Give your audience what it wants

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When we make a video here at IOM X, our research team steps in to make sure that what is being created will be clear and appealing to our target audience. Getting feedback along the way helps improve the final product, which will increase the likelihood of having a strong impact with viewers.

One way to get feedback is by holding focus group discussions. This means getting a small group of people together, who ideally match the characteristics of your target audience and presenting them with the idea or the draft product. They are then asked to discuss their thoughts, feelings and emotions towards it.

IOM X recently released a YouTube miniseries that revolves around exploitation and human trafficking in the garment industry. The story is about a fictional clothing company, ‘Torres Fashion’. The company is run by Winston, a young entrepreneur, and the clothes are produced by Mr. Cho, a factory owner. Like some clothing brands we wear on a daily basis, the factory in the miniseries cuts corners, exploiting workers under conditions tantamount to forced labour.

The aim of the miniseries is to make viewers aware of the fact that their clothing may be produced with the use of forced labour or exploitative practices. The viewers should be left thinking and caring about the labour that goes into the products that they use on a daily basis and moved enough to share the videos with their friends.

Armed with the first two scripts of our YouTube miniseries, IOM X’s research and learning team set off to find participants for our focus groups. Three separate discussions with students from Mahidol University and Thammasat University in Bangkok took place. A mix of about 30 bachelor and master’s students, from many different countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam participated in the focus groups.

While each group had different preferences and feedback, some of the same points were raised in all three discussions. For example, Winston’s sister, Lian came across as too stereotypical. In the original script, Lian was an unfashionable intern who cares about the environment and human rights. One participant pointed out, “I think it is a stereotype that people who are not fashionable care about human trafficking”. Another agreed, “It seems very Ugly Betty-ish,” she said.

In two of the three focus groups the idea of having facts at the end of each episode to help raise awareness about exploitation of factory workers came up. A student suggested, “Something that is visual is easier to understand. Maybe have evidence at the end, facts about what trafficking really looks like”. This prompted IOM X to include a quiz question at the end of each episode to let viewers test their knowledge about trafficking and exploitation in the garment industry.

Another common point of feedback from focus group participants was that they do not like to wait for new episodes of a series to be released. One participant explained, “Our generation likes to binge watch. I won’t remember to come back next week to watch the next episode”. Another said, “A week between episodes might be too long. All episodes should be released at the same time. Netflix made me this way. I hate when there is only one episode because then I can’t binge”. Based on this feedback IOM X decided to release all episodes of the YouTube miniseries at once.

Once the focus groups discussions were finished, the IOM X team sat down and discussed the comments generated in the three discussions. The issues that were most often raised were then noted, and this feedback was delivered to the production company, which made the appropriate changes to the scripts. The YouTube miniseries you can now watch HERE, features all these changes.

To learn more about forced labour, visit

Domestic Worker Rights: Gauging the Impact of Open Doors

SG screenshot


Hiring a live-in domestic worker in Southeast Asia is not uncommon among middle and upper income families. These domestic workers are often migrants from other countries. Unfortunately, domestic workers – and especially those living with families – can face abuses such as no weekly day off, having to be on call 24 hours a day, not being allowed to keep their passports and not being paid a fair salary.


To address exploitation in the domestic work sector, IOM X created a regional video programme called Open Doors: An IOM X Production.


Open Doors aims to reach as many employers in the region as possible, in order to increase awareness of the exploitation of domestic workers and encourage employers to adopt better behaviours towards them.


Testing the impact of a regional programme requires a regional approach. Open Doors was tested with viewers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand by IOM X’s research partner, Rapid Asia. In each of the countries, the video was shown to a sample of the intended target audience – people between the ages of 15-50. Most of the survey participants employed domestic workers (47% of Thai, 62% of Indonesian and 100% of Malaysian respondents), some of which were migrants and some of which were nationals of the country where they work.


Over 700 people were surveyed before and after watching Open Doors, to see what impact the programme had on viewers’ levels of knowledge, attitudes and intended practices towards domestic workers and their rights.


MALAY screenshot


Surveyed viewers from Malaysia and Indonesia appear to have learned the most about domestic worker entitlements after watching Open Doors, as their knowledge levels increased by an average of 32 per cent. Thai viewers’ knowledge also increased, although to a lesser extent, at 17 per cent.


In all three countries, knowledge of a weekly day off and paid rest days was high, about 85 per cent of those surveyed knew about these rights. However, across the board, audiences from all three countries showed low awareness on what constitute fair working hours. This shows that there needs to be more efforts to inform employers that domestic workers deserve fair working hours, just like employees in any other sector.


