Collaborative research project with ANIRBAN to better understand and empower survivor networks

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September 18, 2023
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HRC and Winrock International (funded by USAID Asia CTIP) recently carried out participatory action research with ANIRBAN, a survivor-led voluntary organisation in Bangladesh that provides a strong voice to victims of human trafficking.

Founded in 2011 with the support of Winrock International and USAID, ANIRBAN works to prevent human trafficking and early child marriage, while promoting safe migration and survivor reintegration within their communities. Organisations such as ANIRBAN are most intimately familiar with the complex challenges and opportunities of preventing trafficking, empowering survivors, and facilitating reintegration in their communities. They are often the best placed and most effective agents of counter trafficking in the local context.

HRC, Winrock International, and ANIRBAN embarked on a collaborative research project with ANIRBAN’s branches in Jashore and Cox’s Bazar to enhance our collective understanding of the processes and practices used by survivor groups that contribute to effective bottom-up systemic change. Emphasising collaboration and empowerment, a participatory action research (PAR) framework was chosen for this project.

PAR is a research approach with communities, rather than on them. This approach has turned the traditional research approach on its head, as it requires reflection and adaptation from everyone involved, across all stages of the research. Fundamentally, PAR recognises that participants have unique and valuable knowledge of their situation and the solutions required for change. Participants are not only able to significantly contribute to research, but their involvement in the process is necessary for appropriate and effective change to take place. This mutual learning approach has enabled all parties to comprehensively understand ANIRBAN’s relationships with organisations in their communities.

The PAR programme began in February 2023. Michaelle Tauson and Caterina Grasso of Winrock International, along with HRC’s Eric Kasper and Abdus Salam, carried out research with ANIRBAN’s branches in Jashore and Cox’s Bazar.

Groups such as ANIRBAN that are working to create systemic change have power based on their internal and external relationships, related to their position within a wider network of powerful actors. By conducting power/network mapping among stakeholders involved in counter human-trafficking and survivor reintegration advocacy in Jashore, we all gathered an understanding of the relationships between Jashore ANIRBAN and other local organisations, and how these relationships could be strengthened.

ANIRBAN invited us to visit their partners in their communities who contribute to survivor reintegration and prevention of child marriage, including BRAC, Rights Jashore, and the Department of Women Affairs. Two local lawyers that work with ANIRBAN also provided insight into how they assist survivors in registering a legal case against traffickers, and how the judiciary system works on trafficking cases in Bangladesh.

ANIRBAN also introduced HRC and Winrock to organisations they are exploring a relationship with. We went to FPIB hospital, where ANIRBAN Jashore is arranging free health treatment for survivors of human trafficking. We also met Basa enterprise, an organisation that produces handmade blankets made by vulnerable women. As ANIRBAN expressed an interest in establishing themselves as a self-sustaining social enterprise, we looked into the possibility of Basa assisting ANIRBAN in providing work for female survivors and vulnerable women in the community.

In July 2023, Salam was joined by John Luke Chua of Winrock International. We held  PAR workshops with ANIRBAN members, involving them as active partners in shaping research questions, designing research processes, and interpreting the findings. Salam and John Luke demonstrated techniques for professional documentation, including examples of high-quality reports, common practices for writing organisational impact stories, and using indicator and log frames for monitoring and evaluation. These workshops aimed to empower survivors, foster mutual learning, and generate actionable knowledge for addressing social issues surrounding human trafficking.

PAR workshop in session.

Abdus Salam, HRC’s Survivor Empowerment Officer, reflected on this project:

“When we started this PAR project, I didn’t have any idea about PAR and how survivor-led organisations work. After working with ANIRBAN, I was surprised again and again by them. Once, they were so vulnerable in their community, and their community wasn’t willing to accept them after their trafficking experience. But they overcame that vulnerable situation, and they reintegrated back into their lives and with their families.”

“They are working with a very strong commitment to preventing human trafficking. We are trying to empower them as per their request by giving them MEL training, report writing, and impact story writing; and I think we were successful with that. I learned a lot of things from ANIRBAN. Importantly, I learned how to work with other survivors who were trauma-informed. I am so thankful to have worked with them”.

An ANIRBAN member shared these thoughts on the workshop:

“We did not have the slightest idea about M&E or MEL, finance, theory of change, budget, indicators, and reporting. By taking this workshop, we benefited a lot and got good ideas. This workshop will play a helpful role in organising and conducting activities. ANIRBAN are keen to grow the partnerships we have made in this project. Thanks to HRC and Winrock”

HRC and Winrock International are currently producing a report on this project, with consultants from ANIRBAN supporting data collection, analysis, and publication of the results. This report will provide a nuanced analysis of the systemic conditions which allow network building and survivor-led organising to succeed. Based on the data gathered throughout this project, our analysis will include a reflection on ANIRBAN’s social network, providing insights into the ways their organising practices enable them to work effectively in their communities and with authorities. We will also develop an economic valuation of reintegration/rehabilitation support, which aims to estimate the costs (to the Government of Bangladesh and others) of NOT ensuring survivors’ reintegration.

This project, co-designed and co-facilitated with ANIRBAN survivor-organisers, has already been a great success through demonstrating the feasibility of collaborative research and project activities that can support survivor-led organisations. We are grateful to ANIRBAN for allowing us to work with them and to be a part of their expanding networks. We hope to continue growing this relationship, and support them in their efforts to establish themselves as a sustainable organisation. Together, we believe this project will provide an important resource on survivor organising practices and survivor-led organisations, which will ultimately make a valuable and integral contribution towards counter trafficking efforts in Bangladesh, and around the world.

Our team was fortunate to celebrate ANIRBANs 12th year anniversary with them, which was an honour.