Published February 25, 2019

The Unseen Fight Against Human Trafficking

I was walking through the crowded streets of Northern India. The local leader I was with had dedicated his life to opening his home to rescue and recover as many trafficked orphans as he possibly could. As we walked, we saw two kids in the street—a four-year old boy and his two-year old sister, who were almost beyond the point of intervention. The girl was so malnourished she couldn’t keep her head up. The boy was holding her while they sat beneath the bumper of a rusty car. People passed by; the boy shook and asked for coins. Their trafficker was within yards of them.

 I wanted to figure out a way to help those who help others

And here next to me was a man who had given his life to caring for trafficked kids, but aware of his limitations, his heart broke. He was at capacity with the orphans already in his home. He didn’t have the bandwidth to welcome these kids into his home because he didn’t have the resources for more. My heart broke.

This is the reason I started doing what I do. It’s people like this man. I wanted to figure out a way to help those who help others, specifically those who rescue and recover trafficking victims.

Unseen is born to empower those with boots on the ground.

Like many ideas, my idea first started on paper. In 2012, my now co-founder and I got together after church one day to share the ideas we had been thinking through over the last year. We decided to do something. With my background and experiences, and her previous work with anti-trafficking organizations, we started what is now known as Unseen, an organization that exists to empower people with boots on the ground who are serving victims of human trafficking and those who are vulnerable.

Since then, it’s been a constant state of surprise and wonder at what is truly possible. Word started getting out really quickly. We tripped on a door frame and kept falling through open doors. We got involved with the Justice Conference, and started making more connections.

The Summit empowered Unseen to empower more.

Students smilingRight now 40 million people are trafficked—1 in 4 is a child. How do we grow and accelerate the organizations with boots on the ground, those making the difference for these victims, these children? We do this by training them in fundraising, and equipping them to grow.

When we started Unseen, we were working with four organizations in seven countries. We were just getting started. That same year, in 2012, we attended our first Global Leadership Summit event, and have gone every year since. We looked a lot different then than we do now. At that first event, I also met our now board chair.

The Summit has been a game changer—it raised the bar for us. The exposure to that level of teaching has been so helpful. Just being in the same room with people of that scale. I started to ask the question – What would be possible if all limitations were removed?

Right now 40 million people are trafficked—1 in 4 is a child.

The scale we’re operating on now has a tie to what we’ve learned at the Summit.

Currently, our 37 partners are serving more than 100,000 people in 33 countries in this fight for justice, hope and a future.

By the end of 2021, we strive to accelerate growth of 100 amazing organizations that will make a difference in the lives of 500,000 people.

By helping these organizations through fundraising training, and support, our partners are growing 50 times the average non-profit. We have another 30 organizations on a waiting list. We’re very strategic about who we will partner with, and have developed a 12-stage vetting process that includes financial transparency and child protection policies, among other things. We vet, select and invest. We’re not starting new anti-trafficking initiatives. Instead, we’re giving those who know what to do sustainable support with donor-focused fundraising training, tools and systems, as well as media assets—and they don’t have to pay us a dime.

Every single week we are reminded and centered, humbled by what God is doing in this world.

One of our core values is humble justice. I have a front row seat to some of the most humble, generous people in the world. God surprises me with how humble greatness can look. God is truly using ordinary people to answer the prayers and the cries of so many people in need. I’m blown away by the side of our donors who give everything, and the side of our partners who give everything so that kids can be bear hugged to safety. Every single week we are reminded and centered, humbled by what God is doing in this world.

The Summit is a centering point for our team as we look ahead.

The GLS has been a wonderful centering point and kick off to our year. It’s right at the start of everything. Even when budgets were tight, we still went to the GLS.

School girls smilingI’ve gone to leadership development courses, and the GLS is consistently the best training and conference that I’ve been to. To be able to have a solid base in the teaching we’ve received from GLS is not taken for granted. It gives us a chance to get our whole team on the same page. We take everything in. We do lunches together and debrief. We’ve also built a lot of the practices into our three-year strategic plan.

And we really celebrate the outcome. For example, this last Christmas, one of our partners got seven girls out of a brothel. Another 100 kids and families from a brick kiln were rescued and are in a recovery program. This is really tough stuff we’re dealing with, but hope lives and we get to see these little victories. Heaven is crashing to earth in these moments with our partners. We have to celebrate the ones who were rescued while remembering those whom we haven’t yet.

Why you should go to the Summit.

Budgeting for conferences is tough. It’s time, its money, I get it. You can always do something else. But if you look at it like an investment, it’s the best thing you can do for your organization. The truth is, long-term growth isn’t going to come for free, and it’s absolutely worth the investment.

This is an exciting time in human history. God has put key leaders in place to make a tremendous difference in a dark world. At Unseen, we have the incredible honor of being on the front lines of this fight. And by being able to partner with the Summit, we’ve just begun to see what’s possible.

We are so thankful for the GLS and for its impact across the world. Looking at what’s possible when leaders are equipped is amazing.

Learn more about Unseen in this 3 minute promo video:

About the Author
Than Baardson

Than Baardson

CEO and Co-founder


Than Baardson is the CEO and co-founder of Unseen, a nonprofit that accelerates the fight against human trafficking and its root causes. This role allows him to serve leaders across the world who are fighting some of today’s greatest injustices. Than is a former firefighter, broadcast journalist, speaker, documentary filmmaker, photographer, writer and communications specialist.

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