Jul 12 2018

How One Nonprofit Uses Tech to Help the Victims of Human Trafficking

Training in coding and cybersecurity offers both students and the nonprofit a path to self-sufficiency.

Human trafficking reaps hundreds of billions of dollars annually from the forced labor of exploited people, 80 percent of whom are women and girls. Without other means to support themselves and their families, millions of women become more vulnerable to trafficking every year. After realizing that many women would be less susceptible if they had valuable skills that could lead to well-paying employment, two women started a nonprofit that seeks to break the cycle of trafficking through the power of technology training.

The nonprofit organization, AnnieCannons, seeks to offer survivors of trafficking technology training that can provide them much-needed economic stability and, in turn, help to diversify the tech industry at large.

“We thought if survivors had the benefit of a coding boot camp, like we have in San Francisco — a short, focused vocational training, they could obtain the economic power necessary to avoid exploitation,” AnnieCannons CEO Jessica Hubley tells the HuffPost.

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Tech Training Jump-Starts Economic Opportunity

According to its website, the AnnieCannons program “starts with data literacy and advances through HTML, CSS, and JavaScript as students demonstrate mastery. Later phases include full stack development, cybersecurity, visual design, and more.” The last phase of the program is “product driven” and seeks to offer students the opportunity to work on software products and development.

The Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit serves as an incubator for many of the projects that the students begin in the program.

“This is one of our core goals at AnnieCannons, to have students who want to address things like gender-based violence or trafficking in their projects, and build them out into their own companies or nonprofits,” Executive Director Laura Hackney tells The Chronicle of Social Change.

But even for those that don’t jump-start their own companies via the program, their window of economic opportunity widens immensely. Those that complete the first phase of the program, which centers on digital basics, have an earning potential of up to $45,000 per year, while those that complete the web development phase of the program can achieve an annual earning potential of $80,000.

IT Training Offers Both Students and the Nonprofit Self-Sufficiency

Most graduates of the program, however, choose to remain within the AnnieCannons ecosystem as contractors, working for and with the nonprofit on projects even before they graduate. This helps to fuel the group’s long-term plan to be funded completely by business revenue. The nonprofit serves a number of clients, from small businesses in need of web development to large organizations seeking complex software platforms, which allows students to build skills faster while providing clients with high-quality work, Hubley tells HuffPost.

Hubley credits the enthusiasm of students to stay within AnnieCannons with the supportive environment the nonprofit builds for its students, offering everything from mentoring to child care in an attempt to help them overcome many of the hurdles that women face in the tech industry.

“People said, ‘Just focus on training people and then find them jobs,’ but we couldn’t just do that,” Hackney tells The Chronicle of Social Change. “For one thing, people need access to income throughout the training but also there are so many barriers for women, women of color, survivors of trafficking to make it in the tech industry.”

Looking ahead, the program aims to expand beyond its initial focus on the Bay Area into cities like Washington, D.C., Atlanta and New York. The nonprofit may be extending its reach into new areas of technology training as well. In March, it announced a partnership with the Indiana University in which the university extends scholarships for several women to participate in its new 10-week online cybersecurity program.

"Having a framework in mind of how to identify and mitigate risks in the cyberspace are pretty critical skills of the modern workforce overall, and that includes anyone at the entry level or at the management level,” Hubley says in a statement.

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