Spotlight On: Polaris Project

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“Big things often have small beginnings.” – Unknown

Several years back, my sister was living in the D.C. area and ran across a woman and man who had decided to start a small organization in order to help combat human trafficking. They had a nice discussion, and my sister casually mentioned the organization to me so I could sign up to get email alerts.

From its start as a spark of insight, Polaris Project has emerged as a leader on the national and international anti-human trafficking scene. Today the emails I receive from this organization outline incredible works of compassion that have changed thousands of lives for the better.

C0-Founders Katherine Chon and Derek Ellerman were Brown University students when they began their anti-enslavement work in 2002. Katherine had read a piece, sent to her by Derek, about a brothel just a few miles from their University that was holding women against their will. It inspired them both to begin working for much-needed change.

In her TEDx Talk Reinventing the Underground Railroad, Katherine outlines how only 2 states had laws protecting victims of trafficking when they first began.  As of filming, Polaris Project had helped increase that number to 49 (with Wyoming becoming the last state to outlaw human trafficking on February 27, 2013) and created a 24 hour victim hotline with the ability to service people speaking 120 different languages. They did it all by jumping into “the unknown” with the skills they had at the moment and a decision to go forth confidently.

Katherine, Derek, and the members of Polaris Project use heart-infused technology to help victims empower themselves. One example of this is their 2013 collaboration with Thorn to create a text-based hotline for victims, survivors, and at-risk groups. Thorn’s innovative technical solutions to fight child abuse paired with the technical know-how of Salesforce and Twilio, and Polaris Project’s 10 plus years of experience, imbued their product with an authentic intelligence that has aided in saving lives. The BeFree textline has received 3,282 texts credited with assisting 521 victims since its inception.*

The casual conversation with Katherine and Derek that my sister relayed to me all those years ago has always stayed with me because it is an incredible example of how everyday people can take a heartfelt idea, combine it with small, measurable action steps,  and in so doing create a vastly brighter world.

If you’d like more information on assisting Polaris Project, you can check out their opportunities to take action here.


* as of December 31st 2015


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