Healing, Rebuilding, & Thriving: Financial Capacity Building for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence

FreeFrom is dismantling the nexus between financial insecurity and gender-based violence, so that survivors have the opportunity to thrive.

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Eligibility

  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States

Gender

  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

California: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Health & Fitness
  • Human Rights & Equality
  • Peace & Harmonious Relations

Date Started

11/01/2016

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

Budget

  • $500k - $1m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Organization website: http://www.freefrom.org/

Gifted By FreeFrom website: https://giftedbyfreefrom.org/

Twitter URL

https://twitter.com/freefromorg

Facebook URL

https://www.facebook.com/freefrom.org/

LinkedIn URL

https://www.linkedin.com/company/freefrom

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

The “aha” moment to create FreeFrom came while I was a law student at UC Berkeley. During my 2nd year, I founded the Family Violence Appellate Project (FVAP), a non-profit that helps survivors of domestic violence to win back custody of their children from their abuser. Most of our clients were homeless or living with friends. I began researching the connection between financial insecurity and domestic violence, and learned that financial insecurity is the number one obstacle preventing survivors from being able to permanently leave and build futures free from violence. This led me to found FreeFrom, an organization that prioritizes eradicating these obstacles through financial capacity building.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

1 in 4 women in the US will experience severe domestic violence in their lifetime. This is a national crisis. The number one reason survivors stay in abusive situations and the number one reason survivors return to abuse is because they do not have the financial means to stay safe. For this reason, domestic violence is also the leading cause of homelessness in women and children in the US. Financial security is the pathway to safety.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

FreeFrom’s 6-month Entrepreneurship and Credit Repair program takes place through one-on-one weekly meetings with clients. During the program, staff work with clients to cover the following topics: business planning; credit health; financial goal setting; business budgeting; sales and marketing training; logo design and branding; client acquisition; mentorship; counseling; confidence-building and access to seed funding.

In April 2018, we launched Gifted by FreeFrom, an online social enterprise that sells our clients’ products while providing living-wage employment to survivors. 70% of all sales go directly to the entrepreneurs who make the products. The remaining portion allows us to employ survivors for $20/hour to handle store operations.

In January 2018, FreeFrom launched our first-of-its-kind Online Self-Help Compensation Tool to provide survivors anywhere in California with the information and resources needed to pursue compensation for the cost of the harm they have suffered. Within three months, over 70,000 individuals have accessed the tool.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

“When I first started this program, I was very unsure of my future. I was depressed, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to survivor as a single mom with two kids. Fast forward to today, 6 months later, I launched my cleaning business and I am making more money than I have ever made since arriving to the US. And I’ve been here for almost a decade! Also, for the first time ever, I am saving! I am saving so much! I don’t know for what yet but I know FreeFrom will help me figure it out. A few months ago my ex-husband demanded that we get back together or he would stop paying child support. For the first time, I wasn't forced to say yes out of financial need. I never thought this day would come and I never thought that my own work, skills, and passion would get me here. But here I am and I am happy and so, so proud.” – Maria, FreeFrom client

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

100% of our clients are living below the poverty line; the majority are women of color and single mothers; and a significant % are immigrants. In addition, survivors face a unique set of hurdles as a result of the abuse they have experienced. FreeFrom believes in the creativity, resourcefulness and power that each survivor has to achieve financial independence and wealth, and to build communities that support individual, intergenerational and collective healing.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • illness
  • immigration status
  • work status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • gender
  • socio-economic class
  • other (please specify on question 5a)

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Although financial capacity building is commonly done with immigrants, veterans, and people re-entering communities post-incarceration, FreeFrom is different in that it is tailoring these services to the specific needs of survivors of domestic violence. Our growth strategy is also unique: we are seeking to make financial capacity building an integral part of the healing work done by the domestic violence movement through creating replicable models.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

In 2017, FreeFrom worked with 24 survivors in CA to launch their small businesses. 100% of the businesses yielded a profit within their first month of operation and 100% reported increases in confidence and sense of safety.

In month 1, our online social enterprise generated almost $20k in sales. This income has allowed our clients to pay off debt, reinvest in their businesses and pay for therapy for their children.

Christine, a mother of four, fled abuse and came across the country seeking shelter in LA. We worked with her every week to launch her business. For her birthday in June 2017, she earned enough to pay off a $1500 utility bill that prevented her from moving out of shelter and into her own home. By August, she was able to move into an apartment with her children. She is now employed full-time and uses the income from her business to build savings and eliminate her debt.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

1. Create a replicable entrepreneurship and credit-building program model that other shelters, community centers, women's groups, etc. can replicable (also making ourselves available to train them);

2. Make LA a model city for survivor wealth-building through our social enterprise and the creation of a survivor economic empowerment center (co-working space, childcare, financial coaching, income building support, etc);

3. Policy reform to remove barriers to survivors: (1) repairing their credit and (2) pursuing economic justice;

4. Make our compensation tool available in 50 states.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Campaigns

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Currently, 45% of FreeFrom's revenue comes from individual donors; 45% from private foundations; and 10% from corporate sponsorship. Ultimately, our goal is that the social enterprise, from which 10% of revenue goes directly to FreeFrom, will fully support our entrepreneurship program so that 30% of our work is self-funded. FreeFrom plans to stay a relatively small organization (budget > $5MM) and to grow and scale through creating replicable models for states, cities and organizations to adopt.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

FreeFrom is a proudly queer, feminist, and women-of-color-led org. The majority of our all-womxn staff are survivors themselves, each bringing unique experiences, insights and drive. We have 6 full-time staff: CEO; Credit, Compensation and Entrepreneurship Program Directors, Development Coordinator and Admin Assistant. Our next 2 hires will be a social enterprise manager and entrepreneurship program coordinator. We have 1 part-time staff person for the store. Our goal is to hire 4 more in 2018.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)
  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian, etc)
  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income community
  • LGBTQ community
  • Religious minority (non-Christian)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

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