The four words that started a movement

We partner with clients to turn philanthropic ideas into reality. Chris Marsh walks us through how one client conversation led to a world of change in how human trafficking is addressed in San Diego.

"I need your help." These were the first words with which a client approached Chris Marsh, a UBS market head in Southern California, after a 2016 symposium hosted by UBS Family Advisory titled, "Passion. Purpose. Legacy." The client's family meeting had recently discussed the serious risks human trafficking poses to the San Diego area – it's one of the highest-intensity counties for child prostitution in the United States.1 The client wanted to do something transformative to really make a difference, beyond funding existing efforts.

"What we learned was shocking," said Chris. "I had no idea the scope of human trafficking going on in our own backyards. And we were unaware how it was evolving and worsening due to modern technology."

This 2016 conversation was the first spark. And what happened after was an alliance almost magical in telling. "So many people came forward wanting to help in any way they could to make an impact," Chris described. "Clients who wanted to engage philanthropically, subject matter experts, nonprofit leaders, colleagues from the UBS Optimus Foundation (UBS-OF), the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, leaders of public schools, and more – passionate people committed to changing the status quo."

In 2018, all these passionate people came together to form the San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective, which educates youths and their caretakers about what human trafficking looks like and how to stop it. Chris takes us through how it happened.

How did one client conversation lead to USD 3 million in prefunding and a Collective involving 753 San Diego schools? 

It started, and will always start, with understanding – listening and connecting with clients on a deeper level than just where they write checks. One client approached me saying they wanted to do something about this issue, but was unconvinced of the best approach based on existing options. But our firm and the UBS-OF have the ability and global network of connections necessary to connect different facets of a community and make our clients philanthropic needs possible. Once we got the conversations started, we found out that there were many people from many different fields and backgrounds who were invested in the issue and eager to drive change.

Who were the key players in making the Collective happen? 

The UBS-OF, the district attorney's office, subject matter experts, local NGOs, philanthropists and community leaders – just to name a few. When we were looking for nonprofits that could help, we listened to our experts and surveyed organizations nationally and globally with a mindset for finding a complementary fit of programs and thinking. What was truly exceptional though was how this group came together in cohesion. Most nonprofits, for example, have difficulty uniting with one objective. But when forming the Collective, three nonprofits brought together three different programs – PROTECT, kNOw More and Project Roots. Instead of competing against one another, this group worked to share content with each other, develop shared protocols for the community to handle sensitive situations when they arose, and even commit to shared outcomes. How often does that happen?

What do you see as the future of the San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective? 

What has surprised a lot of people is what this Collective approach offers beyond San Diego. The model this community is developing – bringing nonprofits together, working in collaboration as a public-private partnership, philanthropists investing time, talent, and treasure to make an impact – this can serve as a recipe for other communities. We have one member of the collective capturing learnings on a weekly basis of both what goes well and what does not, so we can share these ingredients with other cities focused on prevention.

When it comes to the San Diego community itself, the Collective has already made great strides, training over 1000 educators. We aim to reach over 345,000 San Diego students in the next three years. And we see this expanding to include more schools, after-school programs, interactive drama workshops and public outreach. All with a mindset of creating measurable impact at three levels – student, school and community-wide. I'll leave you with the words of one San Diego public school teacher, who, after attending a workshop that informed educators about what human trafficking can look like, stated:
"It shatters me to think about what I might have otherwise missed."

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