local market and form a profitable enterprise. We want to build a compelling business case for donors and investors to support enterprises that respond to needs in local or regional markets. At this time, our Nguvu Dairy yogurt is the only commercially and locally produced yogurt in northern Uganda.

We also want to provide sustainable, long-term work for those healing from trauma. A sustainable business model results from addressing real need in the market. And the marketing for such products emphasizes the value of the item in the market vs. the victim’s abuse.

IFWE: What role does work play in the healing process for someone who has experienced trauma?

DT: Healing is a lengthy, often lifelong, process. Work is an integral part of the healing journey. In the words of Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Richard Mollica:

During the time of healing after violence, work is the compass that shows the survivor the direction he or she must take to get out of a psychological dead end. Work not only gives survivors an opportunity to earn money and be productive, but also a concrete time and place where they must show up, a familiar cast of friends…and an overall sense of purpose and value.

An observer recently commented on the impact of the first four months of work at Nguvu Dairy on six women who had been unemployed or severely underemployed:

Their faces are changed. Their lives are changed. For the first time, they have hope because they are able to pay their basic expenses including school fees for their children.

IFWE: How can business owners in the U.S. and other parts of the world take part in similar work?

DT: Established businesses can create safe, dignity-affirming environments for all employees. Policies, training of managers, and daily implementation of trauma-informed principles require intentionality, commitment, and vigilance. Engaging care organizations in the community is a great place to start. Ask these organizations about the employment needs of their clients.

IFWE: At IFWE, we talk about how your calling transcends particular jobs or careers. How has this work aligned with your personal calling?

DT: As I reflect on my decades of work in the U.S. Congress and USAID defending human rights, and later as a lay counselor and family mediator, one theme that emerges is my passion for protection for the vulnerable and restoration of the broken-hearted. The damage and evil that we humans commit against each other are in great need of redemption. The Creator God who detests such evil calls us to be co-creators in binding up those wounds, shedding light on darkness, and displacing despair with hope. It is a privilege to apply this personal calling of restoration to the vision of The Market Project: to see men and women find hope and flourish through safe, dignity-affirming, and healing work.


Editor’s Note: Learn more about essential biblical and economic principles for helping others in Love Your Neighbor: Restoring Dignity, Breaking the Cycle of Poverty. Available in digital and paperback in the IFWE bookstore

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