Jessica Hubley is AnnieCannons’ Cofounder and CEO. After earning degrees from Emory University and attending Stanford Law School, Jessica built a legal career at Latham & Watkins LLP and Dickstein Shapiro LLP before opening her own firm, advising emerging internet, cloud, and digital media companies on general commercial matters. After spending years as a lawyer advising software consultancies to more effectively communicate with their clients and software products to implement privacy and security by design, Jessica cofounded AnnieCannons and modelled a similar impact agency optimized for women and minorities’ success. Jessica was introduced to the global issues of human trafficking through her work as the President of Women of Stanford Law, and met AnnieCannons’ cofounder, Laura Hackney, while working on a narrative nonfiction piece that highlights the stories of trafficking survivors from around the globe, and how existing technology could be leveraged to help them.
One-line project summary:
Transforming survivors of human trafficking and gender-based violence into software engineers and entrepreneurs
Present your project.
AnnieCannons serves survivors of human trafficking who have experienced the most horrific crimes committed against humanity, yet possess some of the best predictors of a successful software engineer: problem-solving and grit. Our train-to-work program equips survivors with the skills, resources and “privilege surrogates” that are central to unlocking viable economic opportunities, but are unequally distributed to marginalized communities. From computers and childcare to high-skills training, workplace mentorship and professional networks, AnnieCannons facilitates the support structures survivors need to succeed─then serves as a buffer to mitigate the structural bias that keeps traumatized women, women of color and other disadvantaged groups from advancing in the workplace. This program model is applicable in all geographies and across demographics to elevate humanity where inequalities persist, and its success has been evidenced in economic power delivered to survivors and life outcomes: not a single survivor who has completed our program has ever been re-trafficked.
Submit a video.
What specific problem are you solving?
Human trafficking is a global crisis affecting more than 40 million people worldwide. Despite its prevalence in all 50 states and with over 400,000 people working as modern slaves across the country, trafficking remains largely invisible in the U.S. The majority of trafficked individuals are women, with Black women disproportionately making up 40% of sex trafficking victims in America. While there is no single profile for trafficking victims─with survivors in our program ranging from U.S.-born citizens to refugees, with little to no prior education to post-graduate degree holders─nearly all share a common thread: a chronic lack of opportunity and the desire for a better life.
Unfortunately, only a small percentage of survivors are ever “rescued” and even fewer are able to secure true freedom, burdened by stigma and an inherently biased system that discriminates against them. Human trafficking is a lifetime cost for survivors and especially for women of color and other marginalized groups, post-rescue prospects are grim: jobs are scarce, wages are low, and there is little to no access to skills advancement. While many organizations offer survivor-centered training programs, most focus on low-skilled and low-wage gendered industries, with few pathways to direct sustainable employment.
What is your project?
AnnieCannons delivers in-demand 21st century skills to survivors that can be translated into meaningful outcomes. Our goal is not only to help them gain dignified work and liveable wages, but to exceed this industry standard to earn transformative incomes and secure long-term careers in respected and in-demand professions, positioning them to achieve economic sufficiency for a lifetime of freedom from vulnerability. We do this first through our core training, which trains survivors to code. The curriculum is rigorous, starting with basic digital literacy then progressing through 114 web development concepts and work sets before they progress into our project-based workforce readiness program. During this second phase, students work on incrementally more advanced projects to practice and hone their technical skills while building their confidence in the workplace. Our team supports each survivor to practice self-motivation, exercise time management, and work in teams as building blocks for their professional success. At the same time, we nurture and translate their own ideas into technology solutions to prevent future abuse. Once students graduate, they qualify to earn market wages and can pursue multiple employment pathways inside and out of AnnieCannons, with lifetime access to upskilling their knowledge through advanced training opportunities.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
