UniSA alumna driving social change for a better future
Head of Global Programs, Thomson Reuters Foundation
“My days are started with the assumption that lives can be better, and that people can do more to add value to our society.”
UniSA alumna, Jessica Perrin, has travelled all over the world working for not-for-profit organisations driving social change and helping those with debilitating health conditions. This includes meeting the parents of the last child to be diagnosed with polio in India while supporting UNICEF to eradicate the virus, interviewing refugees in Jordan and managing communications for a children’s charity in Vietnam – just to name a few.
As the Head of Global Programs at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Jessica is determined to free the world of human trafficking and slavery. Her focus is on social policy and finding solutions to empower women worldwide. Even in her spare time Jessica is working towards a better future. She recently co-founded an app, Not My Style, which provides information to shoppers about the treatment of garment workers.
Please provide further information about your work at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
My career has given me unique insights into the world of NGOs, corporate foundations, social enterprises and the United Nations, and on the other foot, into the corporate sector and the business of social good.
I have always been impact focused and mission driven. I’ve been at the Thomson Reuters Foundation for close to 3 years and am now the Head of Global Programs. In this role, I face the daily challenge of determining how best we can serve a vibrant community of 2,500+ NGOs and social enterprises across 170 countries. This means building effective and innovative systems, driving strategic change, leading a team split across seven countries, and generally having fun while we make lives better.
I am responsible for scaling the Foundation’s legal pro bono program, TrustLaw, globally, introducing pro bono in emerging markets, obtaining pro-bono legal support for leading NGOs and social enterprises and developing strategic research programmes on crucial policy issues, such as women’s rights and social innovation. Our impact at TrustLaw is significant, and it is my job to ensure every organisation we support meets our due diligence criteria, that our regional managers encourage the growth of pro bono through strategic relationships with law firms, and ultimately, that we’re driving social change.
I also lead the Actions from Trust Women - an annual conference committed to finding real solutions to empower women and to fight slavery worldwide. At each conference, speakers and delegates propose innovative solutions to address social challenges. These Actions have included the establishment of a financial working group to fight human trafficking, legislation to protect two million Filipino domestic workers and legal strategies to combat human trafficking in India.
If you could draw more attention to one particular challenge or situation happening in the world right now, what would that be?
There are 36 million people currently enslaved across the globe, more than at any other time in history. The trade of human trafficking and slavery is unfortunately thriving instead of declining, with an astounding USD $150 billion in yearly profits – that’s more than three times the profits of Apple.
These faceless people are the children working in mines to extract minerals for our mobile phones, the fisherman trapped at sea so we can make a cheap prawn stir fry and the women making our clothes. I discovered that I have four times more clothes than my mother had in her wardrobe 30 years ago, and I paid a lot less for them. Today, the lead time from a designer's sketchbook to my wardrobe is just weeks, even though 97% of our clothes are made overseas. More clothes, faster and cheaper: fast fashion. It seems like an efficient system, until you stop to think about who makes your clothes. There are around 40 million garment workers, most of them women, in the developing world.
Outside my day job, I have always committed to volunteering my skills to support social change, and the plight of human trafficking was a cause so profoundly disturbing that I knew I had to do something. In 2014, I co-founded Not My Style, an app to be launched in July that will rate how much fashion brands share about how they treat the women and men who make our clothes. The app will give shoppers what they want (access to information - no one wants to buy clothes made in sweatshops!), and ultimately, push for garment workers to receive the fair treatment and wages they deserve. Fashion brands have repeatedly told me that shoppers don’t care about the conditions in which their clothes were made, as long as they’re cheap. We’re here to disrupt that myth and create a consumer movement to push fashion brands to improve the conditions for women who make our clothes.
You have travelled all over the world working for NGOs and charity organisations. Which moment stands out the most?
I have been so fortunate in my career to have experienced some remarkable moments, from interviewing refugees in Jordan, to living in Vietnam as a Communications Manager for a local children’s charity, and cycling 500km through Laos supporting the work of CARE Australia - however the one memory that stands out was in India. I moved to India in 2011 to work for UNICEF and support the efforts to eradicate polio. We were charged with the responsibility of launching an emergency response campaign following a newly identified case of polio. I travelled to a small district called Howrah in West Bengal just outside Calcutta to meet the family of the child who had been diagnosed. It was the middle of the Indian summer and we travelled from dawn on motorbike and on foot to reach the village in the scorching sun. I observed the activities of the thousands of volunteer health workers who were proudly moving from house to house, and door to door to ensure that every child under the age of 5 had been vaccinated. Houses were marked with chalk to note if the children had been vaccinated, posters on light posts shared the urgency, and Imams in mosques were speaking to their congregations about the importance of vaccinations. Every effort was being poured into the fight to ensure no child in India would again suffer the debilitation on polio. Unbeknownst to us at the time, that case of polio in this small village in West Bengal is now recognized as the last known case of polio in India. As we headed back to Calcutta late into the evening, fatigued and hungry, I remember feeling an unexplainable optimism, which years on was rewarded when India was officially declared polio free.
What is your best piece of advice for recent graduates?
I have loved transitioning from being a student who tried to absorb all I could from peers, colleagues, tutors and role models, to helping students as they embark on their careers. Many of the roles I’ve been fortunate to take on have been through an introduction or an idea from someone I respect. We’re not meant to take on the world alone, so network, you’ll be amazed by the people you meet and their willingness to help you on your way. I like to think that behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back – make sure you meet them. I have a million favours to repay for where I stand today, and so will never say no a coffee with a student starting their career. It is your job to ask for that coffee!