Making a difference can mean different things for different people. It can be helping a neighbour, supporting a charity, or volunteering at the local Salvation Army store. For Mechelle Moore it was taking the leap from the Canberra public sector to the Thai-Myanmar border – and tackling the challenge of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and the physical abuse of men, women and children through her not-for-profit organisation Global Alms Inc.
“From when I was a very young, 16 or so, I knew that I wanted to help people in in a unique way – specifically children, and to help them stay safe,” Moore said. “I just didn’t know what that looked like at the time.”
But despite taking a leap from the public sector, the experience she gained in Canberra was essential in building the capability needed to run a not-for-profit, and have the personal skillset needed to tackle an emotionally draining area of trafficking and abuse.
Moore shares with us her experience ahead of an event in Canberra on March 25 where she will be hosted at an event for the Kiah Consulting Elevating Excellence program – which aims to support people like Moore with talent, drive and a vision.
Making a sustainable difference
Moore and her Global Alms colleagues had similar experiences in working on short-term assignments within low and middle income countries – and the challenges of creating a sustainable impact.
“The advantages of a short-term assignment is that you get to come in and meet the needs of the person or organisation immediately,” Moore explained. “But then off you go.”
Returning to the assignment often saw that projects were discontinued or resources going to waste, with the problem limited local ownership to continue and expand the work.
“There’s a certain amount of frustration that goes along with that, because they’ll feel like you’ve wasted your time, your resources and your efforts,” Moore said. “But then also the people on the ground aren’t necessarily benefiting from those projects. It gets a bit disheartening.”
Out of the frustration Global Alms was born – with its mandate to tackle human trafficking, sexual exploitation and physical abuse with a business model focusing on community ownership and financial sustainability.
“Although we have to fundraise for our organisation, this fundraising compared to a lot of other not-for-profits is very minimal,” Moore said. “There’s a couple of us that are full time volunteers. Our local staff are paid a wage and this come through the income from a training centre. This means we are not impacted by funding peaks and troughs from the international community.”
The training offered through Global Alma includes self-defence and personal protection classes – currently available in 11 languages to ensure the most vulnerable groups are supported – as well organisational training to respond to abuse and trafficking issues. Within 12 months, Global Alms became financially self-sustainable and its impact is being seen at the highest levels. Their services were providing training to the Royal Thai Police to support their investigations of gender-based violence.
Lessons from the public sector
The transition to operating a not-for-profit in Thailand required important skills Moore picked up through her work in developing and implementing public policy, and engaging with officials.
“Lessons that you learn along the way that play a big key in dealing with management,” she said. “A lot of people when you’re working overseas can be overwhelmed with different people’s positions and the amount of power that they have. So if you’re meeting with a high ranking government official or police chief or a military attaché, it can get overwhelming. By the time I got to Thailand, I did not find dealing with police chiefs, heads of immigration, and government officials scary or intimidating.”
In conducting reviews and implementing policy within the public sector, Moore developed an understanding of the value of transparency in building a reputable brand.
“It’s very easy to hide fundamental issues in very creative ways. But when you’re transparent, and all your cards are laid on the table, then nobody can come back at you and challenge your work or mission. In this space mud sticks – one bad review or a bad experience with influential people means your reputation and brand is gone.”
But importantly, Moore developed critical personal skills through her work with Defence that could help deal with the trauma of sexual assault and abuse – skills to help compartmentalise and deal with her emotions, while still functioning day to day.
“There’s a certain amount of preparedness that you need,” Moore explained. “You can’t just go over with a good heart. That’s where you end up getting caught up and burnt out or not being able to prep mentally with the trauma that you see.”
Without these skills Moore believes Global Alms could not have succeeded in the goals it has achieved to date, or to encourage the next stage of it evolution – supporting and advocating for women through the medical, legal and psychological process that follows a physical or sexual assault. And her goals include implementing their new program, Yes She Matters, throughout all of Southeast Asia.
“The difficult path can be the most rewarding path to take,” she said. “Just because it’s going to challenge you a bit right now doesn’t mean that you’re going to fail and if you do fail, that’s okay. You just get up and you start again. But it builds character, it makes you stronger. And it’s an experience.”