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Friday, January 17, 2014

MOVERS and SHAKERS: SARAH SYMONS Founder and Director, Made By Survivors Our Coverage Sponsored by ECO SWIM BY AQUA GREEN

Sarah Symons

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Sarah Symons is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Made By Survivors, a social purpose non-profit fighting human trafficking and slavery with empowerment, education and employment.

Made by Survivors trains and employs hundreds of slavery survivors in India, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Uganda and Fiji, importing and selling handicraft products made by the survivors, and using the profits to fund education sponsorships, shelter builds and aftercare programs. Made by Survivors sells the products online, and through partner retailers, raising awareness about human trafficking while offering economic empowerment, and the hope of a future to survivors.

Symons and her husband John Berger, the CEO of Made By Survivors, started the organization in 2005 with their own money and the contributions of a few concerned friends. 

Prior to starting MBS, Symons worked both in the nonprofit and business worlds. 

From 1994 to 2006, Symons worked as a composer of TV music, and as a recording artist. She released five CDs, and was the founder and President of Endurance Music, a source music company and recording studio. Symons’ music is frequently heard on national network TV, and in regional radio advertising.

From 1990-1994, she served as Program Director and Artist in Residence for Creative Arts Workshops, a program serving homeless kids in New York City. In this capacity, Symons provided direct services to youth, managed volunteers, planned and implemented large-scale art projects, and launched a teen program.  
Symons graduated in 1990 from the University of Pennsylvania, with a magna cum laude degree in Communications.

In 2010, she received the Sam Walton Foundation Entrepreneurship Award, and the Count Me In Micro to Millions Award for women entrepreneurs. She has also been honored by the V-Day Foundation for her work fighting violence against women.  
Symons and her husband John Berger (CEO of Made by Survivors) are the parents of two happy and socially conscious children - Maya, 14 and Luke, 12. We are so pleased to present Sarah as our latest Mover and Shaker. Peachy Deegan interviewed Sarah for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What was your first charitable endeavor in life, what do you remember about it and what did it teach you?
Sarah Symons: While in junior high school, I became very concerned for kids in my community that were living in extreme poverty, or victims of abuse or neglect. I began reaching out in friendship to some of these kids, and inviting them to my house, where they could eat a square meal and be safe and comfortable. Eventually, this led to one of the kids joining my family as a foster child. Through this experience, I learned that it is possible for anyone to make a positive difference in another person's life

How do you train the women that work for you?
Our focus is on training women for well-paying careers in respected professions. A job that can be learned in a week is not likely to lead to such a career, so we offer longer term training programs - such as our jewelry training, which takes a minimum of a year, and which really goes on forever, because jewelers can always learn new skills, and expand their scope. In addition to vocational training, we offer workshops in entrepreneurship, business skills, English and human rights. We aim to empower the survivors to someday run this program, and to know their rights so they can transform their families and communities 

What are your biggest organizational challenges in your role?
It is challenging to run so many programs with a small staff and limited funds. We promise our donors that we will use individual donations for program costs, not overhead, and in order to do that, we have to keep overhead costs extremely low, which means we all wear a lot of different hats. I never fancied myself as a website programmer or graphic designer or sometimes a shipping clerk, but I have had to learn all of those things. 

What would you like us to know about your music career and do you hope to return to it?
I do not wish to return to my music career, although I enjoyed it immensely at the time. There is no greater joy than working with my girls and I want to do that until the day I die 

Are you still marketing your music? 
No, but i have an agent who still gets placements for me, mostly in soap operas. 

We think it is fantastic that you help women, however, what can you to do help American women in poverty?
Helping women in America has never been more important! We are partnering with Jacksonville, Florida social service agency World Relief to pilot an entrepreneurship and therapeutic arts program for survivors here in America. We are confident that everything we have learned from working with survivors in Asia will enrich our work in the US, and in this way, survivors around the world will be helping each other 

What should all entrepreneurs know that most do not know?
Don't be attached to anything! Try it, Fix It, Try it again! It is no shame to fail, as long as you use each failure as an opportunity to refine your approach and try again in a different way 

What are the long and short term goals of your brand, Made by Survivors?
Our long and short term goals are the same: to sell more survivor-made jewelry so we can employ more survivors and ensure their free and empowered future. Ultimately, we plan for survivors to take over and run each and every one of our projects. 

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My parents. They taught me to care about social justice and to believe I could change things in the world that were unjust. After that, my husband and co-founder John Berger, whose business approach to charity work has greatly influenced the shape of our organization, and whose steadfast support has made it possible for me to pursue my dream. 

What are you proudest of and why?
I am proud beyond words of my children - both my biological kids Maya and Luke, whose easygoing nature has made life a joy, and my girls in Asia, the survivors whose courage uplifts and energizes me every single day! Their courage in surviving the worst that life can bring, and managing to carry on and to hope again, as well as their seemingly endless compassion, proves that anything is possible. 

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
I would like to tell the world about my girls through the medium of national television. 

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
Sam Walton Foundation Award for Women Entrepreneurs, Count Me in Micro to Millions Award, V-Day Foundation Vagina Warrior Award for fighting violence against women 

What one word best describes you and why?
Relentless. I refuse to give up, and I am relentlessly positive. I am relentless in fighting for what i believe in. What I believe most of all is that we cannot tolerate the gross injustice of modern day slavery and the exploitation of the most vulnerable members of society - poor girls. 

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
Cocktails at the W hotel! 

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
I can't pick just one 

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
I would hire someone who is just amazing at marketing, and telling the story of a brand in a way that makes everyone care as much as we do. Someone like Gayle King. 

What is your favorite drink?
Again, so hard to pick just one! I like passion fruit or peach or mango margaritas. Also i once had a Grapefruit and Basil gimlet that was seriously life-changing.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
When I started telling someone about my work, and they looked at me in horror and then backed away in horror! 

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
I love Asian food and Manhattan's is the best. Some of my faves are Madras Mahal and Tiffin Walla for Indian, also Pain Quotidien for breakfast and Balthazar for continental

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature?
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
I would like to be Jane Goodall and spend the day interacting with animals in Africa 

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
A cocktail because I love relaxing at the end of a long hard day with friends and a nice cocktail. In Calcutta, I have invented a cocktail named The Sarah, but so far only my team and friends know about it. It is fresh squeezed lime juice, tonic water, sugar, and vodka. 

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
Walking, rollerblading and running on the West side highway pedestrian path 

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Walking around manhattan 

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
I would like to spend the day with Gandhi and find out how he stayed positive when times were tough, and learn more about how he inspired and galvanized people to action, and what he thinks India and the world need most today. 

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
Brookie Maxwell's Rwanda Mon Amour show at Gallery 138 

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
I have launched an international nonprofit organization to help survivors of slavery rebuild their lives.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Underrated: Harlem Overrated: I'm personally not a fan of crowded touristy spots, like Times Square or the Statue of Liberty, but to each her own.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
Charitable Peachy. I get inspired seeing what other people are doing to improve the world. 

Have you tried The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not? 
I have only recently learned about it, and am keen to try it the next time i am in NY! 

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I've recently written a book about my work, called 'This is No Ordinary Joy'. It is available on Amazon.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?

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