Skip to main content

We are excited to announce our 1st 2023 Spring Grant Recipient!

Thanks to our generous Legacy Giving Circle donor community, Rebecca Bender Initiative is receiving a $20,000 grant towards creating sustainable employment pathways for survivors of human trafficking.

Initiative Location: Dallas, Texas

Initiative Cause Areas: Community and Economic Development; Crisis Support; Education; Human Rights; Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation; Women Empowerment Programs

UN Sustainable Development Goals: 08 Decent Work & Economic Growth; 10 Reduced Inequities

Initiative Description: Survivor-founded and Survivor-led, Rebecca Bender Initiative (RBI) and its flagship program Elevate Academy (Elevate), the largest-in-the-world online school for Survivors of human trafficking that helps them get job-ready after escaping their trafficking situation, are front runners in the anti-trafficking movement. Elevate Academy’s primary purpose is to help Survivors become financially-sustainable individuals by preparing them for successful careers in the world outside of trafficking. In addition to Elevate Academy, we also train law enforcement, community leaders, professionals, and families so they can sustainably fight trafficking in their own neighborhoods and spheres of influence through our Equip Program.

The systemic issue of human trafficking, or the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, does not discriminate; instead, it can affect a person regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, or income. The data shows, however, that human trafficking specifically targets the marginalized and vulnerable communities within our society in a cyclical pattern. The Polaris Project, the nonprofit that operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, found that people of color, immigrants, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and impoverished individuals are disproportionately victimized. The Polaris Project recently reported that nearly 83% of Survivors experienced poverty while 96% experienced some form of abuse or other household instability. Our own data proves these shocking statistics of inequality to be true – of the Elevate Academy students who felt comfortable disclosing their income, 75% reported an annual income of $30,000 or less.

Not only are vulnerable populations susceptible to the systems that control human trafficking, but many struggle to leave because of the fear that comes with restarting their lives. When Survivors first exit the world of human trafficking, many have no education, no marketable skills, no legal job history, and no supportive relationships outside of their previous circumstances. Many lack the basic skills and learned abilities that their peers, those that are not Survivors, developed through education, life experiences, and autonomy. These skills and resources include but are not limited to professionalism, communication, decision-making, personal finance, a resume without a work history gap, and a higher education degree or certification.

Without these basic career skills, Survivors lack equal access to decent work and are often trapped in low-income jobs which can either perpetuate the lifestyle and systems of vulnerabilities to future generations or, a more immediate concern, return them back to the perceived “safety” of human trafficking.

Enter Elevate Academy, a Rebecca Bender Initiative. Elevate Academy paves the way for Survivors to obtain innovative resources and re-entry opportunities into the workforce, breaking the cycles that trap Survivors of human trafficking and their future generations in vulnerabilities and inequality by providing education on professional development and economic empowerment. In 2022 Elevate Academy provided over 600 employment, research, and legal resources to Survivors. All Elevate curriculum is recorded by Survivor Leader Rebecca Bender then uploaded into private databases for students to access on their own technology. RBI is proud to be a leader in Survivor education and has strategically worked to reduce inequalities and barriers in decent work opportunities that are available to Survivors upon their escape.

Elevate Academy was intentionally created as a fully online program to allow Survivors access to resources without any geographic limitations. Students watch prerecorded video curriculum prior to their cohort session then come to the weekly cohorts prepared to discuss the material with other students and with the Survivor Leader and Elevate Academy faculty member that is facilitating the class. This community provides needed support and accountability to overcome systems of vulnerability. Elevate Academy curriculum is composed of nine classes and is supported by nine Survivor Leader faculty members. Since its conception in 2014, Elevate Academy has served 1200 students across 636 US cities and 18 countries across the world.