AnnieCannons directly serves survivors of human trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), who face similar life circumstances that exposed them to abuse. Every survivor joins AnnieCannons on a referral-basis from local shelters, case managers and victim services providers. To date, 100% of our cohorts have been women and 81% minorities. As an organization, we are deeply committed to both understanding and responding to their needs without assumptions. This begins with representing their voices in our staff composition, which is made up of 56% survivors who graduated from our program and over 80% women of color and LGBTQ individuals. We engage participatory survivor-informed methods in all programmatic decision-making, including in data collection, software design, curriculum development and program evaluation, and amplify their contributions by supporting external agencies to integrate inclusion methodologies based on our own best practices. Our fundamental belief that survivors know best how to fight and solve the root causes of exploitation is nurtured in our impact technology incubator, which supports students to ideate and design anti-abuse technologies to reach even more survivors, at scale. Importantly, one-hundred percent of our development services offered through our impact agency is led by survivors.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
Survivors of human trafficking, domestic abuse and GBV are arguably the most marginalized individuals worldwide, facing a multitude of vulnerabilities that are compounded by stigma, discrimination and criminalization of their victimhood. Survivors are not only left behind, they are actively ignored in the workforce, dismissed by the justice system, and their worth underestimated by the very programs designed to empower them. AnnieCannons recognizes the hidden potential of survivors and creates a space where their ideas, talents and entrepreneurship can be nurtured to generate economic power, break generational cycles of violence, and innovate solutions to help more survivors worldwide.
How did you come up with your project?
The original idea of AnnieCannons was sparked during a 2013 research trip to Myanmar with my co-founder, Laura Hackney, where we noticed critical characteristics between local survivors and those we knew in the U.S.: trafficking ensnares the most hard-working, entrepreneurial, industrious vulnerable people─not the most gullible, as is so widely believed. Unfortunately, we also observed that most after-rescue training programs for survivors universally focused on low-wage gendered skills, such as jewelry-making and sewing, that did little to utilize survivors’ immense talents or change their economic prospects.
At the same time, coding bootcamps were becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., giving people high-income earning potential in a few short months, regardless of education background. We saw the raw, under-appreciated talent of survivors and the opportunity for software education to yield high incomes without “traditional” education and social skills as a recipe to build a powerful engine for change. We decided to leverage our own social privilege, elite-education networks and business development skills to their advantage, and created AnnieCannons. To date, the women in our program have proven the brilliance of survivors and continue to break the barriers of stigma, bias and discrimination against traumatized women in the workplace.
Why are you passionate about your project?
As a young girl, I excelled in every math and science class taken a year ahead of my peers yet not one teacher encouraged me to pursue STEM. As a student in law school, my limited mathematics background was described by a male peer as a “travesty.” I was reprimanded for how quickly I recruited a client in a new job and have been repeatedly dismissed by male executives, corporate boards and venture capitalists as a woman business owner.
I realized that if my talents were overlooked and opportunities denied to me as an elite-educated, cisgender white female, women and girls of color from disadvantaged communities faced insurmountable barriers, without any social privileges to fall back on. I am deeply offended by how brilliant people are ignored simply due to their gender, race and previous condition of servitude, and have seen firsthand the contributions that marginalized women can make if given the opportunity. I believe that to surface the genius of survivors means to discover how to surface the hidden talents that are oppressed and ignored among all disadvantaged communities, worldwide, and have committed a lifetime to helping uncover their potential and prove their brilliance through my social advantage.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
In addition to surrounding myself with the best and brightest talent, I bring a unique set of skills and experiences that position me well to offer the leadership and creativity needed to achieve AnnieCannons’ goals. My legal background allows me to rapidly craft and negotiate software licensing, IP distribution, corporate governance, and commercial consulting contracts to manage our business operations at an optimal pace, cost and quality of legal protection. I have a decade of prior security and privacy compliance consulting experience that has prepared me to understand different technologies, and then take those concepts to help others with less familiarity to understand them, which is a daily skill I practice at AnnieCannons.
