Have you ever heard of Annie Cannon? She was a pioneer, who worked at the Harvard Observatory in the early 20th century. Annie Cannon and a group of women discovered the very categories that stars fall into. If ever there was a more perfect name for an organization about two stars who are truly pioneers, it is Laura Hackney and Jessica Hubley’s nonprofit organization Annie Cannons.
Truly one of the most innovate organizations tackling one of the most horrific problems, human trafficking or slavery. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally. Sixty-eight percent are trapped in forced labor, twenty-six percent are children and over fifty percent are women and girls. According to the nonprofit organization Polaris there were over 8,000 reported cases in the United States in 2016. I truly had no idea and was shocked by these statistics.
What was even more stunning was two Stanford graduates (one a Masters from Stanford and the other Stanford Law) who were determined to find a solution to empower these victims by teaching them skills, earning income and building solutions to empower them to break the cycle. Last week I had one of the most incredible conversations, I have ever had…. with Co-Founder Jessica Hubley.
Charity Matters: What is the back story to Annie Cannons, your nonprofit is pretty unique?
Jessica Hubley: Laura was the manager of the Program on Human Rights on Stanford and had worked as a Senior Research Associate for Stanford’s Anti-Trafficking Project. I was an attorney, we had both gone to Stanford and in September 2013, I was writing a nonfiction book about human trafficking. Laura was going to Myanmar for work and asked if I wanted to come along. We met and interviewed nine people who were victims of human trafficking and they all said the same thing. That they were desperate for work, they were poor, vulnerable and trusted someone.
This was shocking to me, but not to Laura who had been in this space for much longer. I asked Laura, “What if we got these people a job?” The answer wasn’t as simple, but we knew that if we could find a way to address the financial piece we might be able to impact change.
When we came home, I was a successful attorney working with digital media companies in the technology industry. I was seeing so many people in software development making $400 an hour writing code and couldn’t help but wonder what if we taught these women victims of human trafficking how to do this?
Charity Matters: What did you do then?
Jessica Hubley: First we spent an enormous amount of time talking to people who ran nonprofits, shelters here in the Bay Area that housed women who were victims of human trafficking, we spoke to Fortune 500 companies and gathered a lot of information.
We are self-proclaimed huge geeks. That being said, we taught ourselves to write code. Laura taught herself, then she taught me, we began essentially putting a school together for these women and kept refining our curriculum. We knew the market and need for coders and believed that these women who had escaped unimaginable past had what it took. They were good problem solvers, they were survivors, hard workers and they had grit. It turns out that it is exactly what it takes to be a perfect coder.
Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work? You are running a nonprofit and a school, essentially and then you are helping these women get jobs writing code? It is an enormous undertaking, how do you do it?
Jessica Hubley: I think there are three things. One, I still feel I have something to prove to the world. Two, we built the kind of workplace that we both always dreamed of that is supportive and collaborative, where we all learn from one another. Lastly, Laura understands and having a partner to lift me up ….and we keep each other going.
Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?
Jessica Hubley: When I see one of our students thriving and being successful. When I receive a card or note saying you changed my life and my children’s’ lives. When our customers love their apps and websites and when we have found hidden figures in the world that no one is looking at and have given them the economic power to break the cycle of human trafficking. We have helped people build solutions.
Charity Matters: What have you learned from this experience?
Jessica Hubley: I have learned that most people are good but more than that, I have learned that what really matters is the mark we leave on the world.
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