The first career of MDE member Marilyn* spanned three decades working for the United States Congress, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and collaborating with nonprofit organizations. Her key career theme was the rebuilding of governance institutions in countries that had experienced turmoil. She also worked to create policies protecting basic human rights, including the freedom of religious belief and practice. As a representative of the US Government, Marilyn considered a high honor her countless meetings around the globe with courageous men and women who had paid a high human cost in their exercise of those rights. This front-row seat on history-in-the-making provided an unvarnished glimpse into the effect of armed conflict, imprisonment, torture, human trafficking, and chronic poverty on a person’s sense of self.
While she witnessed extraordinary gains in protecting human rights and the afflicted being set free, she couldn’t silence the nagging question of how a survivor is rehabilitated after such trauma. Marilyn observed that torture survivors living as refugees in America began to gain stability once they had a respectable job and received mental health support. These survivors helped her see that change is possible, and that there is hope for healing.
Through association with care providers working with survivors of domestic violence, Marilyn’s understanding of trauma and abuse expanded beyond physical abuse to include emotional, economic, and spiritual. One of the key challenges for someone to leave an abusive relationship is lack of employment.
In working with the human trafficking issue, Marilyn sought to understand what made people vulnerable to exploitation. Many have naively or unintentionally put themselves in harm’s way when they believe their current situation is hopeless. With this realization came the understanding that one aspect of addressing these ongoing vulnerabilities is job creation. A therapist friend had exclaimed, “What these people really need is a job!”
After Marilyn finished her government roles, she found a new calling as a lay counselor in her faith community. Her passion for helping refugees who had experienced complex trauma inspired her to further her education through the Global Trauma Recovery Institute at Missio Seminary.
Survivors of exploitation, trauma, and trafficking often find it hard to embark on a healing journey when they cannot provide for themselves or their families. It was ten years ago when Marilyn was approached by two friends who invited her to join them in starting an organization that would generate jobs through business creation. The three founded The Business Builder* targeting areas of the world that have endured wide-scale trauma and generating opportunities for employment in trauma-informed workplaces.
The Business Builder partners with trauma-survivor care organizations, which help identify men and women sufficiently stable in their recovery to be employed without experiencing further trauma. They conduct research to determine which enterprise will meet market demand and focus on those that can employ at least 20 employees. The workplace community is important to the healing journey, as well as on-the-job training that allows employees to grow in skill level and compensation.
Yogurt Works* was the first business launched by The Business Builder. Its yogurt products generate repeat customers. Employees are known for their quality products rather than their stories of surviving a war that devastated a generation or of ongoing abuse within their families. Since 2016, more than 700 employees have found jobs at Yogurt Works – often their first work experience in the formal economy. Their milk is typically purchased from small dairy farmers who had never found a dependable market for their yields.
The Business Builder reached out to Marketplace and Development Enterprises in 2019 as Yogurt Works received investment from impact investors in the US. MDE’s business consulting, accounting, tax, and legal resources have been invaluable to this venture. . The Business Builder is now looking to expand into other communities affected by trauma and desperate for jobs.
“We believe we have proven this innovative model is replicable. Our next business in each new geographic location will start with thorough market research. The culture of the community may be quite different. Still, human needs remain the same: healthy relationships, the ability to provide for ourselves and loved ones, and a supportive community to help realize healing.”
Reflecting on her work over the years, Marilyn offered this in closing: “What a privilege to bear witness to the personal stories of survivors, whether I serve in the policy world or in the workshop! Along with that privilege can come a feeling of being overwhelmed by the scale of the world’s problems and the amount of suffering people experience. The needs are significant, but the resources that God (the Father) has given through the gifts given to His people are likewise vast.”
* All names of organizations and people have been changed to protect privacy.
 Complex trauma results from prolonged or repeated exposure to traumatic events such as childhood abuse, domestic violence, or living in a war zone. Complex trauma can affect many aspects of a person’s life – their sense of self, relationships, and worldview.
 A trauma-informed workplace is a living community of employees, vendors, and consumers that seeks to acknowledge the effects of trauma in a person’s life and to provide supportive care that both makes people feel safe physically and emotionally – and avoids re-traumatization