Over the course of my career, I have honed the ability to identify and transform bias into a negotiating advantage, which has been an essential tool in securing client business and funder investments for AnnieCannons. Our greatest challenge, to date, is overcoming disbelief that our survivors can code, and to convince society that the services they deliver are of exceptional quality standard. I utilize my sales and negotiation abilities to manage this bias and shift perceptions everyday. Importantly, my cofounder and I are committed to creating an ecosystem free of cultural bias in our workplace. We combine our talents to both source and match the right people to the right jobs within the organization, including ensuring representation in key positions and empowering our graduates to advance into these roles as they build their workplace capabilities and confidence.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
“Impossible” was the common response I received when I first explained AnnieCannons. I was constantly told to “do less,” and focus either on establishing a nonprofit or creating a business─never both. Yet, my cofounder and I knew that neither a training program nor an impact agency could succeed alone: they needed to exist, in tandem, to offer the viable income and advancement opportunities we envisioned for survivors.
Like so many women-founder stories, I received countless rejections my first year launching AnnieCannon until that initial grant, followed by an individual donor who took a chance on a young start-up. Building the organization’s clientbase proved more difficult, having to both convince clients to trust in my leadership capacity on top of the talents of women they understood to be “weak,” “damaged” and “broken.” Over the years, I achieved successes breaking through doubts and misconceptions─a mental practice of anticipating and disrupting assumptions─though AnnieCannons continues to face barriers of bias and stigma everyday that prevent clients from believing survivors can be successful software engineers. Though I overcame the initial challenges of the AnnieCannons journey, I continue to look to the survivors in our program for inspiration on how to achieve true perseverance and resilience.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
In 2019, I was invited to speak at the inaugural conference of the United Nations University’s (UNU) Code 8.7 Project, on the recommendation of a prominent survivor leader, Minh Dang, and as the representative of the only nonprofit organization delivering high-skills training for trafficking survivors. The conference brought together leaders from the computational research, artificial intelligence and anti-slavery communities to achieve Target 8.7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
I was asked to participate as a keynote speaker, and used the platform to speak about AnnieCannons and the importance of elevating survivor voices and protecting their well-being in any software designed to fight trafficking. I was widely commended on my speech and, after the Conference, invited by UNU to represent AnnieCannons on their formal Organizing Committee.
My first request was to insist that a survivor technologist be added to the group. As a result, an AnnieCannons' graduate, who had innovated a method to remove bias from AI, was invited to consult. Today, both the graduate and I remain on the Committee, and the UNU has hired AnnieCannons to work on their broader Delta 8.7 website to build trafficking data visualization about countries all over the world.
How long have you been working on your project?
Where are you headquartered?Oakland, CA, USA
What type of organization is your project?Hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit
Describe what makes your project innovative.
AnnieCannons is the only organization of its kind that offers high-skills training with high-income earning potential for survivors and other marginalized women that is applicable to all markets across the world. Most after-rescue training programs deliver skills in low-wage gendered work that fails to economically empower survivors and sustain incomes needed to permanently overcome vulnerable life circumstances. By recognizing the untapped potential and talents of survivors, and linking them to the $1.5 trillion software services industry, we are driving economic power directly into the hands of survivors in a new, transformative way.
We are also reimagining the workplace for women─especially for the most marginalized─by removing the structural barriers and biases that hold them back despite their high talents. This includes recognizing and embracing mothers by offering family-friendly work schedules, and rejecting traditional workplace norms, such as dress codes and resumes. In this way, we are creating a unique ecosystem where survivors can focus solely on their work and thrive without the disruption of discrimination. At the same time, we are modelling a new kind of software development agency that gives enterprises the opportunity to make a positive social impact while receiving high-quality, affordable software. This integration allows us to explore sustainability in an innovative way while keeping survivors central to our mission. We also offer a model for a new kind of software incubator, one that creates experts from the communities most impacted by issues of poverty, discrimination and violence, and then positions them to innovate their solutions.
What is your theory of change?
