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Sanjana Akula USA, 18

Project: Rakshana
Basic Human Needs: Education, Safety

In her early teens, Sanjana saw the stigma surrounding rape and its victims in her community. This led Sanjana on a path to fight for what she saw as the epitome of objectification – the global issue of sex trafficking. Sanjana is the CEO and founder of Rakshana, a nonprofit organization working to bring economic and professional empowerment to sex trafficking survivors through STEM training and financial literacy education. By equipping survivors with STEM skills, Rakshana frees them from the cycle that often forces them to return to trafficking when they have no other means to support themselves. STEM training also enables survivors to earn salaries approximately 40% higher than those of an average manual job. Working with 40+ international partners and 30 local businesses, Rakshana has divisions in India, Ethiopia, Germany, Canada, and the United States, providing occupational training and job placement to survivors. With 500+ active volunteers, Rakshana has worked with more than 200 survivors – a number that is quickly growing. Furthermore, they hold workshops to reshape employers’ perspectives and diminish the stigma surrounding survivors. Through Rakshana’s conferences, one Guinness World Record-breaking event, and campaigns with partners including the United Nations missions, they have educated more than 7,000 people about sex trafficking. Sanjana hopes to show trafficking survivors that they are worth more than their body, and education is the key to reaching their full potential.