The Anti-Slavery Collective in Conversation with Diana Mao

Diana Mao

Throughout lockdown, our co-founders, HRH Princess Eugenie of York and Julia de Boinville, have been working from home and catching up with friends in the anti-slavery movement to find out how COVID-19 has affected them and their work.

We are delighted to be joined this time by our friend Diana Mao, the President and Co-Founder of the Nomi Network.

Diana tells us about the many challenges facing the communities that Nomi Network works in, especially in Northeastern India. Nomi Network serves communities that do not have access to testing and have insufficient healthcare. Social distancing is almost impossible, misinformation is rife, and food and water are scarce.

While the situation in India is incredibly worrying, we have hope after hearing about the holistic response of Nomi Network and their women. Nomi Network’s economic empowerment program teaches women life skills, such as how to save money, and maintain proper hygiene. These skills are now essential to them and their communities. Nomi Network trainees are currently working on the frontlines, providing their communities sanitizer, handmade masks, food, water, and WHO’s COVID-19 prevention measures. Nomi Network believes that when they “strengthen women, women strengthen their communities.” The crisis has proved the great importance and powerful ripple effects of Nomi Network’s life-transforming program.

COVID-19 in India

In India, the virus is spreading into extremely vulnerable communities that are ill-equipped to fight the pandemic. Diana tells us that the Bihar state has a population of 103 million but only one testing facility. Nomi Network works with the vulnerable in red-light districts, where everyday life does not allow for social distancing. These communities are often the last to receive reliable news and guidelines, generating fake news and misinformation. Most worryingly, there are significant shortages of food and drinkable water. Most families survive off daily wages, but without any income or savings, they are struggling to feed themselves. Nomi Network understands that they fear starvation more than they fear the pandemic.

“Imagine the challenges we face here, even in the US, in accessing certain products and certain resources. There, it is ten times worse.”

Diana Mao

Diana tells us how Nomi Network has rapidly pivoted its economic empowerment program to focus on disaster relief. They are utilizing the very graduates and trainees that Nomi Network has empowered, educated, and employed. Their work is the most effective slavery-prevention at this time, as heightened desperation and poverty increases the victim pool susceptible to traffickers.

Nomi Network employs 168 of its top graduates and trainees to create the COVID-19 Prevention Unit. A total of 200 Community Outreach Workers conduct essential health check-ups and provide prevention information across their seven sites in three states in Northeastern India. Nomi Network expects that the Community Outreach Workers will reach over 18,000 households in 12 weeks, raising awareness and combating the spread of misinformation.

Nomi Network’s trainees study health and hygiene in the Workforce Development Program. They are now teaching what they have learned, such as effective handwashing, in their local communities. Nomi Network has equipped them with a condensed version of these modules, combined with USAID’s Water and Hygiene Sanitation along with the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 prevention. Nomi Network has also made these modules and vital WHO information available in Hindi and Odia on their website. It is an open-source tool for NGOs and relief organizations working with vulnerable communities in India.

Nomi Network’s trainees who have learned vocational skills, such as sewing, have manufactured and distributed masks to their local communities. Before the shutdown, their production center produced 1,290 face masks from recycled materials. Post-shutdown, the trainees have continued to make over 10,000 masks from home! These masks are available at food distribution centers run by Nomi Network’s field partners. These centers are in red-light districts and other communities cut off from food and water supply due to the lockdown and limited transportation.

Please give to Nomi Network’s Stop the Spread Relief Fund to support the continuation of their incredible efforts in response to COVID-19.

Nomi Network

Nomi Network’s mission is to create economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of modern slavery by providing leadership, entrepreneurship, and technical skills to become financially independent. They work in trafficking hotspots, such as red-light districts or isolated communities with a high population of ethnic and religious minorities or disenfranchised people groups. Nomi Network provides training in life skills and technical skills, creates job opportunities, and empowers women and girls to break the cycles of exploitation in their communities.

They believe in the power of partnerships with the private sector, which they leverage in their programs in India and Cambodia. They also plan to focus on their upcoming US program sites.


Nomi Network works in three states in Northeastern India – Bihar, West Bengal, and Odisha – where modern-day slavery is highly prevalent. At least 10% of all trainees are directly related to or survivors of human trafficking in the form of hard labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Domestic servitude, early forced marriage, debt bondage, or other types of modern-day slavery, exploitation, or abuse trap the remaining 90% of trainees. Red-light districts or rural communities have limited or nonexistent resources that focus on female economic empowerment.

Their Workforce Development Program offers a holistic approach to empowering women and adolescent girls with the critical life and technical skills necessary for successful employment or to start a microenterprise. Through the Nomi Network training model, women learn essential skills that allow them to earn a living, protect themselves and their children, and transform their communities. In addition to teaching marketable skills, Nomi Network’s curriculum also addresses psychological and social barriers to work, equipping women with the confidence to enter the mainstream workforce. The trainees of the 12-month program graduate with the opportunity to secure their first job.


Nomi Network also works in Phnom Penh to strengthen the Cambodian fashion industry. Nomi International Fashion Training (NIFT) provides advanced fashion training to local designers, social enterprises, and small retail shops to create ethical supply chains while delivering safe employment opportunities for survivors and women at risk of slavery.

They partner with 65 social enterprises and organizations that work with survivors and women vulnerable to trafficking. Partnering organizations manufacture products for the NOMI label and large global retail partnerships that Nomi Network facilitates. Nomi Network’s production orders create work for these partners and provide them market access through their global sales activities. Nomi also provides capacity-building grants to help these partners become sustainable and competitive and to address the needs of their employees better.

Find out more about Nomi Network on their website.

Intergenerational Prostitution

Diana mentioned intergenerational prostitution, which is a form of forced commercial sexual exploitation found among specific disenfranchised communities across the developing world. Women and girls are often forced into prostitution to provide for the family by fathers, husbands, brothers, or others who have social or economic power over them. Women and girls often do not know their rights as individuals or know of alternatives to this life. Nomi Network supports survivors to escape these cycles of exploitation by becoming financially independent and providing brighter futures for their children. Nomi Network also believes it is important to educate community leaders and those with social power so that they no longer commercialize women and girls but stand alongside them for the betterment of all. 

Thistle Farms

Thistle Farms is a nonprofit social enterprise based in Tennessee, dedicated to helping survivors recover from trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. Their 2-year residential program provides housing, food, healthcare, therapy, and education. Thistle Farms’ social enterprises employ program residents and graduates. As they learn new job skills and earn a living wage, they begin their journey towards economic independence.

What do you think?