At AnnieCannons, we believe that if given the privilege surrogates of opportunity and resources that are disproportionately distributed based on gender and race, individuals who have been trafficked, exploited and abused can take those privileges and transform them into tangible, life-changing outcomes for themselves and their families─and ultimately, gain economic power to live a lifetime free of exploitation.
Our mission to transform survivors of human trafficking and GBV into software engineers is founded on the beliefs that survivors are bright and capable learners, and have the inherent characteristics to succeed in a high-paced, high-demand environment─evidenced by their ability to overcome the harshest and most repressive circumstances. It is also supported by academic studies which found the best predictors of a successful software engineer were problem-solving and grit. Without the requisite of prior experience or related education, we knew that software development would not only be a feasible source of income, it could translate into lucrative and long-standing careers with the potential to truly transform a survivor’s life. There was little evidence that existing vocational and technical training for survivors in common skills such as sewing, jewelry making and cooking had a lifetime impact to prevent re-trafficking or to meaningfully reduce survivors’ vulnerability. However, the potential impacts of a software engineer career were undeniable.
By training survivors in high-demand market skills and teaching them to code, then linking them with opportunities to monetize those skills with high-growth potential, AnnieCannons is providing survivors with lifelong income opportunities needed to gain economic power and self-sufficiency to end exploitation. In doing so, we are also breaking the reinforcing cycles of poverty, vulnerability and violence that perpetuate violence against women, while offering a model for the empowerment of other disadvantaged and marginalized groups all across the world.
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
AnnieCannons currently serves 24 survivors and has directly affected 54 total lives, to date. In one year, we will impact more than 84 survivors and in five years, we expect to impact more than 984 survivors directly and meaningfully through our training program. We are also poised to launch impact technologies in the coming years that are designed to reach survivors at scale. This includes products such as our ReferAll platform, which is designed to support the more than 20 million survivors of trafficking, domestic violence and child sexual exploitation in the U.S. to seek shelter and other care services in a secure, centralized way without the risk of re-traumatization; and EasyTRO, an app that simplifies and digitizes the process of completing a restraining order form to help over 10 million domestic violence survivors seek legal protection and justice against their abusers.
We expect to train survivors outside of the United States within the next five years, and plan to focus long-term growth on training survivors in less expensive markets - where the economic power we deliver will go even farther.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Within the coming year, AnnieCannons is poised to open its second training center in Atlanta, Georgia and within the next five years, initiate global expansion to exponentially increase the number of survivors we can reach. Our growth strategy initially focused on proof-of-concept in the U.S, specifically in a high-cost, high-demand market to both test and sustain an engine for economic empowerment that is able to thrive in diverse markets worldwide. The San Francisco Bay Area was an optimal location due to the intersection of a thriving technology industry in nearby Silicon Valley, combined with the economic spillover that has heightened demand for illicit activity and further widened the income gap─fueling conditions ripe for exploitation. It is also one of the most expensive cities to live in the country, and world. With recent positive outcomes demonstrated by our survivors, which includes our highest earner generating more than double the liveable monthly wage in San Francisco in a single month, and up to a 52% increase in economic power achieved month over month in 2020, to date, we are confident that our training model can succeed in any market in the U.S. and thrive in any country in the developing world.
We achieve our impact goals in close collaboration with and the support of a wide range of public and private sector partners. We will continue to work with networks of local nonprofits, academic institutions, law enforcement, corporate partners, businesses and other allies in anti-trafficking to elevate our survivor impact.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Our greatest organizational challenge remains overcoming the inherent bias that is associated with survivor capability. Despite our expanding client portfolio and track record, we continue to face disbelief that our survivors can build high-quality software. However, we are seeing indications that this barrier is slowly being overcome. Since the pandemic began, more than half of our inbound leads have been successfully converted into contracts with less convincing required than when we first started. We are hopeful that this positive trend will continue as we continue advocating on behalf of the survivor community, expanding our client and partner networks, and showcasing evidence of their talents to the world.
