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A 21st-CENTURY SOLUTION TO A
21st-CENTURY

PROBLEM

AN INTERVIEW
WITH LAURA HACKNEY

WRITTEN BY:
ALEXANDRA BERRYMAN

When individuals have supportive, trauma-informed environments where they can learn and work and support their families, they can be interconnected into larger communities that can promote positive change.”

AnnieCannons is a 21st-century solution to a 21st-century problem, harnessing the growing tech industry and using it as a solution to the growing issue of human trafficking trafficking. This smart and innovative company is pushing the boundaries of what is possible for survivor employment.

The name AnnieCannons was inspired by the remarkable legacy of Annie Jump Cannon, a pioneering astronomer whose brilliance transcended the constraints of her time. Despite enduring the pervasive gender discrimination of her era, Cannon’s relentless perseverance led to revolutionary scientific discoveries that continue to shape our understanding of the cosmos. The same energy and attitude is carried into AnnieCannons. Through their training, mentorship, and job readiness programs, AnnieCannons prepares survivors of human trafficking for careers in tech.

Every year, 45-60 individuals who have experienced human trafficking participate in a rigorous training program where they gain the technical skills needed to establish sustainable careers in tech. Participants can choose different learning pathways, all of which incorporate technical training, career development, and experiential learning into one cohesive program. Then, participants can take advanced modules in software development, cloud computing, and database management. Each advanced module incorporates 100+ hours of hands-on experience on contracted client projects. Beyond cutting-edge learning and resume building, participants become paid part-time employees, earning a regular salary and benefits to support themselves and their families.

On top of the technical skills and experience participants receive, they also work with tech sector mentors. Through this program, participants meet with their mentor weekly, sharing knowledge and creating meaningful connections to help accelerate the personal and professional growth of the participant in the tech industry.

All programs are conducted with trauma-informed principles in mind, considering the particular learning and support needs of the individual. Co-founder and Director Laura Hackney states “When individuals have supportive, trauma-informed environments where they can learn and work and support their families, they can be interconnected into larger communities that can promote positive change.”

Participants meet with a Student Success Manager where they set goals in various aspects of the program. While completion of the learning pathway is understandably a large portion of their goals, they also promote social and emotional resilience goals, ensuring they are building the professional skills and confidence they will need to have success in onward employment.

Okay, okay, okay – so I could go on and on with all the reasons that AnnieCannons is doing an incredible job, but let’s zoom out and consider the implications of a job in tech. Consider for a moment what it means to have a survivor of trafficking equipped with technological skills.

Firstly, the tech industry in the US has one of the highest starting salaries for software developers (around $95,879/year in 2023) (CompTIA). In the Freedom Business movement, there is often talk of breaking the cycle of poverty, but AnnieCannons is dreaming bigger. By providing comprehensive preparation and training for careers in high-growth sectors like the tech industry, survivors can attain something previously unthinkable. Generational wealth. As a community, we speak so often about the power of a stable job, and how a consistent paycheck can help improve the health and well-being of a whole family; but now we must consider what is the impact of a high-paying job? Would this not be worth the investment?

Secondly, consider how this has an impact on the wider community. Only 8% of tech roles are filled by Black or African American workers, only 8% of tech roles are filled by Hispanic workers, and only 26% of tech roles are filled by women-identified workers (CompTIA). An estimated $8 billion is being allocated by companies to support Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging initiatives (Forbes). AnnieCannons graduates are showing themselves and their communities that diversity is not only possible within the tech space, but it is essential.

And finally, AnnieCannons is equipping survivors to have the skills to create 21st-century, tech-driven solutions to human trafficking. Through multi-year partnerships with Allies Against Slavery, AnnieCannons students have helped create the Lighthouse Data Initiative, democratizing and increasing access to case notes and data, helping advocates and practitioners understand the trafficking landscape in the US.

As we explored in last month’s post on survivor inclusion, survivors are the subject matter experts on human trafficking, therefore they can provide incredible nuance to approaches to its eradication. Laura Hackney calls this “Survivor intelligence” and “[this] intelligence that can sort out childcare, health insurance, immigration paperwork, and government bureaucracy; [ this ]intelligence that can navigate PTSD symptoms while presenting a project in front of a group for the first time; [this] intelligence that can seek help and mentorship when life starts to feel overwhelming; [this] intelligence that can support a peer in learning new skill sets or navigating a difficult situation at home”

The intelligence has always been there, but AnniCannons programs give survivors the means and the skills to bring this intelligence to light and create solutions that will be felt throughout the anti-trafficking community.

There are many things we can learn from AnnieCannons. But in my opinion, there is one that stands beyond the rest – it is the question of potential.

Survivors of human trafficking are often told they are not able to access jobs requiring high levels of skill or education. Anxiety, complex trauma, symptoms of post-traumatic stress, lack of role models in their community, and little previous work or education experience can certainly hinder an individual from accessing further opportunities. But AnnieCannons is proving that with adequate training, support, and mentorship it is possible. It is not easy. It requires a considerable amount of resources, expertise, and commitment, but it is possible.

I believe Annie Cannons is pushing the boundaries of what we consider Freedom Business. Through innovative and relentless programs, the AnnieCannons team is helping survivors of human trafficking access jobs in a high-earning, high-growth field. Through these jobs, survivors are building careers they love; innovating survivor-informed technical solutions to human trafficking; and redefining what a ‘suitable job for a survivor’ can be.

AnnieCannons is one of the many Freedom Businesses featured in our 2024 Freedom Business Magazine. See Laura’s article on investing in survivor intelligence and many more insights from the FBA community.

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