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TOR140 ― Communicating Effectively At Scale About Human Exploitation With Tara Dermott Of IOM X

Tara Dermott

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So, imagine for a moment that you’re a college student getting ready to spend a summer working internationally. Maybe in a hotel in a tropical resort, or as an eco tour guide, or maybe helping teach children in an orphanage. The options are almost limitless if you look hard enough. This is exciting stuff! So, now your bags are packed, you’ve said goodby to mom and dad and you’re on the plane. But, when you land at your destination, it turns out to be nothing at all like what you expected. You’re passport and phone are taken from you. You’re locked in a hotel room and, rather than serving cocktails to high end tourists, you find yourself being forced to clean fish or… some other job. I’ve just painted a picture that, in reality, is fairly unlikely for a kid from the US or Europe, because there are systems in place that vet employers, study abroad opportunities and the like to ensure they are legit. Unfortunately, however, human trafficking and exploitation is still a reality for thousands of people around the world today. Often the go-to image of this horror is young women being forced into the sex trade. But exploitation happens in numerous other ways as well – in domestic work, in fisheries, in manual labor of all types. My guest for the 140th Terms of Reference Podcast has spent a career combatting human exploitation. Tara Dermott currently leads IOM X, which is the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) campaign to encourage safe migration and public action to stop human trafficking and exploitation in the Asia Pacific region. This campaign has reached more than 158 million people in less than two years and has helped to not only shape the conversation around exploitation, but also help many people out of it.   You can connect with Tara here:  


  • How human trafficking takes more shapes and victims that you would think
  • The surprising road of IOMX, from its start at MTV (yes, that MTV) to the umbrella of the largest Migration agency
  • The role of communications, awareness and new media in promoting awareness about human trafficking
  • How despite the massive mobile penetration in South East Asia, human trafficking feeds off those trenches with low digits
  • How IOMX ensures partnerships to work and continue, through active management
  • Interesting approaches, such as creating a TV drama, and interesting outcomes, such as getting a request for help from a Cambodian fisherman through Facebook
  • How, for many around the world, mobile is the first investment they are looking to make
  • The future of the human trafficking space, and the new tech and tech players coming to help






