Alumni Spotlight: Diana Mao (MPA 2008)

Diana Mao

Diana Mao (MPA 2008) is the Co-Founder and President of Nomi Network, an organization that she first envisioned creating during her time at NYU Wagner. Nomi Network’s mission is to end human trafficking by creating pathways to safe employment, empowering women and girls to break cycles of slavery in their families and communities. The organization works in communities with some of the highest incidences of both labor trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), with a focus on women and girls, who are most vulnerable to trafficking.

The summer after her first year at Wagner, she had the opportunity to serve as a fellow for FINCA International, working on a team doing research for a microfinance institution. While conducting interviews in the rural villages in Cambodia, she met a widowed father who was taking care of his seven children alone. At the end of their visit, he offered his youngest daughter, a girl of maybe six or seven years old, to Diana’s male colleague.

Reflecting on this experience, Diana said:

“This moment really opened my eyes to the realities of modern slavery. I realized that human trafficking is not just a crime perpetrated by evil people and criminal networks, but that the supply side of human trafficking is fueled by desperation and poverty. This experience shook me: how many children are sold on a daily basis simply because their parents couldn’t afford to put food on the table? How many parents end up enslaved simply because they are trying to provide for their families?”

While these questions still keep Diana up at night, she now knows that Nomi Network’s approach--ending slavery through economic freedom--is a critical solution to the problem. Her motivation comes from “the power of the network”--the knowledge of how great an impact her organization can have as they continue to mobilize donors and advocates to walk alongside the women and girls Nomi Network serves. Diana is working towards a legacy that fulfills Nomi Network’s vision of a world without slavery, where every woman and girl can know their full potential and inherent value. When asked what advice she would give to Wagner students aiming to make a similar change in the world, she reflected:

“My encouragement would be to persevere--fighting for social change is a marathon, and there will be days where you want to quit. Find the network and community that will help sustain you and keep you accountable, that will advocate for you and push you forward when you feel like stopping. Any incremental change we make is progress, and I truly believe that Wagner graduates are collectively changing the world.”

For more information about Diana and Nomi Network, visit the Nomi Network website.