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.

Photo of Sonya Passi

Written by


  • 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


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

California: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Contra Costa

Focus Areas (required)

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

Date Started


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)


  • $500k - $1m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Organization website: http://www.freefrom.org/ Gifted By FreeFrom website: https://giftedbyfreefrom.org/

Twitter URL


Facebook URL


LinkedIn URL


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 holistic financial capacity program for survivors takes place through one-on-one weekly meetings with clients. During the program, staff work with clients to cover the following topics: protecting their finances; business planning; credit repair and credit building; financial goal setting; 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’ handmade products. 70% of all sales go directly to the entrepreneurs who make the products. 15% allows us to employ survivors for $20/hour to handle store operations and 10% goes to fund our work. In month 1, Gifted generated almost $20k in sales. 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. Since we launched, over 90,000 individuals have accessed the tool to learn about the avenues to economic justice available to them.

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, as a result, 100% of our clients are increasing their sense of safety and financial security. Our clients have earned more than $150k through our program and this income has allowed them to put food on the table, secure safe housing, pay down debt, and pay for healthcare 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 building savings and paying down debt.

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

FreeFrom is in the process of turning our holistic program into an active curriculum that we can train domestic violence services providers in. This is how we will create new norms within the domestic violence movement and scale our work far beyond our own limited capacity. In 2019, FreeFrom will host the first annual Survivor Wealth Summit, to bring advocates, survivors, and movement leaders together to learn about our innovative work. FreeFrom intends to conduct a research study, demonstrating the impact of financial capacity building services on survivors' health and wellness.

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

Program Design Clarity

Until now, FreeFrom’s financial capacity building work has been conducted through weekly 30-90 minute group or one-on-one sessions with survivors in LA, Oakland and SF. We meet clients where they are vs. having them come to us. We have found that there are four stages of financial capacity that survivors may find themselves in: crisis, surviving, growth or thriving. If a client comes to us in crisis, our goal is to get them to a place of surviving; then we take steps to support them in getting to the place of growth, and so on. Our support is tailored to meet each client where they are at.

Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?

  • credit
  • education / literacy
  • entrepreneurship

Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work

  • Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)

Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

Over 15 domestic violence organizations across 5 states have asked FreeFrom to train their advocates. FreeFrom also has a strong partnership with the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department which brought us in in 2017 to train all 8 city-funded shelters on our financial capacity building services. FreeFrom also partners with pro bono attorneys from other 30 law firms to provide free legal services to survivors, and with technology companies, e.g. Thoughtworks and Square.

If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?

We would train 16 advocates from 4 organizations in CA, which would increase the number of survivors in LA who had access to financial capacity building services. From 2 FreeFrom staff with capacity to serve 24 survivors / yr we would now have 18 trained staff with capacity to serve over 200 / yr.

Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?

SVP-LA Systems Change Accelerator 2017-2018 Fellow SVP-LA Fastpitch 2018 Impact Award SVP-LA Fastpitch 2018 Audience Award New America California 2018-2019 Fellow Allstate Foundation Purple Purse Challenge 2017 Grand Prize Winner Uncharted Social Impact Accelerator 2018-2019 Fellow Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2017 Marie Claire, CNN, The Guardian, Fast Company, Refinery29, NowThis

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 100%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 33.3%

Clarity of Writing - 33.3%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 66.7%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 100%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 33.3%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 33.3%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 100%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 100%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 50%


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