NYU Alumni Changemaker of the Year
President and Co-founder, Nomi Network
Investing in Women to Break the Chains of Slavery
When Diana Mao traveled to Cambodia in 2007, she wasn’t prepared for what she would find there: a desperate father offering to sell his 7-year old daughter to Mao’s male colleague. “He and his seven children were living in desperate circumstances with no running water or electricity,” Mao remembers. “Simultaneously, I’d see old foreign men parading the streets with young Cambodian girls.” That opened her eyes to the prevalence of modern slavery, a humanitarian crisis that impacts over 40 million people worldwide. It also impassioned Mao to become a vocal abolitionist and the co-founder of Nomi Network.
Since 2012, Nomi Network has provided over 10,000 women and girls with life skills, technical training, and pathways to safe employment. The nonprofit operates 10 training sites across Cambodia, India, and the United States, focusing on hot spot areas with high cases of sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and forced labor. The women and girls Nomi Network encounters face major barriers, from poverty to illiteracy to involuntary displacement. “Some of these women couldn’t even sign their names before joining our program,” says Mao. Now, many of those women are Nomi Network graduates, local entrepreneurs, and community outreach workers. “These women have lived in fear throughout their entire lives but are now seen as community heroes.”
In 2020 alone, Nomi Network impacted more than 180,000 people through initiatives such as its COVID-19 response, workforce development programs, mentorship for trainees, and Nomi International Fashion Training (NIFT) classes for garment workers. And in Cambodia, where over 18 percent of the population live below the international poverty line, hundreds of local jobs have been supported by NIFT. Working in three states across India, Nomi Network also helped trainees launch 155 small-to-medium enterprises and provided legal rights training to 200 women and girls through its Adolescent Girls Program.
On the global stage, Nomi Network’s mission has gained the attention of major corporations. Mao points to their partnerships with Sephora and Fossil and the organization’s efforts in connecting companies and consumers to ethical supply chains through the NOMI brand. As Nomi Network prepares to launch its Youth Workforce Development Program in Dallas, Texas, she’s also pushing leaders in the U.S. Congress to pass laws that grant undocumented survivors legal work status. Though Mao sees a future where the women of Nomi Network will be the ones shaping policy and driving political change. “I envision millions of women and girls getting their first job instead of being sent to brothels or marrying at the age of 12,” says Mao. “With the right economic circumstances, these women will rise up as leaders and cast a ripple effect on their communities.”