“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela
At some time or another, we will witness injustice in the world and be incensed, our fists balled in anger or our eyes filled with tears in sorrow. Yet, the question looms, “What can I do to change things?” After all, do we have the financial backing or the political clout to take on the woes of the world? For most, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’
That is what happened to Dawn Manske. “I was introduced to what is happening around the word in sex trafficking in a very stark way,” says Dawn Manske.
“I went to a lunch where they showed a video of an undercover reporter who went to Cambodia looking for the youngest girls he could find. They brought in these girls they said were 10, but who looked like they were maybe 7. It weighed heavily on me, but I had no idea of how to do anything to make a difference.”
However, some sandals and a pair of pants showed her there was a way.
“The pieces all kind of came together when I got married,” she explains. She found sandals from a company that helps women and girls in Uganda. That was Dawn’s introduction to ‘social enterprise.’ Her husband bought her a pair of the sandals as a wedding gift, which helped serve as a reminder about the possibilities.
Additionally, a bridesmaid brought her some fisherman’s pants from Thailand, one of Dawn’s favorite fashion staples. Dawn wore the pants as she and her husband were leaving on their honeymoon, and a TSA agent and flight attendant asked about them.
“That was the beginning of all these women noticing my pants and asking me where I got them. I started thinking, ‘I could start a little business importing them, because you can’t find them in this country.’ Then I thought, ‘I have four part-time jobs and just got married. Maybe I don’t need to start a business importing fisherman’s pants.’”
However, the more Dawn was complimented on her pants, and the more she learned about social enterprise, the more she wondered if perhaps there was a way for her to help. So, exactly six months after getting married, she registered her company, Made for Freedom.
“That was the beginning of figuring out what a business plan is and why I need one, and about financials. ROI? What are you talking about? You only need to talk with me for about 5 minutes to know I’m not the MBA-type. I never wanted to have a business.” Yet, that is exactly where she had ended up.
With advisors telling her she would need between $600,000 and $1 million to launch Made for Freedom, there were times it looked as though the company might fail before it had a chance to start, but Dawn was far from ready to throw in the towel.
“I was invited on a 2-week trip to India to research sex trafficking. In just one red-light district in India, there are over 10,000 girls being prostituted out. It’s hard for me to comprehend $600,000 or $1 million, but I can’t comprehend 10,000 women being prostituted out in that one red-light district either. I was out of my league and overwhelmed.”
In the end, Dawn took a creative route for her business. She did a crowd funding and got a Kiva loan to begin, and later she won grants, which helped move the company forward.
Rather than going the more traditional route of using an established factory to manufacture the pants, Dawn sought out organizations abroad that were helping women rescued from the sex trade. Now, she is working with centers in India, China, Thailand, and Nepal, where the vulnerability for girls has grown exponentially since the earthquake in Kathmandu earlier this year.
Dawn readily admits this journey has been incredibly difficult. Has it been worth the effort? When asked, she smiles and recounts the story of one girl in India who was 13 or 14 when her family married her off to a man in the village.
The man’s mother, who lived with him, took money from a group of men, so they could gang rape the girl. She was later sold by an uncle to a brothel, where she lived for years.
She learned about a center offering free job training to anyone interested. After receiving training, she ended up working for the center that sews Made for Freedom’s tee-shirts. In her spare time, she would go into the red-light district telling others about how they could get training and a job.
Eventually, her parents passed away leaving her property in her little village. She went back there and built a weaving center on the land. Now, she employs women who are leaving the sex trade.
So, in answer to the question of whether or not Dawn and her company are making a difference – the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
What are Dawn’s hopes for the future of the company? “I hope people recognize our beautiful hummingbird from a distance, and they know dignified employment is behind that product… that people are being helped”
There are several ways you can help make a difference listed on the website. Additionally, says Dawn, “If you buy a product, please become a spokesperson for us. Communicate not only where someone can buy the product, but also the value and significance of that product – it was made by a woman who has come out of an incredibly difficult situation.”
Rebecca Lacy is President of Pinnacle Management Group, Incorporated, a company providing leadership coaching, training, and consulting in the areas of employee engagement and leadership development. She is published in several anthologies and has just completed her first book. Website – Facebook – Twitter – Books