Unfortunately, negative attitudes towards migrant domestic workers were still expressed by an average of 42 per cent of the people surveyed after watching Open Doors. Shifting attitudes is generally an extremely difficult task that is unlikely to be accomplished after seeing one video. However, despite the high levels of negative attitudes, Open Doors was able to make a small dent. When comparing the scores of all three countries, ignorance, measured by asking participants if they agree or disagree with the statement ‘live-in domestic workers should be available to work at any time’, on average decreased the most (by 18%) in all three countries. The most remarkable shift in attitudes was found in Malaysia, where negative attitudes decreased by 19 per cent. Such a high decrease in negative attitudes speaks for the effectiveness of Open Doors to connect to employers.


The three-country survey found that intended behaviours towards domestic workers were high; although in general behavioural intent was high in the pre-survey already (at an average of 72%), it increased in all three countries, especially in Indonesia (up 16%). The most significant increase in behaviour was concerning the practice of advising friends who are about to hire a domestic worker. On average this behaviour increased by 18 per cent.


THAI screenshot


One interesting finding was that those who employ migrant domestic workers always showed higher levels of knowledge, attitudes and intended practices than those who employ local domestic workers. It was also found that those who were previously exposed to news around domestic workers had higher levels of knowledge, attitudes and intended behaviour, compared to those who didn’t. This shows that experience and exposure to information, and interaction with domestic workers, may contribute to a better understanding about domestic worker rights.


With about 84 per cent of surveyed viewers saying they found Open Doors interesting and learned something new, it can be said that across the region the programme accomplished its objective. The programme set out to raise awareness of the exploitation that domestic workers face, and to encourage employers to adopt positive behaviours that will reduce exploitation. Encouraged by these positive findings, IOM X continues to disseminate Open Doors across the region.


To read the full comparative impact assessment study of Open Doors in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand click here.

Who are Human Traffickers?



Human trafficking is a complicated issue. When explaining it, we often talk about how victims were deceived, and the exploitative situations they were forced into. But there is one key part that is rarely discussed: Just who are the traffickers?


Understanding who human traffickers are and what their motivations are can help us to better grasp the issue. Essentially, anyone who contributes to the trafficking of a person and has the intent of exploiting a victim is considered a trafficker.[1] This definition can apply to a wide array of people such as recruiters, transporters, employers and even sometimes those who provide travel documents or corrupt officials.


Another group that is involved in the process are the intermediaries; these are the people who take care of tasks such as identifying when and where to cross borders, bribing border guards or even keeping watch over the victims. Intermediaries are regarded as traffickers as they assist in the trafficking and exploiting the victim. While traffickers can sometimes be involved in all parts of the trafficking process, they are usually only involved in one step of the process.[2]


People often associate trafficking as a crime that is primarily committed by men, however figures from prosecutions in Asia Pacific show that around 46% of traffickers are women.[3] Women can appear more trustworthy to children and women, which is why they are often the ones who act as recruiters. Traffickers have been known to use belonging to the same ethnic group as a way to garner the trust of their potential victims. Sharing a common language and culture allows traffickers to better understand the motivations and fears of their victims, making it easier to exploit them. While victims from Asia are trafficked globally, the traffickers of these victims commonly come from the same country, province or community.


Human trafficking is one of the most lucrative illegal businesses in the world with estimated annual profits of over US$150 billion a year.[4] In Asia Pacific alone, traffickers make around US$52 billion in profits each year.[5] Clearly, the primary motivator to traffic people is money. Sometimes extreme poverty can lead people to traffic their own family members, such as cousins, sisters or daughters. However, the range of educational and social status of human traffickers is wide.


While some traffickers are uneducated and impoverished, others have an education and a regular income. All kinds of professionals, including lawyers, doctors, policemen, politicians, mechanics and chefs, have been found guilty of people trafficking. Unfortunately even those who were trafficked themselves can turn into traffickers for various reasons. Some former victims become traffickers due to a lack of skills, while others are forced by their exploiters to recruit and traffic more victims. This can blur the lines between traffickers and victims.[6]


To learn more about what human trafficking is and the processes involved, check out our “How to explain human trafficking to your friends and family” blog.

[1] United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). 2009. Training Manual to Fight Trafficking in Children for Labour, Sexual and Other Forms of Exploitation p. 31.

[2] United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). 2009. Training Manual to Fight Trafficking in Children for Labour, Sexual and Other Forms of Exploitation p. 31.

[3] This statistic does not include prosecutions in Central Asia. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2014. Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2014 p. 77.