Every aspect of Rebecca Bender Initiative’s work centers on reducing inequalities and increasing decent work and economic growth of Survivors, and our Changing Systems for Good: Creating Sustainable Employment Pathways for Survivors of Human Trafficking project is no different. Our goal for this project is twofold. The first aspect is to expand the number of Elevate services that are available to current students and graduates. In 2023, this will include the implementation of the Career Pathways Program (professional development program designed to introduce students to highlighted careers through informational sessions hosted by high-performing professionals), recurring academic webinar “Navigating Challenges in the Workplace” (curriculum is designed to educate Survivors on soft skills in the modern-day workplace), and the Spanish translation of Elevate video captions and workbooks.

The second goal of Changing Systems for Good is to increase the number of Survivors that we serve so that more Survivors have access to sustainable career paths. Our current, primary method of achieving this is through in- person local chapters of Elevate students. We have selected three cities in which to launch local chapters – Los Angeles, Dallas, and Miami. These were chosen due to the high representation of Elevate graduates. Under the leadership of local Survivor Leaders, each Chapter will provide Survivors with networking opportunities, resources, and gateways into the local professional community. The first Elevate local chapter meeting was held in March 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. Elevate looks to implement additional chapters in Dallas and Miami by the end of 2023.

Initiative Impact: Rebecca Bender Initiative anticipates significant, positive impact of Changing Systems for Good for the Survivors we serve. Project outcomes will be measured through data retrieved in Elevate’s 1-year post- graduation survey and communication. Our target outcome for the student support expansion goal is to see 60% of Elevate graduates report that they are either in a sustainable position, pursuing further education, or receiving social support services for their trafficking experience. It is important to note that Rebecca Bender Initiative does not work in prevention. Instead, we work to remove the obstacles that Survivors face upon exit that may lead them to return to the cycle of trafficking. The current global rate of recidivism for Survivors of human trafficking is uncertain due to understandable difficulties in obtaining data from Survivors. Estimates of the global rate of recidivism range from 10% to 80% depending on the source. Elevate Academy’s current estimated recidivism rate is 4%. Through the support of Legacy Collective and the goals of Changing Systems for Good, RBI looks to lower the Elevate student rate of recidivism to 1% or lower.

Additionally, we anticipate the establishment of the Elevate Academy Survivor Local Chapters to increase awareness of the programs offered by Rebecca Bender Initiative. This increased recognition is expected to increase student enrollment by 25% by the Fall 2023 semester.

Initiative Sustainability: Our goal for all organization-wide projects is diversification of revenue. RBI recently implemented Grant Advance, a grants management system, providing an anticipated 100,000 new funding opportunities. Other 2023 revenue sources include our Strategic Partnerships Program, developing an RBI merchandise line, and our Equip Program. Equip, RBI’s professional training program that teaches individuals how to identify and combat human trafficking in a practical and solution-oriented manner, supports the organization by providing 17% of yearly organizational revenue through various speaking, training, and consultation events led by Rebecca. We anticipate this percentage to grow. In addition, RBI is set to introduce Major Donor Giving Circles in Los Angeles, Miami, and Dallas. These Circles will provide direct support to the Local Chapters in their respective cities, creating a revenue stream to sustain each Chapter while also connecting Elevate students with local, high- performing professionals.

Rebecca Bender Initiative requests $20,000 to further its work against the systems that perpetuate human trafficking. This funding will be split 50/50 to support the two subgoals of the Changing Systems for Good project. $10,000 will be allocated toward the advancement of student academic resources including, but not limited to, the previously mentioned Career Pathways Program, supplementary webinars, and the Spanish translation of Elevate curriculum. The remaining $10,000 will support the implementation of the three Elevate Academy Local Chapters in Los Angeles, Miami, and Dallas.

In the attached document labeled Legacy Collective Proposed Budget & Timeline, we have outlined a projected schedule of outcome completion dates as well as proposed reporting deadlines. Our reports will include detailed updates on budget standing, student impact numbers, and any relevant pictures and videos of work from the quarter. Because the RBI team is fully remote, traditional office space is not available for site visits. However, Rebecca regularly keynotes speaking engagements and we will seek to arrange an opportunity for the Legacy Collective team to attend one of these events. Alternatively, in-person visits with Rebecca and the Elevate Academy team can be pre-planned and scheduled.