While traveling throughout India in 2005, Sudara founder and CEO, Shannon Keith, heard stories of sex trafficking and witnessed women being forced to sell their bodies in order to feed their families. She returned home from that trip and was compelled to create an organization that would make a lasting impact for women and their families. Shannon formed a small team of family and friends and, together, they looked for India-based groups that were seeking ways to have a positive impact and help women looking for a way out of the Red Light Districts. The team knew that safe, steady and living-wage employment would be a pathway to freedom and offer choices for women and their families.
Over 10 years later, Sudara is a thriving benefit corporation and lifestyle brand with a mission that is still rooted in job development for women in India who are at the highest risk or survivors of sex trafficking. More than a give-back model, Sudara enables women to have choices for themselves and for their families. We are working for deep change and believe this is done through hand-ups, not hand-outs. Purchases of Sudara goods and clothing support training and jobs for the women who make the products, and fund investments in a non-profit arm of Sudara that provides for those same women across their entire ecosystem and supports sustainable pathways to freedom.
Sudara’s signature product — Punjammies — is a collection of loungewear that features prints inspired by and named after a woman who makes the product as part of Sudara’s job development programs. One of the most recent stories that is inspiring us is Kala’s story.
Most of the women in Kala’s family are sex workers. She tried to hide this fact when she was at school. She didn’t want the other students to make fun of her and she wanted to do something else when she graduated. As the oldest daughter, though, everyone assumed that she would one day enter the sex trade and help take care of her younger siblings.
That one day came after Kala completed the 10th grade. Her mother’s illness was getting progressively worse until she became bedridden and could no longer work. Her family, in need of income, forced her into the sex trade too. Several months later, a few representatives from a Sudara partner center were in Kala’s village talking about the skills training programs and raising awareness about traffickers. Kala heard their message and asked for help. She saw this opportunity as her only way out.
Kala is now living in safe housing through a Sudara partner center and receiving tutoring in computer skills and spoken English. She said that when she came to the center she was very withdrawn from activities and nervous, but the staff and center “gave me confidence and communication skills along with dignity and meaning to my life.” She was recently accepted into college and will begin those studies next year.
This story and many like it are made possible only through thoughtful, outcome-driven design and strategic partnerships. Far beyond a single donation or gift, empowering women to make a life of their own choosing has ripple effects and positive implications that span the generations of an entire family. This is the type of impact that Sudara cares about and strives for the most – sustainable impact that empowers women, breaks cycles of poverty and ends sex trafficking once and for all.