In our role as a nonprofit organization, we serve at least three audiences. The first audience is our constituents, or beneficiaries—the people we aim to help as part of our mission to prevent child trafficking. The second is our donors who help make that work possible. And if you saw our recent blog post about how we’ve been expanding our networks, you might be able to guess our third: other NGOS and government agencies that comprise the network that seeks to end trafficking. By expanding our networks with these agencies, we are able to help bridge gaps in understanding about policy issues on the various levels.
A Bridge Between Local and Governmental Levels
As a nonprofit organization we serve as a bridge between the local level, where cultural change is happening, to the governmental level, where policy change happens. In the early days of the fight against trafficking, despite many efforts, there wasn’t a lot of coordination between grassroots organizations and policy makers. This led to isolated and ad hoc efforts, and made it difficult to foster trust. If these actors aren’t coordinated, it can create gaps between what policy makers perceive the problem to look like and what the problem looks like on the ground.
As our Thailand Director Veerawit Tianchainan explains, “The organizations that work in the field do not have access to the policy level in Bangkok or a lot of good practices in the field. Or, the concerns and challenges that happen in the field may not be shared with the central level, with the policy makers in Bangkok.
“So we’ve been working as a bridge for that information. Because of that, we begin to see more cooperation between the NGOs in Chiang Rai and the government agencies in Chiang Rai, working together more with the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. And the Ministry of Labor began to work more closely with the NGOs.”
What This Cooperation Helps Achieve
At the top level
As a coordinator of the information issued from Bangkok to the field while also raising the issues of what happens in the field at the Bangkok level, Veerawit says, “I think I can speak with good authority that we represent the coalitions in the field and [being able to say] this is what happens on the ground. When we need to address certain issues in the field, like the relationship between the NGOs and the provincial government agencies, then I can refer to the discussions at the Bangkok level as to what the ministers or the Prime Minister said should be done. Then it gives authority in terms of how we lobby or advocate for certain policies or practices to be done by the provincial government agencies.” By serving in both roles, we’re able to credibly relay information across the gap.
At the top level, reports and numbers can look promising to policy makers, while still missing the major challenges that people on the local level confront. Or there can be a gap where a policy seems good on paper, but runs into trouble when it goes into effect. “For example,” says Veerawit, regarding the rights of migrant workers, “at the policy level, they assume all the migrant workers are well informed about their rights and the procedures and process. In reality they’re not. The migrant workers have no idea about what their rights are. And if something happens to them, they don’t even know that they could do something about it, and that their rights have been violated, not to mention about how to go and seek redress on the violations that happened to them.” This kind of disconnect between policy and reality is why so much of NGO work is about awareness raising. It ensures that local people know what their rights are, and that they have advocates who can support them in following the proper policies and procedures so that their efforts to protect themselves are more likely to be successful.
A concrete example of how this plays out could be seen at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when countries began to shut their borders. A group of migrant workers trying to leave Thailand to go home to their families in Myanmar got stuck at the border, in limbo between the two countries. We were part of a coalition of NGOs that was able to talk to authorities on behalf of these workers, to secure exceptional approval for safe passage across the border, including quarantine for 14 days before they continued to their hometowns, to prevent a possible spread of infection. This kind of policy compromise helped to contain the health threat on both sides of the border, while still allowing families to safely reunite during an incredibly stressful time.
At the local level
Meanwhile, at the local level, without coordination with a wider network, working against a problem as big as trafficking can really feel isolating. However, it’s important to recognize none of us is alone in this work. As Veerawit says, “There are other people, organizations, networks, regional networks, international networks that also do something like what we are doing in other parts of the country, or other parts of the world. We are not alone in this fight. What we have done well can be shared as good practice and lessons learned for others. And vice versa, we can also learn from good practices and lessons learned in other parts of the world, so we can all make progress in making it better so that one day there will not be a case of human trafficking.”
Creating the coordination between the different actors was a collaborative endeavor that took years, and continues to evolve over time. By ensuring clearer flows of information between the different levels–communal, provincial, national, regional, and international–we have a better chance of fostering knowledgeable and realistic attitudes, and developing more effective policies and procedures to address people’s needs and alleviate their challenges.