Issara’s co-founders, husband and wife team Mark Taylor and Dr. Lisa Rende Taylor, recall 2014 as the year they gave birth to their three children – the first two being their twin sons, and the third being Project Issara, the culmination of years of planning a better model for addressing human trafficking and promoting better business practices in global supply chains. In the two decades prior to 2014, Mark and Lisa had been working in parallel in their respective career tracks, based in Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC over the years. Mark’s journey included moving from Silicon Valley tech start-ups to earning his MBA at Georgetown University, to the World Bank, to becoming Managing Partner of a regional business consulting firm advancing SME competitiveness and private sector development, and later as a donor in the Australian Government. Lisa worked at community-based non-profit shelters and halfway houses while working on her Ph.D. in the US, then in her academic work developed the world's first quantitative predictive model of trafficking risk, based on her work with northern Thai women and girls being trafficked into the Bangkok, Malaysian, and Japanese sex industries. In her subsequent positions in the U.S. State Department, Asia Foundation, ILO, and United Nations, she rose to more senior positions managing multi-million dollar anti-trafficking programs, but always internally struggled with working within systems that preferred to design programs based on unproven assumptions and political pressures rather than on sound empirical evidence and high ethical standards.
Early days: The Founders at their Chiang Mai home during Lisa's Ph.D. research into sex trafficking of northern Thai women and girls, 2002.
It was around 2012 when Lisa came to terms with the fact that the brainstorming for practical solutions to labour trafficking that was happening around her dinner table was a lot more strategically sound, scalable, and feasible – not to mention bolder, more exciting, and more optimistic – than that which was happening in the UN inter-agency anti-trafficking meetings in which she had been actively participating (and often leading) for nearly a decade. New approaches and models were needed in the anti-trafficking sector. The key ingredient that Mark suggested introducing into the anti-trafficking world was the structuring and cultivation of collaborative partnerships with the private sector to create levers and opportunities for identifying and resolving risk, as well as for empowering workers. Months of modeling and brainstorming with colleagues from businesses who went on to become Issara’s first Strategic Partners, coupled with stringent considerations for ethics and empowerment of vulnerable populations along the way, led to the design and launch of Project Issara in 2014, with the support of Humanity United plus 10 global brands and retailers from the UK and US. This led to the formation of the Issara Inclusive Labor Monitoring (ILM) approach, Issara's worker voice technology tools, and on-the-ground technical teams to further strengthen empowered worker voice and data for business intelligence and action. Lisa served as the founding Executive Director, growing Project Issara into Issara Institute, while Mark served as President of the founding Board of Directors, eventually joining on as staff in 2016 to oversee all strategy and global partnerships operationally.