Net Impact UCLA Members Tackle Human Trafficking | Net Impact

Net Impact UCLA Members Tackle Human Trafficking

Keeping a social sector organization afloat takes work: it's sometimes a struggle to get donations, pay staff, and coordinate volunteers - not to mention sticking to the mission that got you there in the first place. But if you're Mary Magdalene Project (MMP), a Los Angeles-based nonprofit working to target sex trafficking and street prostitution, it's even harder: when no one wants to talk about the issue you're tackling - because of false stereotypes, ignorance, you name it - it's that much more difficult to change lives.In an effort to reach a larger audience and grow its donor base, MMP's Executive Director Judy Ames applied to Net Impact UCLA's annual consulting challenge. As part of the competition, UCLA students partner with 17 local nonprofits, lending traditional business skills from their graduate programs to organizations facing a critical roadblock. Having a team of these people work on projects that we have not been successful doing appealed to me, says Judy.

Research leads to a new marketing approach

Mary Magdalene Project opened its doors to the Los Angeles community in 1980, long before President Obama declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Bringing in donations can be a challenge, however; most people assume girls and women become prostitutes by choice and may not be as likely to give. But the reality is that over 90% are victims who have been specifically targeted, says Megan Groh, the lead for her Net Impact UCLA consulting team. Pimps have been found online, in college dorms, posing as MTV video recruiters and outside of schools.

Prostitution is not a word you often hear around the dinner table, and people think that it's something that happens somewhere else.

After two weeks of intense collaboration, Megan and three teammates proposed a new messaging platform for MMP: Anyone's Daughter. Through the team's research, they realized that, despite sex trafficking's visible presence in many communities, people weren't talking about it. Prostitution is not a word you often hear around the dinner table, and people think that it's something that happens somewhere else, says Megan. The Anyone's Daughter message resonates with potential donors by personalizing the issue, relying on narratives crafted from the real experiences of women who have come through MMP's program.

Filling a capacity gap with MBA skills

The team's recommendations paid off, nabbing them 2nd place honors at the recent presentation ceremony. More importantly, Mary Magdalene Project is already looking into implementing the suggestions, working the team's key messages into trainings with staff, board members, current donors, and volunteers - anyone who can help ensure that MMP maintains consistent messaging as they spread the word. Judy also hopes to recruit a UCLA team member to the organization's Board of Directors.One of the most compelling aspects of the consulting challenge is that it allows organizations to tap into diverse skill sets they wouldn't otherwise have access to. I used to fly jets for the Marine Corps and graduated from the Naval Academy with a B.S. in English, says Megan of the MMP consulting team. By methodically applying the accounting and marketing skills she's learning in her MBA program, she and her teammates were able to bring fresh eyes to what seemed like an intractable challenge for MMP.

[The Net Impact UCLA team] became very familiar with our organization, presented us with some wonderful suggestions...It was truly a pleasure.

It also offers an opportunity for Net Impacters to get hands-on experience tackling big issues. Sometimes when you're in school you wonder if what you're learning is going to be enough to help you in the real world, says Megan. We were all pleasantly surprised to discover that what we have learned, in such a short amount of time, is enough to make an impact.And for Judy, the collaboration offered equal parts inspiration and execution. The team became very familiar with our organization, presented us with some wonderful suggestions...and offered to stick around and help us implement some of their great ideas, reflects Judy. It was truly a pleasure.Want to know where the projects are now? Check out Net Impact UCLA's update on the competition.