Downtown Bangkok 03:33 Tara at the International Organization for Migrations, ‘X’
  • IOM believes migration benefits all
  • IOMX is a safe migration taskforce, dealing with issues like human trafficking
  • “X is a very visual way: ‘stop exploitation'”
  • “We leverage the power and popularity of media to reach the youth across the Pacific”
04:21 How IOMX came to be
  • It is the second incarnation of a campaign. First time around, MTV Exit, a former UN partnership with the former music network
  • Is MTV still a thing? “It is still around”
  • MTV Exit came along with a rebranding by the network
  • Guys from MTV Europe wanted to do something about human trafficking awareness
  • Swedish agency (Sida?) and USAID helped out, a pilot campaign came to be
  • Thus MTV Exit Foundation was born
  • 2006 MTV Exit moves and focus on Asia. It is the model IOMX uses today
  • Communication for development, applied to human trafficking
07:00 How natural was the shift from MTV to IOM
  • 2014 Viacom (MTV parent company) changed its CSR policy to change audience focus
  • MTV Exit was losing sense for Viacom in terms of the intended audience
  • USAID wanted to continue support, suggested looking for a new home
  • In Asia, IOM came to the rescue. “An incredibly different organization than MTV”
09:41 First new home outcomes
  • The shift was an opportunity to reflect, recharge, retarget At IOM impact assessment started to be taken seriously Evaluation allowed to broaden the understanding of trafficking. It pervades beyond girls and prostitution and it happens through several modus Sector-specific approaches were developed: fishing, domestic work. This included awareness First year, they produced a TV drama with “Thailand’s Johnny Depp” on board The drama showed how the fishing industry allowed for trafficking opportunities “Drama was nothing new” but it opened the way for partnerships, from communications to distribution. “They helped for free” 2015 it was a victory. “It’s a very sensitive subject. It hits close to home” IOMX was a thing. People knew where to go It reached immigrant from Laos, Cambodia A Cambodian fisherman reached out to IOMX via Facebook The support by IOM made the interventions much more powerful and swift One of the challenge is always to channel direct impact, linkage
16:39 Next social waves
  • Television kept being big. They included live events, concerts 3 billion people. Many of them in fishing South East Asian are fast adopters, particularly in information consumption. TV is getting old, phones are everywhere. But 100% penetration does not mean everyone has one Men express their interest to migrate from Cambodia to join Thailand’s fishing. Out of those who make the jump, 3% has a mobile phone, IOMX found out Further research on fishermen mobile usage reveals a relationship between connectedness and risk of being a victim of trafficking “As long as people have enough, they buy a phone. It is their first investment” But this is only one small part of IOMX work and campaigns
22:56 IOMX roll call
  • 10 people, including interns A regional Bangkok office A digital team engagement has a leader, content creators There’s a communication 4 development specialist A partnership specialist Each sector requires different skillsets, they all take ongoing reaching out Partnerships are made directly as IOMX, or through the IOM vast regional umbrella 9 IOM offices in Thailand, similarly in Myanmar IOM provides intel on trafficking trends Industry partnerships such as media, happen directly. TV, radio, online Baidu was a partner
28:43 How about LINE and stickers
  • “We’re actually pulling together a concept right now” Telenor (a telco) supports migrant population programs. Migrants are a big segment for them. A partnership is in the works Grameen Phone will be involved too Stephen: When organizations support aid initiatives but not as their core business, they tend to falter. It is not in their agenda to withstand years of struggle around one cause “Partnerships are led by individual thinking. Someone with a level of influence had a real interest” “Then again, those individuals also move” The IOMX model makes sure the partnerships endure. They link a newcomer with the existing ones, often including the government. “It’s harder to break up with many” Also, as a communication initiative it enjoys high visibility
34:05 Future IOMX
  • The actual subject of technology and innovation in the trafficking space is really new
  • 2016, June. A partnership with Microsoft organized the first World for Technology for Counter Trafficking Efforts summit. “First of its kind”
  • “It was exciting”
  • IOMX is trying to position itself at the forefront of thinking about these matters
  • Success stories of tech applications (in health, farming) are interesting, but feel difficult to translate to what IOMX does
  • “Traffickers are online, recruiting individuals through fraudulent websites”
38:00 Fighting fake news and being a legit counter trafficking resource online
  • Affiliations (IOM, USAID) gives IOMX reputation
  • The programs themselves are visible
  • “The sensitive nature of the program makes endorsements more powerful”
  • The dynamic requires to always be making partnerships
  • People see IOMX provides clear tools and frameworks, even for organizations looking to help and outreach
  • IOMX gets lots of requests for materials, capacity building
  • A new exciting initiative: partnership with Microsoft, gathering influential individuals
  • Microsoft was one of the first big ones involved in trafficking. In the US it tried to address sexual exploitation
  • Microsoft online DNA allowed to track missing children, rings. Years before partnering with IOMX
  • On Asia, Tara sat with a regional officer to talk about public-private partnerships. Luckily, he reached Tara again about helping with her trafficking efforts
  • An idea to deal with IOM’s challenge of identifying and supporting victims. 1 of every 6 to 9 victims of trafficking are identified
  • Microsoft was interested in working to build “the world’s first crowdfunding portal to support trafficking victims”. This portal has shed light on personal stories and let people help victims
  • It’s crowdfunding to help counteract human trafficking
  • IOM Geneva has also helped. “We hope it becomes a global tool for IOM”
  • Tara attends
  • ICTWorks blog, affiliated with World Bank
  • FHI 360
  • “The issue demands me to be proactive”
  • David Madden at Phandeeyar (?) Co-founder of Australia, New York creative agency for change to Myanmar
  • Researcher at the forefront of technology and human trafficking. From “do no harm” to risk-taker


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