founders' story

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.

Advisors & Consultants

 

Dr. Wisa Wisesjindawat Fink

Data Systems Specialist

Wisa is a social science researcher who pursued her Ph.D. in environmental geography at National University of Singapore. She is highly motivated in applying scientific knowledge into action in integrated nature of human-environment interactions for livelihood and policy improvement, with a focus on participatory approach and GIS techniques in a wide range project implementations in the Mekong Region. Wisa has been active in the promotion of human security and livelihood development including: education planning, culture landscape and vulnerability mapping, mapping the spread of HIV/AIDS in the north of Thailand, developing solutions for statelessness for highland people and UXO clearance mapping in the Plain of Jars in Laos, monitoring and management of wetlands, land use and land cover changes, and spatio-temporal models of fish abundance and species richness for fisheries management on the Mekong River. Moreover, Wisa has been a key expert for the Mekong River Commission (MRC-Laos) in conducting a ‘State of the Mekong Basin’ report, a technical adviser for WWF-Laos for two terms to conduct a study of headwaters conservation of the Dong Houa Sao National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA) in Champassak in Laos, and a research collaborator for Michigan State University. Wisa has specialized knowledge of freshwater ecology, expansive knowledge of promoting local ecological knowledge of fishermen into scientific platforms for research development, and developing databases and survey techniques.

Dr. Amanda Flaim

Research Consultant

Amanda Flaim is faculty at James Madison College of Public Affairs at Michigan State University and also serves as core faculty at the Center for Gender in Global Context and Peace and Justice Studies. Dr. Flaim studies problems and paradoxes in human rights policy, including statelessness and citizenship, human trafficking, and the global expansion of rights to education and birth registration. Her current research projects explore the risk of trafficking among Cambodian and Burmese migrant workers into the Thai fishing industry (with Issara), and the causes and consequences of statelessness in Thailand and Nepal. Professor Flaim has consulted for several NGOs and United Nations agencies on a number of projects, including designing and leading two of the largest country-level surveys of stateless populations conducted to date. Prior to arriving at James Madison College, she was a postdoctoral associate and Human Rights Fellow at Duke University, where she taught courses on human rights, citizenship, migration, and qualitative and mixed methods research for public policy students. Professor Flaim holds a Master’s degree in Comparative and International Education from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Development Sociology from Cornell University.

Dr. Mark Latonero

Technical Advisor, Ethics, Data, and Technology

Dr. Mark Latonero is an international expert on the role of technology in human trafficking.  As a professor and research director, he has published investigations into human trafficking online, sex trafficking of minors and mobile phones, counter-trafficking media campaigns in Indonesia, and labour trafficking and technology in the Philippines.  He works with government, industry, academic, and non-governmental stakeholders to develop and assess tech and data-driven interventions for exploited and vulnerable populations. 

Samir Goswami

Technical Advisor, Business and Human Rights

Samir Goswami is driven to help businesses use their capabilities and technology to advance human rights. He is currently a strategy consultant to nonprofits with clients that include United Way Worldwide and Humanity United. Previously he was the Director of Government Professional Solutions at LexisNexis where he developed methodologies to use data products to uncover labor abuses in supply chains, promote rule of law and economic advancement in developing countries. As a Managing Director of the Individuals and Communities at Risk Program at Amnesty International USA, he oversaw campaigning in support of those whose human rights are being violated while modernizing the unit’s technology to increase efficiencies. Previously, Samir co-founded his own non-profit organization in Illinois where he organized survivors and led coalitions that transformed the State’s response to human trafficking.

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(c) 2019 Issara Institute.  All rights reserved.

Issara Institute, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the United States, and a registered non-profit foundation in Thailand.  All donations are tax deductible.

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