Financially, the pandemic has adversely impacted philanthropic and individual giving to AnnieCannons and many other nonprofit organizations. Despite this financial downturn, we are optimistic that our impact agency can offset reduced funding streams through expanded business opportunities, which has seen an uptick since March due to the universal remote work demands of the workforce. AnnieCannons will continue to leverage this opportunity by upskilling our graduates and honing our service offerings to absorb the technological needs of remote operations.
Lastly, entry barriers associated with global expansion will require that we invest heavily in market research and network-building in key target countries to understand and adapt our model for the local context. A significant, anticipated challenge will be in overcoming cultural norms of gender, which in many countries, includes social acceptability of domestic violence and a gender-discriminatory social environment that perpetuates violence against women.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
Overcoming key barriers to achieve our organizational goals will require strong and meaningful relationships with a wide array of partners from the public and private sectors. These include key collaborations with peer organizations working with the survivor community, local aftercare shelters and service providers, and allies in law enforcement and the justice system to help us continue identifying, supporting and advocating for survivor well-being and protection. It also includes active partnerships with corporate, foundation and individual funders that are committed to social impact and the advancement of women in the workplace, especially for disadvantaged and marginalized women, with a priority on expanding funding relationships with women-founded, women-led and women-majority organizations.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We currently partner with a number of local shelters and victim services providers throughout the Bay Area. These include Love Never Fails, Young Women's Freedom Center, Larkin Street Youth, Covenant House and Ruby’s Place, among others, that identify and refer survivors who show indications that they can benefit from and succeed in our training program. As referral partners, they also ensure that every survivor has mental health support in place and stable access to housing while they participate in our program.
We also partner with the Alameda County Family Justice Center, where we host our classroom training and collaborate on student support services, such as childcare. We also coordinate closely with the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, San Francisco Police Department and county court systems. We have an ongoing partnership with Replate, a local nonprofit that redistributes surplus food to communities in need to offer our students free nutritious meals during class; and with Uber, to help survivors offset the daily cost burden of coming to and from home to attend class onsite. Since the quarantine in early March, Replate has redirected meals to survivors’ homes and we have put Uber ride credits on hold until in-person instruction resumes. These and other local AnnieCannons partnerships are vital to helping us meet the holistic physical and mental health needs of the survivors in our program.
What is your business model?
AnnieCannons offers value to survivors at the individual and global levels through our integrated business model, which trains survivors in relevant 21st century market-based skills, supports them to build, retain and monetize those skills, and positions them to apply their talents to innovate technological solutions for all survivors. Our participants are actively supported by a 100% women team of seasoned industry professionals in product management and IT architecture who deliver project management, mentorship and quality control support. Given the demographic of our students and graduates, we also source and incorporate key program inputs designed to reinforce well-being of the whole individual, such as regular wellness sessions by licensed mental health professionals and guest lectures by women leaders in tech, with a robust portfolio of pro-bono service providers that enable use to scale our offerings and impact for our participants.
By linking our training program with AnnieCannons’ software development service agency, we are able to provide a direct train-to-work pathway for graduates and optimize cost-effective operational decisions based on real-time supply and demand needs. For example, we seek and source the volume of client contracts needed to fill work streams for survivors at their requisite skills level: this means that when our pipeline is full, we train more survivors and conversely, when graduates need more work, we accelerate business development. This mutually-reinforcing business model has taken us from an estimated $8,000 of income in our pilot year to a seven-figure revenue pace for the upcoming year.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
AnnieCannons was intentionally designed to become a self-sustaining organization. At our core is a social enterprise model designed to generate sustainable income outside of traditional giving, reducing our reliance on philanthropy over time. This agency arm of AnnieCannons is a safeguard against financial shocks that enables us to keep employing, paying and supporting survivors while maintaining organizational health to continue pursuing our goals. This means that even during the pandemic, for example, we have been able to protect and sustain an uninterrupted pipeline of paid work for all of our survivors training in and earning through our program.