[4] International Labour Organization (ILO). 2014. Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour p. 13.

[5] Ibid.

[6] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2008. Workshop: Profiling the Traffickers p. 5-6.

IBM and IOM prototype game-changing mobile app to help domestic workers.

“Oh, this could be useful!”, says Champa (34) a migrant domestic worker from Myanmar while looking at the phone she is holding. “This can help domestic workers communicate more easily with their employers – and this is so important to prevent tension in the first place”. She briefly looks up and smiles; a brief moment that is broadcast live via video feed into a room only 20 meters from where she is sitting. Champa knows that her reactions are observed by a panel. A total of 14 experts from the International Organization for Migration, IBM and HomeNet, a domestic worker network based in Thailand, are watching her every move. They are there to understand how testers reacts to the mobile app’s prototype they had developed together. 1700 km to the east, Tatik Samidi another migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong investigates another feature. “Take a photo of my important documents?”, she says. “Are we going somewhere?” – the room erupts with laughter. This feature won’t make it into the final app.
The initiative is part of a collaboration between the International Organization for Migration’s IOM X programme, a media campaign and innovations programme to help prevent exploitation and human trafficking, and IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) programme. The latter deploys IBM staff from different countries to volunteer with government and non-governmental organizations in order to solve critical problems while providing IBM employees with unique leadership development opportunities. This time, they were sent to help IOM X answer the following question: Can IOM develop a mobile app that is useful, widely used and most importantly helps prevent the exploitation of domestic workers in ASEAN?
Champa moved to Thailand more than 23 years ago. She is one of over 53 million domestic workers worldwide who are employed in other’s private households. Employment as a domestic worker is one of the main opportunities for women who migrate within Asia Pacific; but this form of employment also leaves many women vulnerable to exploitation. An estimated 1.9 million domestic workers in Asia Pacific are being exploited. Reported exploitation  includes low pay or no pay, excessive working hours (such as being on call for 24 hours a day), no weekly day off, living in poor and unsafe conditions, inflated agency fees, debt-bondage, forced labour and forced confinement.

“Female migrant domestic workers face a triple vulnerability to exploitation: being a woman, a migrant and a domestic worker. Lack of rights, the extreme dependency on an employer and the isolation and inspected nature of domestic work add to their vulnerability.”, says Nurul, Head of Sub Office IOM HK who has worked with Philippino and Indonesian domestic workers for more than 8 years. “At IOM X we are always looking for innovative ways to use media and technology to help prevent exploitation. For us we didn’t want to develop an app because it’s the trendy thing to do. Our research has shown that a significant proportion of migrant workers from Southeast Asia, including those from poor and rural backgrounds, use computers and have smartphones. As access to the internet increases and the technology costs continue to decline, mobile technologies appear to represent a uniquely suitable intervention vector to directly address vulnerability factors related to the exploitation of otherwise isolated and exploited female domestic workers. And this is where our partnership with IBM can help”, says Tara Dermott, IOM X’s Team Leader.

Over the course of five weeks, the Fortune 500 company’s employees worked with IOM X to learn about the issue, interview experts, develop a prototype, test its assumptions with domestic workers in Thailand and Hong Kong and refined test results into technological specification, a go-to-market strategy and business plan. “The context in which domestic workers are required to perform is different from traditional work environments. Not only are employers and employees required to get used to and manage their expectations on each other, they also struggle with language barriers, cultural differences and gender dynamics. Employers we interviewed highlighted that this may lead to tension between employers and domestic workers. While many employers treat their employees with dignity, some relationships turn sour, result in built up frustration, negative treatment and sometimes exploitation of the domestic worker. Add to this a power dynamic that favours the employer, and domestic workers often end up isolated with their access to support and even technology itself depending on whether the employer allows it. As such, a truly effective solution must take both, the employer and employee into consideration.” says Helvio, a Technical IT Architect with IBM.

