Friday, July 23, 2010

Meet the Co-founder of Nomi Network - Alissa Moore

Alissa Moore is a co-founder of the anti-trafficking organization Nomi Network, which was incorporated in early 2009.  Nomi Network is headquartered in NYC but works in Cambodia where they provide job training and employment for former victims of human trafficking as well as for women who are at risk of being trafficked.

1.    What led you to become a social activist?

When I was growing up, I had the opportunity to travel internationally with my family—to Costa Rica, Japan, Scotland, and other countries.  In high school, on every spring break, I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, building houses in the slums of Tijuana, Mexico. In college, I was involved with a Christian organization called InterVarsity which has a heavy focus on social justice.  In 2006, I attended an InterVarsity conference, called Urbana, about overseas missions.  Prior to that, I had had a very negative view of overseas missions, but I came away from the conference with beautiful vision of a social justice oriented global church.  Also, my personal experiences as a person who is half Japanese and half Caucasian have instilled in me a deep interest in racial justice and diversity

2.     How did you meet Diana Mao and end up becoming a co-founder of Nomi Network?

Diana and I attend the same church in New York City.  She was a graduate student at NYU at the time, and I had just moved to NYC.  Diana invited people to attend a weekly gathering in her apartment that she called Prayer for the Nations where she focused on social justice.  When I came to the first meeting, along with three others, I discovered that Diana and I were both very passionate about the issue of human trafficking. At the first meeting Diana showed me a wooden business card holder from her recent trip to Cambodia.  She thought that it had high sales potential in the US market, which will create job opportunities for survivors in Cambodia.  She wanted to enter a business plan competition at NYU, and she thought that I had talent in design and fashion and invited me to work on the plan with her.  We didn’t win the competition, but we decided to complete the plan.  In the summer of 2008, we went to Cambodia together to track the supply chain of the product we were developing.

3.     You have a keen interest in fashion.  Some people might think that an interest in fashion is incongruous with being a serious social activist.  Do you care to speak to that?

I don’t think it’s incongruous in any way, shape or form. The way that I’ve come to view social activism is through the lens of activity--small or big steps that you decide to take as an individual to challenge the status quo. If you are taking counter cultural action within an industry that you happen to care deeply about, then I think there is an even greater chance that you’ll meet with success.  If you happen to be passionate about a certain industry that traditionally is pegged as exacerbating an issue – like labor trafficking – I think this poses a very important opportunity to unpack all the ways that industry could realistically make small steps towards big change.   When I attended Skidmore College for undergrad, the slogan was, “Creative thought matters,” and I think of it often, as I learn more and more about this industry that I adore but question constantly.  My love for fashion comes from my love for art.  I am a highly creative, visually oriented individual.  I love looking at my clothing as a canvas for expression.

4.    After you and Diana became partners in Nomi Network, you went to Cambodia with Diana to do an assessment of needs.  Can you tell us about that?  What were your expectations before going and what did you actually find?

I had few expectations because I had never been to South East Asia before, but I found the people to be jarringly beautiful --their openness, generosity, and heart moved me deeply.  We interviewed half a dozen anti-trafficking organizations and shelters that we hoped could help us source or make our product using the employment of rescued victims of human trafficking.  We found consistently that they had very limited knowledge and skills in product development and manufacturing.

5.    As vice president of Nomi Network, you are always working.  Like others in Nomi Network, you also have a day job.  Is it difficult to juggle the two?   Do you ever wish that you could have your weekends and evenings free?

It has been a challenge to balance my time and to not let my workaholic tendencies to get the best of me.  We are all very aware of the potential of burn out, but we also know that our model is an effective one, thanks to our pilot, and we know the impact that we’re making is significant.  I always wish I had more time, but that would be true no matter what I did because I’m a perfectionist.  I have become very close to those who volunteer for Nomi and often times my close friends help with Nomi events and admin work, so in many ways, even when I’m doing work, I feel like I’m getting a chance to socialize and develop relationships.

6.    What have you gotten out of your involvement with Nomi Network?  Have you grown as a person?  Have your personal or leadership skills expanded?

I have grown in SO many ways. I have learned to admit when I’m wrong.  I’ve come to understand the value of saying thank you.  I’ve learned the importance of identifying my strengths and weaknesses and to surround myself with supportive people that challenge me to get outside my comfort zone.  Outside of Nomi Network, I work for Theater Communications Group, a federal level advocacy for non-profit regional theatres.  The experience there is very applicable to Nomi. I am constantly learning about board governance, and about research and resources that are available to non-profits.

7.     Where do you see Nomi Network in five years?  Where do you see yourself in five years?

I would love for Nomi Network to be a powerful influence internationally, and to pave the way for innovative models of economic sustainability.  However, I must remain flexible and open to the possibility that as things unfold, we may have to go in a different direction and for good reasons.  When I moved to NYC, I didn’t have intentions of founding anything.  It was a product of creative ideas, a willingness to jump in and learn along the way, and a desire to be challenged.

8.    If you had to pick one word or phrase to describe yourself, what would it be?

That’s very difficult—maybe, “full of heart,” a communicator to the core and passionate about relationships.

9.     Is there anything else that you would like people to know about you?

I absolutely adore painting and drawing--almost as much as I adore peanut pandemonium ice-cream!  I live in an intentional Christian community in a socially and economically disadvantaged area, whose focus is on social justice and voluntarily sharing our resources with our neighbors.

Stephen M. Bauer


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