Currently, we fund our operations through a combination of individual donations, foundation and corporate grants, and revenue earned from custom software development services delivered by our graduates. This revenue stream currently covers 30% of our operating costs, an increase from 22% in 2019.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
AnnieCannons receives approximately three-quarters of our funding from grants and donations and one-quarter from earned revenue on agency work. We currently have 11 active institutional funders that include CISCO, The Jensen Project, Stardust Fund, Battery Ventures and Novo Foundation, among other public and private donors, whose contributions total more than $1.3 million. Our revenue is sourced from a number of corporate and nonprofit clients that contract AnnieCannons for their custom software development needs, from creating websites and apps, to data collection and small business technology support. All of our agency services are delivered by our survivors, all of whom trained and graduated as highly-skilled software engineers from our training program. Over the past 12 months, AnnieCannons’ 100% women engineers generated more than $386,000 in earned revenue from clients, and have completed software development projects for over 76 external clients, over time.
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
We continuously seek meaningful partnership and grant funding support from private and corporate foundations and individual donors that are committed to fighting trafficking and empowering survivors to unlock their potential. Every contribution we receive allows us to continue running our survivor coding bootcamp, training our graduate instructors, providing childcare and other support services, and ensure that every survivor receives the individualized support and mentorship she needs to thrive in the modern workforce.
At the same time, we are committed to growing our client business for our agency, which is the engine that drives economic power for survivors. Our overarching goal is to increase the share of expenses we can cover through earned revenue, year over year, to ensure we can sustain activities and continue to operate at full capacity in any market economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of this sustainability model to support, train, and employ survivors when they need jobs and incomes the most. So far in 2020, we have been able to cover an estimated 36% of our expenditures through earned revenue.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
Our expected expenses for 2020 is approximately $1.5 million, which includes an estimated one-quarter of our budget towards general operating and fundraising activities for the organization.
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
Large-scale social issues, like poverty, discrimination, and violence create the vulnerabilities that make trafficking possible. Without a true path to economic opportunity, trafficking and human exploitation operate as a cycle that sees vulnerable populations exploited again and again. Opportunities in technology can break that cycle and more importantly, survivors of human trafficking are the best people to ideate the solutions.
Our experience shows that robust partnerships are the only way to achieve our goals. To date, partnerships with not only anti-trafficking service providers, but also technology education enterprises, both social and for-profit enterprise customers, and over 100 technology professional volunteers have made our work possible.
Now we can scale this success to help more vulnerable individuals, in California, across the country and the world. Yet to realize this lifelong vision, we know that partnerships are essential and platforms like The Elevate Prize are invaluable in helping us to forge the scale and diversity of collaborations needed to make a real impact. As a 2017 MIT Solve Winner, we have seen, firsthand, the value that a network of committed innovators and thought-leaders can bring. We hope to expand this network through The Elevate Prize community.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
We are interested in partnering with institutions from all sectors that help us to amplify survivor capacity, inclusion and impact. This includes key partnerships with mission-driven companies and other enterprises committed to creating more inclusive work spaces or products, such as ServiceNow, where we currently have a pilot relationship to consult on an inclusion-by-design service for their enterprise software. We believe this offering provides a mechanism to drastically amplify the impact of our model in making technology more inclusive, down to the code level.
We value partnerships with Udemy, Secure Code Warriors and other technical training programs that enable us to expand critical skills-building opportunities for our survivors. Udemy, for example, offers our graduates unlimited access to top-rated courses to boost their programming skills, while Secure Code Warriors is helping every survivor at AnnieCannons to elevate their coding security.
We are also looking to expand our partnerships with global impact agencies, such as the United Nations, building on our existing relationships with UNU and UN Women. We value the opportunity to affect meaningful impact at scale through our service delivery that reinforces advocacy for survivor inclusion into programs and policies that directly impact them.
Lastly, we are always seeking local partners to reinforce and expand deep networks of social activists, like AC United in the Bay Area and the GRACE Commission in Atlanta, with connections to talented survivors to expand training operations, both at local and global levels.
- Jessica Hubley Founder & CEO, AnnieCannons