It was due to this level of protracted complexity that IOM X chose to structure the project a little bit differently. Borrowing from the Design Sprint method, an agile development framework straight out of Silicon Valley, experts from more than five countries and four sectors worked together in order to dissect the issue, develop solutions and test them in the first week of IBM’s involvement. “We wanted to move away from those run of the mill brainstorming sessions.” says Mike Nedelko, IOM X’s Digital Product & Outreach Manager. “For us it was important that everyone in the room became an expert on the problem before putting forward solutions. It was a truly inspiring project to work on. The IBM volunteers hit the ground running. By the end of the first week, we had IT professionals discuss international development frameworks and social workers sketch App UIs. This project was a true communion of expertise. Something we haven’t seen in the area of public private partnerships up to this point and we are convinced that the ideas resulting from this partnership will be ground-breaking”.
Both IBM and IOM X are carefully guarding exactly what it is this app will do to help prevent the exploitation of domestic workers. “All we can say at this point is that it will be a truly useful solution to both employers and domestic workers. The benefits for domestic workers are all there, but where it gets really exciting, are the reasons employers will want to use it, how this will empower their employees and change the ways domestic workers and employers communicate with each other, not only in ASEAN but around the world.” adds Mike. “What we have at this stage is a great and commercially viable idea that is self-funding, supported by an extremely strong business plan and go-to-market strategy. For now, we ask you to watch this space. We need time to develop this further; but this could be a real game changer.”

Behind open doors


At the May 2016 press launch of Open Doors: An IOM X Production, an Indonesian woman came up to me and said, “This is really good. It is so good to see positive stories, rather than negative ones, used to teach a lesson”.

The woman, who had previously worked as a domestic worker in Hong Kong, went on to tell me that, although it is important for news media to report on how domestic workers are being mistreated and exploited by their employers, these kind of stories sometimes further influence how employers treat their domestic workers as lower class citizens because they think it’s the norm. She said that stories of respect and professionalism between the employer and the domestic worker need to populate media too, in order to make these stories the norm, and to make this type of work relationship ‘cool’.

IOM X is always on board to help make something look cool, positive and empowering. Research has shown that raising awareness about risks, or negative messaging like ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ are not very effective. An overly negative campaign will erode trust from your target audience[1]; it will leave them feeling alienated or discouraged, rather than motivated.[2] The mistreatment of domestic workers is not new, but like many other organizations advocating for the fair treatment of domestic workers, IOM X embarked on the challenge to change how we talk about domestic workers for the better: “Do this, do that!”

Open Doors: An IOM X production is a long-form video that follows three different stories of migrant domestic workers working in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The video aims to encourage employers to respect and treat their domestic workers fairly. To assess its effectiveness, IOM X hired research agency Rapid Asia to conduct an impact assessment in Thailand and Indonesia with 600 people, including employers of domestic workers and the general public. In both countries, people who identified as employers of domestic workers represented nearly 50% of the respondents.
In Thailand, interestingly, employers who hire Thai domestic workers and those who hire migrant domestic workers recorded very different results. All employers recorded positive intention to treat domestic workers fairly; negative attitudes (such as ignorance discrimination) were more prominent amongst those who hire Thai domestic workers than those who hire migrant domestic workers. This could be explained by pervasive negative attitudes in Thailand toward migrant workers in general. These findings clarified that, although the video is an effective tool in raising awareness about domestic worker rights and maintaining positive behaviours, IOM X should continue to do research and produce content that address negative attitudes towards migrants workers.

The lesson learned in Indonesia is that, even after watching Open Doors there still seemed to be gaps in knowledge of, and attitude towards, fair working hours. The survey found that 80% of employers do not think that live-in domestic workers should decide how to spend their free time and 50% of employers do not give their domestic workers one day off per week. This indicates that a majority of employers think that domestic workers should be available to work at any time, especially if they are live-in, regardless of how many hours they have already worked in a day or week. This would also explain why there was some confusion around the message of “one day off”; some respondents did not understand fully whether it was one day off per week or time off as needed for extenuating circumstances. The video proved to be an effective tool to raise awareness about the exploitation of domestic workers and promotion of their rights, however, in the future, IOM X will consider creating content/activities that specifically target Indonesian audiences and address the issue of “time-off”.

Changing the conversation from negative to positive in terms of highlighting the positive contributions that domestic workers bring to families and society is not easily achieved with one video. However, Open Doors did take a step in the right direction. In Indonesia, 91% of viewers took at least one step towards the desired behaviour change of respecting domestic workers rights. In Thailand, more than half of the viewers said they learned something new and would speak to others about the issue of domestic worker rights.
Read IOM X’s full Impact Assessment of Open Doors:
Download Thailand report
Download Indonesia report

Know your audience: Prisana Impact Assessment

Getting the message right takes more than a group of communication practitioners. You need to go to the experts: those to whom the message is intended.

