By Melissa Jane Kronfeld & Megan Legband
Kate Kennedy is a powerhouse freedom fighter with years of experience working to alleviate poverty, inspire justice, and combat modern slavery. Born and raised in Australia, Kate now lives half-way around the world in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two children. She holds a B.A. from Monash University in Australia and completed a six month course from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
Kate has worked extensively in Southeast Asia in anti-trafficking efforts, and has significant non-profit leadership experience, most notably as CEO of Hagar Australia. In 2000, Kate founded goodcompany, Australia’s largest professional volunteer network. She has also conducted major consulting projects for the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the United Nations. Now, Kate serves as the North American Managing Director for The Freedom Fund, the world’s first private philanthropic initiative dedicated to ending modern slavery, which was launched at the Clinton Global Initiative.
In addition to her work to end trafficking, Kate is also passionate about storytelling through film, and co-produced a film on Tom Wills, the founder of Australian Rules football.
Check out what happened when we caught up with Kate to talk about the fight to #EndSlaveryNow!
What is one fact that every person should know about slavery?
How did you first learn about modern slavery & what did you decide to do about it?
I think so many people have an ‘ah-ha’ moment when they realize slavery still exists. Mine was when I was working as Strategic Director of World Vision Australia and someone put down a map of slavery. I remember saying, “Hang on – what do you mean by ‘slavery’?” I was so shocked and appalled that I didn’t know. That was in 2008.
I got hungry for more information. I looked into an agency that World Vision funded in Southeast Asia that provided recovery programs for survivors of severe human rights abuses – appalling stuff like the sexual exploitation of children by foreign and local pedophiles for as low as two dollars.
The agency was called Hagar Australia, and in 2012 I became their CEO. It was a privilege to work for Hagar, which is a global leader in recovery programs for women and children who have survived abuses including trafficking and sexual slavery. We had 1,200 clients at any time and 300 staff working on the frontlines of the world’s worst abuses. I worked for four fabulous years in Australia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore. But the demand for services never seemed to stop, and I became interested in the root causes of slavery – corruption, failure of the law and poverty.
That drew me to the Freedom Fund where I now work as Managing Director, North America. The Freedom Fund identifies and invests in the most effective frontline efforts to eradicate modern slavery in the countries and sectors where it is most prevalent. Partnering with visionary investors, governments, anti-slavery organizations, and those at risk of exploitation, we tackle the systems that allow slavery to persist and thrive. We work to protect vulnerable populations, liberate and reintegrate those enslaved, and prosecute those responsible. Through my role, I’m able to be a part of tackling systems of slavery at the global level – ensuring that survivors are liberated sustainably and that the entire anti-slavery movement is equipped to end this global scourge.
What is the most critical obstacle preventing us from having a slave free world?
There is no single silver bullet, unfortunately. Slavery is wickedly complex. We need to see joint action on corruption, the law, policing, and really importantly, an increase in capital.
What is the most important lesson you have learned while fighting for freedom?
I have had the privilege of interacting with many survivors of slavery, hearing their stories and witnessing their bravery. Slavery is not just numbers. Behind every single one of the 46 million slaves is a unique experience. Whenever I speak about slavery, I always try to share just one survivor’s story and to ensure that the audience understands that when we talk about slavery, we are talking about the lives of individuals – children, women, and men who have survived exploitation, trafficking, and abuse. These stories also underline the complexity of the issue and the many factors that might make someone vulnerable to slavery.
Why do you believe the Millennial generation will be the one that can end slavery?
They know about it! This generation has more awareness about global slavery than ever before, and is armed with more data and tools to combat it. New technologies enable us to look deeper into supply chains and improve transparency. New, emerging research about the roots of slavery and the most effective interventions allows us to be more strategic about our efforts and invest in what works the best. The momentum of the anti-slavery movement is growing, and there is more political will to end slavery than ever before. I have witnessed significant social change with extreme poverty and see the ingredients needed for momentous change that will end slavery in this generation.
What does a slave free world look like to you?
A slave free world is a world where people are not traded and sold. Not forced through coercion and trickery into labour. To do this the vulnerabilities that lead to slavery need to be eradicated. So a free world looks like most places in the world – people have access to education, shelter and food, there is no conflict.
A slave free world is one in which supply chain transparency is the norm, not the exception, and all companies are held accountable – by laws, by enforcement, by workers and by consumer demand – for protection of workers at all levels of their supply chains. It’s a world in which workers have access to legal protections, and there is absolutely no impunity for committing crimes of slavery and trafficking. It’s also a world in which refugees and migrants are protected and informed of their rights.
What is one thing every reader can start doing right now to help end slavery?
Get connected to the problem – and the solution. Learn about the forms of slavery that still persist in the world, and learn how you are situated in the context of global supply chains. The Freedom Fund’s website is a really fabulous resource to learn about slavery. Check it out and learn more about our work, and especially about our frontline partners fighting slavery at the grassroots level.
Profiles In Abolition is an in-depth look at the influencers, innovators & thought leaders in the modern anti-slavery movement. An accompaniment to Millennial Magazine’s ongoing 10-part series exposing modern slavery – a project of the Nexus Global Youth Summit (catch up with Part One, Part Two, Part Three & Part Four) – Profiles In Abolition will examine a diverse & inspiring array of advocates whose critical voice must be heard.
Want to learn more from the world’s leading luminaries in the fight to #EndSlaveryNow? Sign up for the Nexus Anti-Slavery Speaker Series, a weekly conference call with the men and women on the front lines of the modern abolition movement! This call is open to the public and everyone is welcome to listen in! Click here to register for free. Then learn more about modern slavery by following Nexus on Twitter, Instagram & Millennial Magazine!