By Melissa Jane Kronfeld & Matthew Pinna
After witnessing slavery firsthand during a life-changing trip to Cambodia, Diana Mao has dedicated her life to championing the abolitionist cause. Through her non-profit, Nomi Network, she has worked tirelessly to empower women through education and job training, uplifting communities and families in the fight for freedom.
After graduating from New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, she applied her education and experiences to end the enslavement of women and girls and focused her work in some of the world’s most impoverished nations, including India and Cambodia. Her passionate efforts have earned her several accolades, including the Pioneer Award from Asian Americans for Equality, and an induction into the first-ever class of Presidential Leadership Scholars.
As an activist and thought leader, Diana has been featured in the Huffington Post, Reuters, and the United States Center for Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center, spreading awareness of the true scale of human trafficking, and inspiring them to purchase goods produced by survivors under ethical and transparent conditions. Through her platform Buy Her Bag Not Her Body, Diana brings slave free, transparent supply chain goods to market, with 100% of the proceeds being returned to the women and girls her organizations trains and employs to make them.
Diana’s career shows how a single spark of inspiration can change the world. Check out what happened when we caught up with Diana to talk about the fight to #EndSlaveryNow!
What is one fact that every person should know about slavery?
According to the Department of Labor, 68% of raw materials such as cotton, cocoa and coffee contain forced or child labor. That means that every person has many products that are tainted with child or forced labor.
How did you first learn about modern slavery & what did you decide to do about it?
At the age of 25, I was a graduate student at New York Univeristy learning about issues such as poverty, human trafficking, and other pressing global issues. All of the statistics were meaningless to me until I witnessed the horrors of sex trafficking in Cambodia first hand while conducting research for a micro-finance bank. My research brought me to some of the most poor and remote villages in Cambodia. It was there that I met a single father with seven children, who offered his youngest daughter to one of my male colleagues. She was no more than seven years old! As I looked into his eyes, I could tell that he was doing this out of desperation, and not with malicious intent.
This encounter made it clear to me that poverty is a breeding ground for traffickers to prey on young children. After coming back to the States, I was determined to do something. I returned to Cambodia in 2008 with my future co-founder, Alissa Moore-Williams, to assess the needs of the people. Upon arriving at one shelter, a young girl ran to us and threw her arms around me. She said, “HELLO, my name is Nomi, sister what is yours?” As I walked through the shelter with the director, I tried very hard to hold back tears as he shared Nomi’s story. Nomi was not only sexually exploited by her stepfather, but she was treated like an animal and literally locked up. When she arrived at the shelter, she was nonverbal, did not have any grooming habits, and did not know how to use the restroom. She drooled all the time and was very violent. Although Nomi was just one girl, I knew that after hearing her story, something had to be done.
What is the most critical obstacle preventing us from having a slave free world?
There is a lack of slave free options and consumer awareness that their products are tainted.
What is the most important lesson you have learned while fighting for freedom?
The words of Jesus and Abraham Lincoln – a house divided cannot stand. I have seen the power of unity and when people lay down their egos and expectations. The most important lesson I have learned is the power of unity in the fight against human trafficking. With more of this, slavery will truly be eradicated in our generation.
Why do you believe the Millennial generation will be the one that can end slavery?
Studies have shown that 87% of millennials will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about and 76% will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs. If we can’t end it then who can?
What does a slave free world look like to you?
Nomi Network’s vision is a world without slavery where every woman can know her full potential. Our mission is to create economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking by equipping them with leadership, entrepreneurship, and production skills to become financially independent. A slave free world is a world where every person has the opportunity to live up to their full potential and purchase products that empower each other.
What is one thing every reader can start doing right now to help end slavery?
One thing I’ve learned through my experiences at Nomi Network is that what we buy matters and who makes it matter. Every person can do his or her part to end modern day slavery by raising awareness and choosing the right products. For more information please visit www.nominetwork.org and www.buyherbagnotherbody.com
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!