Profit, Scale and Transformation: The Freedom Business Alliance

We interviewed Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag, who is part of the core team for the new Freedom Business Alliance initiative and asked her how the FBA came about and what it is doing.

We are hearing the term Freedom Business being used more and more, what is a ‘Freedom Business’? 

It’s a business that exists to fight human trafficking. There are several types of business that fit into this category:  businesses that create jobs for survivors of exploitation would be the most familiar, but we would also include businesses that hire vulnerable people in order to prevent exploitation, as well as the aggregators who take products from these first two to new markets. A fourth category would be businesses that provide services specifically to and for other freedom businesses (ie., communications, logistics support, etc). Finally, there are businesses who have devoted the profit from their companies to fight trafficking. These are also part of the freedom business ecosystem.

We sometimes call freedom business the ‘backwards business’. In a normal business paradigm, an entrepreneur sees an opportunity to create a product or service that meets a need in the market. By gathering a qualified staff, he sets himself up to make a profit. 

In contrast, a freedom business starts with the group of people it intends to employ. In businesses working to prevent human trafficking and exploitation, those people have been made vulnerable by poverty, lack of education, or other challenging variables. For those in business for restoration, the difficulties are greater.  Their employees have already been victimised, and the resulting trauma creates levels of complexity in life and employment.

The Freedom Business Alliance believes that business can be a powerful tool in the holistic restoration of individuals and the transformation of their communities. Because employment is an important aspect of human dignity, freedom businesses offer opportunities to people whose main qualification is the need for a job.

Can you share more about how the Freedom Business Alliance came about and why? 

The Freedom Business Alliance (FBA) emerged from the BAM Global Think Tank. My husband Mats Tunehag, Co-chair of the Think Tank, suggested that we form an Issue Group to look at BAM and human trafficking globally – an issue that I was keen to explore.

A group of 30 business and ministry practioners from nine countries worked together to assess the health, problems, and possibilities of the global freedom business movement, specifically focusing on BAM as prevention and restoration in situations of human trafficking. The result was BAM Think Tank paper on BAM and Human Trafficking which is available as a free download.

The Issue Group met daily during the 2013 BAM consultation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and expanded to include others who were passionate about freedom business. We concluded that, rather than being complete, our work had just begun! Over 18 months, the Think Tank group had identified crucial needs that limited success in freedom business, and opportunities which could only be seized by joint effort – including the need for mentoring, information, and resources, and the opportunity to access those things by building a trade association. 

The Freedom Business Alliance emerged from those meetings with a commission to design solutions based on the think tank recommendations. After a two-year process, FBA is now officially registered in the United States, and will host its first board meetings prior to the Atlanta conference in January.

We like to say that freedom businesses exist to fight human trafficking. The Freedom Business Alliance exists to help them succeed.

Can you share some brief examples of the kind of business that are part of FBA – and how the FBA is supporting such companies? 

 Jewelry, home goods, and fashion accessories currently dominate in freedom goods, followed by cafes and other food service (bakeries, restaurants, and catering). Some freedom businesses are venturing into socially conscious fashion, and others are using design skills for communication, doing web design and consulting to assist businesses in telling their story.

Many are founded by NGOs, and function in the space between charity and business models. For instance, freedom businesses often benefit from the seconded labour of missionaries or foreign staff who do not draw salaries from the business. They may solicit donations to supplement sales and enable them to sell products at reasonable prices despite paying a living wage (generally higher than the industry average) to empoyees. Despite hard work from devoted staff, the average freedom business is not profitable.

The Freedom Business Alliance focuses on helping businesses access the resources they need to be profitable, scalable, and transformational. FBA aims to help shape the vision of these companies – and ultimately, the bottom line. We are also working to find new models for freedom business, freedom business 2.0, as it were.

You have an upcoming conference in January with some major corporations involved, can you tell us more that event and what you are hoping the outcomes will be?

The Freedom Business Alliance will be the featured partner at a conference organised by the Alliance for Freedom, Restoration, and Justice (AFRJ) in Atlanta this January.

AFRJ is hosting the conference to invite multi-national corporations to use their business knowledge and framework to fight trafficking globally. This goes far beyond the call to ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery, and engages business people as problem solvers to help solve some of the most difficult problems faced by freedom businesses.

Coca Cola, Google, Randstad, Chic-Fil-A, and Deloitt are a few of the corporations who have committed to sending delegates to the conference.

FBA is still working to refine our ‘asks’ for these corporate partners. We see this opportunity as a way to front-load the trade association with funding, opportunities, and resources for member businesses.

The FBA is launching another new initiative, ‘FBA Brands’, can you tell us more about that? 

Freedom businesses know that employment offers people an opportunity to live in freedom, and aspire to create as many jobs as possible. The challenge, of course, is that wages are usually one of the biggest expenses a business incurs.

We are exploring the possibility that combining freedom businesses into cooperatives which share design services, logistics services, marketing, and other functions, will allow them to enter new markets and accept larger (and more profitable) orders, thus creating the possibility of expanding their workforce.

FBA’s first freedom brand is “Free At Last”, a collaboration that was initiated by FBA founders Kerry (Freeset), Nicole (Polished Pearl), Sarah (Sari Bari), and Jenny (Starfish). Each of these businesses produces co-branded products specifically for the “Free at Last” brand in addition to their own product lines. “Free At Last” is currently available in select Dillards department stores across the United States.

Visit the Freedom Business Alliance website.

 Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag in conversation with Jo Plummer, Editor of The BAM Review.

 Jennifer Roemhildt Tunehag founded Nea Zoi, a ministry to exploited people in Athens, Greece, in 1998.  She is also a founder and core team member of the European Freedom Network, a network of faith-based NGOs working to build a bridge to freedom across Europe. Jennifer was one of the facilitators for the BAM Global Think Tank group focusing on “Business as Mission and Human Trafficking”, exploring the potential of business to function for prevention and restoration in situations of human trafficking. Recommendations from that group became the impetus for starting FBA. Jennifer also serves on the Human Trafficking Task Force of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). She and her husband, Mats, live in Stockholm, Sweden (and other warmer places in winter!).

Picture credit: Freedom Business Alliance