Getting the Public Involved in the Fight Against Human Trafficking with Technology


IOM, Microsoft, USAID and AvePoint launch the 6Degree portal on 23 June 2015. © IOM 2015

By Reuben Lim

Last week on one hot June afternoon in Bangkok, a regional conference on human trafficking took place at the Shangri-La hotel. The setting at first glance seemed nothing out of the ordinary for an event of this sort. A grand conference room in a five star hotel crowded with national delegations, NGOs and international organisations.

But one thing stood out – Microsoft, a multinational technology leader, had not only joined this conference on ICT and human trafficking but actively contributed towards shaping the conference and bringing it to life in partnership with six International Organizations including IOM, UN-ACT, UN Women, UNICEF, USAID and UNODC.

From providing grants to NGOs to using its technologies to combat the issue through its Digital Crimes Unit, Microsoft is a key partner for many organizations, including IOM’s campaign arm, IOM X. “You can see their dedication to the cause when you speak with them,” says Mike Nedelko, IOM X’s digital engagement manager, as he explains 6degree.org, a new joint IOM-Microsoft crowdfunding initiative launched at the conference.

6degree.org is touted as the first of its kind in allowing members of the public to support individual trafficking survivors directly. With the innovative use of Bing maps and cloud computing platform Azure provided by Microsoft, IOM X has created an attractive and interactive visual sharing the stories of trafficking survivors. The aim of the project is twofold. The first was to supplement limited funds for providing services to trafficking survivors while the second was to promote awareness on human trafficking.

The idea for a crowdfunding portal was borne out of a conversation between Jonathan Martens, IOM’s migrant assistance specialist, and Stefan Sjöström, Microsoft’s public sector vice president. “Once the portal was conceptualised and the business analysis exercise was done, everything else was smooth sailing,” says Nedelko. “People on both sides were easy to work with and it wasn’t hard getting the survivors to come on board either. We have very strict guidelines on protecting the identity of the survivors and gave assurances that assistance would still be provided even if they do not consent,” he adds when asked about the challenges faced.

In addition to providing a human touch to the way individuals are able to connect to survivors, 6degree.org is also a prime example of the active use of technology to solve problems related to development. Nedelko asserts that technology has yet to play a consistent role in development. “R&D departments are commonplace in the private sector but we hardly have them in the development world,” he quips while expounding the potential of technology as an under tapped resource in providing new solutions. “What we are trying to do with 6degree.org is to set a new standard in innovation.”

Despite the portal being only in its initial phase, reception has been overwhelmingly positive. In the first two days of the launch alone, an average 25 tweets per minute were sent. Several news media from the New York Times to Channel NewsAsia have covered 6degree.org’s launch and pledges amounting to about $1700 have been made to date. For Nedelko and many others working on the project, its successful launch is also a personal achievement. “It‘s one of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on,” he says beaming with pride. Expansion plans are on the horizon and users can look forward to a more emotional experience in the coming months as the site continues to evolve with more stories and features being added.

Read also: A New Crowdfunding Platform Helps Human Trafficking Victims Come Home