When IOM X develops videos, it conducts consultations with people from its target audience. For Prisana: An IOM X Drama, IOM X invited a group of young people to get together and talk about the fishing industry.
During the discussion, it emerged that all of the participants ate seafood almost every day. However, when asked if they knew where this seafood actually came from, nobody had an answer – except that the fish most likely came from the sea. Most of the participants thought the fishing industry was dominated by private family businesses, when in reality small-scale operations like this cannot satisfy our insatiable appetite for seafood.
The group was asked to think about what it is actually like to work on a boat. They recognized that this work is tough; they said fishermen have to work all the time, there is nothing to eat, wages are low, it is dangerous, they are likely to suffer accidents, they are separated from their families and can be cheated by their employers. One of the participants pointed out that fishermen are probably afraid of quarreling with the boat owner because he could easily harm them.

IOM X then asked the group if they thought that human trafficking happens in the fishing industry. Surprisingly, the answer was no.
Despite the fact that they had just described conditions of labour exploitation on fishing boats, the young people were surprised to learn that is in fact human trafficking. In their eyes, human trafficking is something that only happens to women and girls in the sex industry. They didn’t associate manual labour with human trafficking, or recognize that men and boys could be victims.
Working together with Thailand’s most famous on-screen couple, Mario Maurer and Mai Davika Hoorne, and superstar actor/producer Ananda Everingham, IOM X used its findings from the group discussion to develop Prisana: An IOM X Drama. The emotional video tells the story of a photojournalist who helps a migrant woman find her husband, who has been trafficked onto a fishing boat.
To test whether Prisana accomplished its goal of raising awareness about human trafficking in the fishing industry, and inspiring young people to learn more about the issue, IOM X surveyed 100 Thai nationals before and after watching the video.
The results showed that Prisana is a great tool to help raise awareness on human trafficking in the fishing industry. Participants felt the drama is excellent at making viewers feel concerned about trafficking victims and encourages people to learn more about the subject.

Prisana also helped to strengthen positive behaviours that help prevent trafficking and labour exploitation as 64% of viewers said they would support fishing companies that follow fair practices. Additionally 52% of those surveyed said they would speak to others about human trafficking in the fishing industry.

While Prisana was successful at raising awareness and encouraging people to take positive actions to help prevent exploitation, the video was not particularly successful at shifting negative attitudes towards migrant workers in the fishing industry. However, this result did not come as a surprise; changing attitudes is extremely difficult and is unlikely to be accomplished through a short video. Unfortunately such negative attitudes exist not only in Thailand but are pervasive across the region and around the globe.

Changing people’s perceptions and attitudes is difficult and takes a long time and continued exposure. But if successful, a change in perceptions and attitudes can inspire behaviour change that can make a real difference in the lives of those facing labour exploitation. The key is working with your target audience to get the message right.

To download the full impact assessment, click here.

Migration for men and women – is their experience any different?

Remember seeing the images below of Cambodians leaving Thailand following the coup d’état in June 2014?

Photo Credit: The Guardian

More than 250,000 Cambodian migrants crossed the border at the time due to fears of arrest. IOM Cambodia conducted interviews with 667 of these returning migrant workers to better understand their migration experiences (before, during and after moving to another country).

It was discovered that more than 80% of the respondents had entered Thailand irregularly without travel or employment documentation.


There was also a correlation of those not possessing a passport, visa or work permit and the increased likelihood of not receiving wages, not being able to access healthcare and being detained by immigration.


Interestingly, differences between male and female migration processes, experiences and vulnerabilities emerged, including:

  1. Female migrants were twice as likely to have no education at all compared to male migrants. However, education levels did not have any impact on variables related to safe migration, such as receiving wages, migrating irregularly, being detained by detention authorities and health concerns.

2. Male migrants had significantly higher incomes than female migrants prior to departure in Cambodia, as well as in Thailand.

3. “A better income” for men and “No income at all” for women were the top reported reasons to leave Cambodia. This might indicate that women face more barriers to finding a job in Cambodia.

4. Women were more likely to be accompanied by their spouses or family members during migration, whereas men more often migrated alone or with friends.

5. Men were twice as likely as women to be detained by government authorities during migration. Migrants in the fishing sector were also significantly more likely to be arrested.

6. Men and women both received information about passport procedures and employment opportunities.

However, men were more likely to get their information from NGOs, private agencies and public sources, whereas women were more likely to receive this information from government sources.

This indicates a need for Cambodian Government and NGOs to consider how they are designing their outreach activities and what more can be done to reach and engage with women.

A report on these findings was written by IOM Cambodia and IOM X. It recommends developing simplified, affordable and efficient procedures for obtaining travel documents, including empowering Commune Council leaders in source communities to disseminate this information and set up migrant information centers for aspirant migrants and families left behind to inform them of the benefits of safe migration and of their rights in potential host countries. To read the full report, click here.