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Awards Category: Social Enterprise

Hasina Kharbhih
Founder, Impulse NGO Network (INGON) and Impulse Social Enterprises (ISE)

Hasina Kharbhih has been involved in development issues since she was 17, when she walked away from an opportunity to study in London to focus on what had begun as an initiative she had participated in as an extra-curricular activity in school. Hasina is the creator of the internationally acknowledged Impulse Model, a comprehensive tracking system that unites state governments, security agencies, legal groups, media and citizen organisations to combat cross-border human trafficking in the eight north-eastern states of India, and scale to Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh. Her work has led her to be attacked many times, during one of which her driver was unfortunately killed. This has not stopped her from pursuing her dream of ending human trafficking in all its varied forms, both in India and the rest of the world.

Creating a Better Future

Hasina has been at the forefront of her chosen cause for the past 30 years, not merely working to eliminate unsafe migration that leads to exploitation – one of the key drivers of human trafficking – but also empowering women at the grassroots to become economically self-sufficient, therefore eliminating a key trigger of human trafficking.

In her experience, poverty – a long-term negative effect of armed conflict in India’s north-eastern region – is a major cause of children and young women being exploited. Therefore, in order to truly combat human trafficking, she also had to attack the source of its power. Her approach is two pronged; on one hand, her Impulse NGO Network (INGON), powered by the Impulse Model. (previously known as the Meghalaya Model), brings together all relevant stakeholders such as the government, police force, judiciary, aid agencies and more to rescue victims and fight traffickers based on the 6P (Partnership, Prevention, Protection, Policing, Press, Prosecution) and 6R (Reporting, Rescue, Rehabilitation, Repatriation, Reintegration, Recompensation) protocols. All these different state and citizen groups share the same training manuals, SOPs and data to work more cohesively and respond more effectively. Under this model, services such as a legal support network, victim protection programme and anti-trafficking workshops are implemented and fully incorporated into the operations of relevant agencies. INGON is also responsible for creating awareness and building support groups around the issue to spread the word on human trafficking and what can be done to address it.

On the other hand, her Impulse Social Enterprises (ISE) team works to wipe out the socio-economic problems that breed human trafficking. This for-profit entity was established to create sustainable livelihood for those most at risk of being exploited by human traffickers. It essentially seeks to convert local artisanal knowledge, traditional arts and crafts, natural resources and indigenous talent into a range of marketable products and services by layering them with contemporary design, innovative thinking, modern technology, financial assistance and branding, marketing and sales support through its brand, Empower. Additionally, it builds up a comprehensive knowledge base on indigenous tribes and local insights that can be used to provide research reports and consultancy services to feed the CSR efforts of companies or inspire commercial ventures, which in turn add value to the lives of the local population. By addressing both the causes and the symptoms, Hasina takes the fight against human trafficking at all fronts.

Her efforts have also led her to expand her reach; Hasina also leads the charge in curbing the illegal practice of rat hole coal mining in Meghalaya, which involves over 70,000 children, mostly from Bangladesh and Nepal. This drive has at times put her life in danger, but she continues to strive towards fulfilling her vision of uplifting society to create lives filled with safety and dignity.

Overcoming Obstacles

As long as there is social and political unrest in the north-eastern reaches of India, the opening of borders with South East Asia, and opening up of unauthorised placement agencies, human trafficking will remain a problem. Traffickers exploit the instability of the region to force families into sending children to cities for work, where they are attracted by offers of modelling jobs, or work in beauty parlours and call centres – all fronts to lure them into the seedy world of prostitution and sex work.

Proximity to highways also facilitate prostitution, with clients mostly being truck drivers from other states. This is further complicated by the region’s shared borders with Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh and proximity to the infamous ‘golden triangle’ where illegal business thrives. With little coordination between police in the north-eastern states and counterparts in key metropolitan cities make coordination difficult – not to mention recovery, rehabilitation and prevention from being exploited again after recovery. Establishing the Impulse Model method was the first step in bringing together all relevant and support stakeholders to form a cohesive defense against these overwhelming disadvantages.

Human trafficking is a dangerous business and being at the forefront has made Hasina a target of attacks. By working closely with law enforcement and government agencies, however, she believes that the risk can be managed.

Measurable Outcomes

Over the years, Hasina and Impulse NGO Network have dealt with over 70,000 cases of human trafficking, child labour, illegal organ transplant and sexual exploitation. It has also trained over 30,000 personnel from law enforcement agencies to orientate and engage them in operations. Hasina’s efforts in curbing rat hole coal mining has also saved 1,200 children from mines so far; her biggest victory in this, however, has been pressuring the National Green Tribunal to completely ban rat hole mining in Meghalaya since 2014.

For her work, Hasina has received countless accolades, including being named the 2017 Most Powerful Woman in Business in the Social Business Category by Business Today; taking home the Social Work Excellence Award 2016 for the University of Science & Technology Meghalaya; being conferred the SBI NE Circle Award for Selfless Service & Outstanding Contribution to Society, the IVLP Gold Star Award 2013, the ICC Northeast Excellence Award 2012, the CNN India Positive Award 2012, the Japan Social Activist-a Award 2012 and the Northeast Television People’s Choice Award – Social Activist of the Year 2005; and many others.

The Impulse Model has also been included in the South Asian Regional Initiative/Equity study by Management System International in Washington and supported by USAID for replication in South East Asia. It received the Silver Prize Global Development Network Japanese Award For Most Innovative Development Project under its Global Development Awards and Medals Competition 2012, and this led to its scaling up to Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh.

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