How the Freedom Fund Faces the Challenge of Measuring Impact

7 August 2018
Research Innovation

Yuki Lo  | Senior Research & Evaluation Officer, Freedom Fund
Christopher Zoia  | Communications Manager, Freedom Fund

Founded in 2014, the Freedom Fund is an international non-profit organization dedicated to ending modern slavery by identifying and investing in the most effective frontline efforts. Our mission is to mobilize the knowledge, capital and will needed to end modern slavery.

At the frontline level, we partner with grassroots NGOs in places with the highest incidence of slavery and fund programmes that sustainably liberate individuals. We then bring in leading research institutions to measure the effectiveness of our interventions and share that knowledge with the wider anti-slavery community. At the international level, we support global initiatives aimed at tackling modern slavery, and we are working to build a movement of modern abolitionists.

Working together with these partners, we protect vulnerable populations, liberate and reintegrate those enslaved, and prosecute those responsible. By aligning the efforts of visionary anti-slavery organizations, governments, businesses, investors and those at risk of exploitation, we tackle the systems that allow slavery to persist and thrive.

The Freedom Fund’s work relies on a diverse network of partners, including community-based organizations, human rights advocates, policymakers, businesses, researchers and donors. To be effective, we need to remain accountable and honest about collective achievements as well as challenges that remain. By measuring and comparing impact across activities, locations and time, the Freedom Fund is able to identify effective interventions and assess how they can be scaled or replicated.

The benefits of measurement extend beyond our own work. We recognize that our network of partners cannot reach all 40 million people who are in modern slavery, plus hundreds of millions more who are at risk of being victimized. We hope that by measuring and sharing the results of our work we can help inform other anti-slavery efforts and inspire more actors to join the movement to end slavery.

When the Freedom Fund was established, we made a deliberate decision to invest in evidence and measurement. Thus far, we have trained and supported more than 100 in-country partners to strengthen their technical knowledge and organizational processes to track the scale and outcomes of their work.

Four years later, our newly published Impact Report summarizes what we and our partners have proudly achieved. Together, we have liberated 16,047 people from slavery, helped 36,231 at-risk children return to school and directly supported over 390,000 women, men, girls and boys who are highly vulnerable to gross exploitation.

In addition to ongoing monitoring, we also fund external research to examine why and how people fall into exploitation, and whether our work is having a positive effect. For example, a study in our south-eastern Nepal hotspot found that 31 per cent of the households in our program areas were in bonded labour, and that a health crisis was the most common reason for households falling into debt. An evaluation in our northern India hotspot showed that a community-based intervention reduced the level of extreme household debt by 76 per cent and increased average wages by 13 per cent. These research findings help us empirically review where we work, whom we engage and what activities we support.


Market in Hyderabad, India. Unsplash/Arihant Daga

The Freedom Fund is not alone in our measurement efforts, and we are constantly learning and borrowing from other anti-slavery organizations. Nevertheless, we still grapple with a number of measurement challenges.

Without skilled data collectors who can secure the trust of local communities, it can be very difficult for people to self-disclose socially undesirable circumstances and report cases of exploitation.

First and foremost, it is very difficult to reliably count victims of modern slavery. Victims often belong to marginalized populations; deliberately kept hidden from outsiders or robbed of the confidence to have their voices heard. Without skilled data collectors who can secure the trust of local communities, it can be very difficult for people to self-disclose socially undesirable circumstances and report cases of exploitation. Due to this, we believe that measurement efforts can often undercount the actual number of victims.

Secondly, in our quest to standardise and quantify outcomes, we often overlook important contextual differences. For example, the way we count “victims liberated” across our programme ignores the varying levels of trauma and follow-up support involved in each case. Ending exploitation of a man being forced to work on a Thai fishing vessel is different from assisting a child to recover from commercial sexual exploitation. However, in quantifying the results we resort to simplifying and counting each case as “one victim liberated”.

Lastly, although we recognize that freedom is not a one-time event and re-trafficking often occurs, due to complex logistics and costs, it’s not always feasible to follow a cohort of affected individuals to examine the longer-term effects of our work on survivors. The high rates of internal and cross-border migration in most of our programme locations make it difficult to maintain contact and arrange follow-ups with former programme participants. Yet, we believe continuing long-term support for survivors is an important issue for the anti-slavery field to address.

Ultimately, the Freedom Fund considers measurement a means to an end. Measuring impact is a tool to help us direct limited resources towards effective policies and interventions, and it keeps us honest when investments are not delivering the intended results. Ending slavery will take more than just good measurement, but we believe that we cannot get there without it.

Yuki Lo is the senior research and evaluation officer at the Freedom Fund.

Chris Zoia is the communications manager at the Freedom Fund.

This article has been prepared by Yuki Lo and Chris Zoia as a contribution to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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