Impact of Ideas TED Conferences

A 24-hour day of giving, to end child trafficking in the United States

It’s a challenge for anyone with a cause: How do you frame the issue so that people feel excited to get involved? For some causes, the answer is asking people to dump a bucket of ice on their head. For others, making that personal connection is even more tricky. 

This is exactly how a small group of attendees felt when they were posed with a question at TED2013: What are concrete steps they could take to stop child trafficking and slavery in the United States? This question was one of 10 TED Challenges in 2013, designed to ignite big thinking around real-world problems, from clearing land mines in Vietnam to creating a better tracking system for vaccines.

At first, the group was daunted by the size of the problem—and by the difficulty of connecting to it. “It’s an issue that a lot of people don’t want to think about because it’s so disturbing,” says Bonnie Calvin, one of these attendees.

But as the group met throughout the conference, ideas began to materialize. They kept on thinking well after the conference ended. And now, a year and half later, they finally have an answer.

On September 16, they are holding “Everyone’s Kids, Everyone Gives Day,” a 24-hour day of giving to raise as much money as possible to end child trafficking and slavery in the US. More than 100 nonprofits are participating in the day, which has a Razoo crowdfunding campaign and a public service announcement video, above.

Bonnie Calvin, who worked for the TED Prize for years, was initially excited to be part of this challenge team, as she’d researched trafficking, but hadn’t taken action. She didn’t realize, however, that the campaign would become something she’d work on nearly full-time. The first hurdle: raising funding for the project, which came together with a grant from the Knight Foundation and several others. But another still remained: getting people to care. “The general public does not understand that child trafficking is happening to American children,” she says. “The first step is getting the awareness out there that this is happening here at home.”

To help their message connect, the team stressed the everyday reality of trafficking. “A lot of the messaging around this topic is extremely dark—it’s a girl in a motel room. It’s unfortunately the truth of the issue, but it can push people away,” says Calvin. “Also there can be a stigma placed on these victims of trafficking already, and misplaced blame. We didn’t want to reinforce that outlook, because these girls are kids. As young as twelve years old—there is no blame to be placed on them. The majority of the victims come from homes that are neglectful or abusive and nobody looks for them when they disappear.”

In their PSA, made with the creative help of Wondros and footage from Getty Images, the team wanted to go another direction. “We wanted to remind people that these girls are just like all your daughter’s friends—they have the same hopes and dreams as every other teenage girl,” says Calvin.

The idea to create a giving day—and the decision to use Razoo as a crowdfunding platform for it—was an organic one; the site’s former CEO, Lesley Mansford, was also part of the challenge team. The money raised during Everyone’s Kids, Everyone Gives Day will be distributed among more than 100 nonprofits working in the trafficking space. “They range from very large advocacy groups like Polaris to small shelters who just need funds for more beds, like Courtney’s House,” says Calvin. She name-checks another organization: the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, a national hotline that answer calls and texts from anywhere in the country.

“A lot of the work anti-trafficking organizations are doing is focused on youth education, on reaching young women early. In essence, cutting off the supply—because we’re not going to change the criminals and we’re not going to change the men who go to brothels,” says Calvin. “So it’s about reaching girls and teens, educating them about this issue before it can happen to them—and also working closely with guidance counselors, teachers and hospital workers, giving them the tools they need to look for warning signs.”

With Everyone’s Kids, Everyone Gives Day, Calvin hopes to raise a lot of money. But more than that, she wants to raise awareness and get people thinking about this hard-to-talk-about-issue. She says, “Before we can help to address it, we have to face the fact that it is happening in this country, right now.”

Three talks to watch on the issue of child trafficking: