To kick off Season 2, we are featuring Tony Kirwan, founder of Destiny Rescue. A listener reached out to me last year and suggested that I highlight his story. Destiny Rescue is a nonprofit organization that focuses on rescuing young girls out of the sex trafficking industry, providing rehabilitation services and vocational training. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, so I felt it was fitting to highlight the work of Tony and his organization.
To kick off Season 2, we are featuring Tony Kirwan, founder of Destiny Rescue. A listener reached out to me last year and suggested that I highlight his story. Destiny Rescue is a nonprofit organization that focuses on rescuing young girls out of the sex trafficking industry, providing rehabilitation services and vocational training. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, so I felt it was fitting to highlight the work of Tony and his organization.
When we think about founders and entrepreneurs we do not include those who founded a nonprofit organization. For some reason we look at entrepreneurs as those who build for-profit businesses. Yet, the startup story of a nonprofit is almost identical to that of a for-profit business.
In this episode, we spend quite a bit of time unpacking how Tony started Destiny Rescue and the rescue tactics they use. Tony’s entrepreneurship is a journey of choices. At age 22, he chose to purchase a business and try to grow it. He had a great 10-year run with that business, that is until another choice was put in front of him. Like Tony said, whether you choose to do something or nothing…it is still a choice you have to make. This is Tony’s startup story.
"Everybody has the capacity and ability to do something. It’s a matter of deciding what your ‘something’ is and deciding to do it.”
—Tony Kirwan, Destiny Rescue
Destiny Rescue: https://www.destinyrescue.org/us/
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Special Guest: Tony Kirwan.
The Startup Story - Tony Kirwan
Tony Kirwan: G'day. This is Tony Kirwan. I'm the founder of Destiny Rescue, and this is MY startup story.
Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: Welcome to season 2 of The Startup Story podcast. We launched The Startup Story in January of 2019 and have told some unbelievable stories of the challenges and triumphs that founders go through in building their businesses. In 2019, we unpacked the entrepreneurial journeys of Jason McCann from Varidesk, Larry Namer from E! Entertainment Television, Emma Rose Cohen from Final Straw, and Neelie Powell from Charleston Shoe Company. Also in 2019 The Startup Story launched to audience of zero, absolutely nobody, and have since grown to reach over 35,000 listeners. All of this growth is due to you, the listener. I've simply provided you with the content that's intended to encourage and inspire you in your entrepreneurial journey and you have responded by sharing the show with your friends and colleagues. I love seeing the show get shared across LinkedIn because The Startup Story is for all people in business.
Whether you're an existing entrepreneur wanting to understand the challenges you can continue to face or unique to you, or you're a want-repreneur, wanting to have a real perspective of what it's like to build a business, The Startup Story is for you. So please keep sharing the show. And to quote Voltaire, "With great power comes great responsibility," and I know for many of you, you thought that Peter Parker's Uncle Ben came up with that quote in Spiderman, but it was actually the French philosopher Voltaire. So with that notion that there is a level of additional responsibility placed on those with a platform, I ended 2019 believing that the growth of The Startup Story has to do more than simply elevating a truer picture of entrepreneurship. But also to bring you, the listener, into opportunities to serve a greater good as well. But of course, above all things staying true to the founder narrative that has been core to The Startup Story.
With that in mind, a listener reached out to me last year and suggested that I highlight the founder story of Destiny Rescue. Destiny Rescue is a nonprofit organization that focuses on rescuing young girls out of the sex trafficking industry, providing rehabilitation services, and vocational training so that they never have to go back into that industry. I thought it would be fitting to highlight Destiny Rescue this month because January is Human Trafficking Awareness month. It is estimated that over 40 million people around the world are being trafficked, and sex trafficking is one of the world's fastest growing criminal industries.
Oftentimes, when we think of founders and entrepreneurs, we do not include those who founded a nonprofit organization. For some reason we look at entrepreneurs as those who build for profit businesses that sell products or services, and not organizations that serve which is crazy because the startup story of a nonprofit is almost identical of that of a for profit business. A founder identifies a need or problem, decides if they're going to be the one to bring it to market. They establish a strategy, they find capital, and they execute. It's almost exactly the same.
With that in mind, we are kicking off 2020 by highlighting the founder story of Tony Kirwan, founder of Destiny Rescue. Like I mentioned, Destiny Rescue is focused on saving young girls from the sex trafficking industry. Their rescue agents operate in some incredibly dark and sketchy areas of the globe. While Destiny Rescue now has over 100 people on payroll, the majority of Destiny Rescue's growth has taken place since 2011, and we will get into that growth here in this episode. But one question you might be asking yourself is why such a hard topic for an entrepreneurial podcast? And the answer is because I was exposed to how big the problem really is.
Tony Kirwan: I think it's a little bit more challenging for us in the west because we don't… it's not as confronting to us on a day to day. We don't see human trafficking in a big way so it doesn't feel as real, so we don't connect to it as much. I would say let's use our imagination and think about if we've got children what would we be willing to do. If we've got a nephew, niece, make it real personally. I think when we do that, and as going back to what I said before, these kids don't have a mom or dad that's going to come and save them, so it's going to take ordinary people like you and me stepping up to it.
When you hear about this yucky thing that's going on in the world, you're sort of stuck because now you've got to make a choice. Because before maybe you didn't know and you could just palm it off, but once you know that this is happening, you need to make a choice. You can either get behind us or another organization, or you can choose to push it aside and do nothing, but both of them are a choice.
James McKinney: My hope in highlighting Tony's startup story of how he established and grew Destiny Rescue is to give you, The Startup Story listener, an opportunity to make a choice. Like Tony said, whether you choose to do something or nothing it is still a choice you have to make. I just believe that the community of entrepreneurs of The Startup Story aggregate will choose to do something. See, the entrepreneurial journey is a journey of choices. Some are harder than others, but this is not one of the hard ones.
In this episode, we will spend quite a bit of time unpacking how Tony started Destiny Rescue and the tactics they use to save these girls. So to accommodate our one hour format, I had to trim quite a bit of Tony's early days. See, Tony was born to an entrepreneurial family in New Zealand. His dad was a man of many skills and operated various businesses, while his mom was also an entrepreneur and owned a fishery. Tony's reflection on his childhood was one where he really was left never wanting. His parents did very well, and at the age of 10 his family moved from New Zealand to Australia, and his dad left his business to become a pastor. So the front half of Tony's childhood, he was raised by an entrepreneur and the latter half of his childhood he was raised by a pastor. It's there that you can begin to see how Tony began to see the world a certain way.
Coming to the end of high school, Tony had no desire to go to college because of how expensive it is, so he started an apprenticeship as an electrician, or as a sparky as they call it in Australia. In fact, at the age of 22 he purchased the electrical services company that he was apprenticing at because the owner decided to become a pastor. So if you're keeping score, two entrepreneurs sold their businesses to become pastors. What's even funnier about that story is that Tony wasn't even a fully certified electrician when he decided to buy the business. He was still just an apprentice who saw an opportunity to fill a dream he had to own a business. Like I said, entrepreneurship is a journey of choices. So at age 22, Tony chose to purchase a business and try to grow it. He had a great 10 year run with that business. That is until another choice was put in front of him.
Tony Kirwan: I had a good mate and we'd often meet up for lunch. I don't know why, but this one particular lunch we got all deep and meaningful, and we basically challenged each other where we wanted to be by I think 30. I was 29 at the time. And to keep the same plot going, my mate decided he wanted to be a pastor.
James McKinney: So what I'm hearing is if you're in proximity to Tony, you're going to end up in the ministry at some point in time.
Tony Kirwan: Yeah, it's a bit weird, isn't it? And for me, it was a very first time I had, it was like a light bulb moment that I wanted to be hands on, overseas, specifically helping kids. I'd always had a heart to help kids and did that through light child sponsorship or through the church or whatever, and as a businessman I always saw myself as the giver rather than necessarily hands on. I don't see one as better or more important than the other; I had just never considered myself as being the hands on guy. So I was pumped. It was very exciting. I went home and told my wife, and I was just raving on and on about it. She really struggled because obviously it was my light bulb moment, it wasn't hers. So she went and spoke to our pastors which as I mentioned before is my mom and dad.
James McKinney: And about everybody else in your network too.
Tony Kirwan: Yeah. And you know the grandparents of our kids. So dad had the idea of him and me going overseas, because as a church we'd just raised a bunch of money to give to work in Cambodia. So he thought if I went over with him I'd say the poverty, the yuck, and realize this isn't what I wanted for my family. So dad and I headed over to Cambodia. I think it was I'm guessing now maybe around August or so in '98. Whatever month it was, it was '98, but it was when the elections were happening in Cambodia and for whatever reason it was being a bit violent there. There's a few shootings and I think there's a hand grenade thrown in the main street or something. So our contact in Cambodia recommended we stayed in Thailand and just scoot over when he said it was the safest to go.
So we were in Thailand probably about 10 days and only in Cambodia for a few. But while we were in Cambodia, got to walk through the dump slums and just really see the in your face poverty, something that I had personally never experienced before. It really had a real impact on me. I remember going back to the hotel that night, you know quite a comfortable hotel and even more so when you look at what we'd just seen earlier in that day. I remember praying something like God have mercy on these kids. I didn't even get the words out when I just, in my head, it was like words were saying God have mercy on me if I don't do something to help these kids. It was just a time that just really cemented to me that I need to be overseas and helping to find that poorest of the poor, and the most desperate and do what I can. That trip I guess sort of backfired for dad.
James McKinney: Yeah, I was just going to say the intent was to, again the intent was to steer you away from that idea because you have a successful business, right? You have a wife and a growing family to provide for. And so the idea was, especially because it came out of a lunch conversation with a buddy of yours, and so the idea of steering you away by showing you. But really what it did, it just solidified this is absolutely what you want to do, what you want your life's contribution to be. So is that the moment in which Destiny Rescue was formed? Or was there a previous enterprise before?
Tony Kirwan: There's a step after that. Yeah. So what happened, because we stayed in Thailand for about 10 days, we stayed with a ministry that was linked to our church movement in Australia. Got to spend time with the guy that was running the project. He invited myself and my family to move over there and volunteer with him. So while I was still in Thailand, I was messaging my wife and that. She had her light bulb moment while I was in Thailand, so she actually met me at the airport saying, "I'm ready to go, too."
James McKinney: So when you landed, when you came back from Thailand she was on board? She had a moment-
Tony Kirwan: She was on board.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness, okay.
Tony Kirwan: Yep, yep. We moved and volunteered with that guy for it was about 20 months. But about the last month we were there, we were just at church and I was just eaves dropping I guess. Two guys were talking amongst themselves and one guy mentioned an American guy going through Bangkok, and he was offered children that he could buy outright for $400 USD and obviously do whatever he wanted to, to them. There was no more details to the story than that, but I'm a dad of three daughters, at that time two daughters. And I think being a dad, I think pretty much anybody it would impact them but for me as a dad it just really rocked my world. It was like I'd never heard of anything like that before. It's basically a form of slavery, and I'm thinking slavery, that was done and dusted 200 plus years ago, what's happening?
That was the catalyst for me to start thinking I've got to have a role in getting these kids out, because the more I looked into it, the more I found that many times it was the parents that were playing a role in the child being abused. As a dad, I would do pretty much anything to get one of my kids out. Thinking about it, these kids that are in that situation, their mom and dad aren't coming because they're the ones that put them there. That's not true for every kid in that situation, but that was my thought process of why I needed to be one of the people that were out there trying to get them out.
James McKinney: A lot of people will hear something that moves them, that they want to act upon, but a lot of times especially in the social spaces we will look to someone already doing it and come along side them, or just support them in some way. Obviously, your story has very clearly painted that you are a doer not just a giver. But in this moment, with this particular need of hearing about young girls being sold into slavery and you wanting to be on the front line of that, why start your own versus coming alongside an existing organization doing something?
Tony Kirwan: Sure. My first approach was to reach out to the leadership in our church movement. So I flew to Brisbane and met with the head of the charity arm. Put it to him this is what I want to do. No criticism to them, but they just didn't have the finances to do anything, and it wasn't on their radar. So it was there was no plan to do something down the track. So I really felt the urgency because common sense, you know, if a kid's trapped in that you can't sort of wait a year or two for things to happen. If it was my kid, I'd be going out trying to get them now. So I jumped online and I'm not a researcher. So that was back in end of 2000, beginning of 2001. I couldn't find anything. I couldn't find anyone. There probably was, but I couldn't find anyone so I figured well, I'm it then, and the bullet and started.
James McKinney: So you started Destiny Rescue. Why the name?
Tony Kirwan: Two things. The destiny side of it is my belief that every single one of us has a destiny, God given destiny, including kids. Kids that are trapped in something like this in the sex trade, if we don't rescue them out, that destiny is basically stolen by the devil, it never sees the light of day, so the destiny is gone. Whatever God intended for that kid has been stolen. So basically wanting to rescue that destiny.
James McKinney: One of the things that I don't want to forget as we are now jumping into Destiny Rescue, and I think it is very clear to our listeners at this point that Destiny Rescue is an organization that is about rescuing children out of the sex slavery and trafficking industries overseas, as well as helping them to heal upon rescue and building them up into a contributor so they don't have to go back into that industry for any way, shape, or form.
Tony Kirwan: Sure.
James McKinney: You were married with kids when this happened, so obviously you have to provide for them. So how did you fund this from the beginning?
Tony Kirwan: I had a big credit card. Personal credit card.
James McKinney: Even nonprofits, startups have credit cards.
Tony Kirwan: I'm a fairly introverted person, so I'm not a salesman. I believed that I would have a much better opportunity of people getting onboard if there was something to show them. So I figured this is my dream, my vision. It seems fair that I should take the risk personally. So yeah, just used my credit card until we got some runs on the board and then started getting donors.
James McKinney: First off, I love what you said right there that this is my dream, my vision, I need to have… really put some skin in the game is really what you were saying in US context. You have to prove the thing. And I think that is the case for a lot of entrepreneurship. The media has glamorized different ways in which to build businesses via venture capital, what have you, but that's not what this narrative is. But the lesson and the learning is the same: prove it out before you go about raising money. But I have to ask, that was not the industry you were in. I assume there was massive learning as to how to navigate the industry from day one.
Tony Kirwan: Absolutely.
James McKinney: How did you save those first few girls without knowing anything?
Tony Kirwan: Well, to build on that, exactly what you said. I knew I didn't have the skills so what I felt the wisest starting point was to focus on widows and orphans. My heart was always to rescue the children out of the sex trade, but I knew I had no skills for that so I first needed to get the skills of how to run an organization. For the first five years, our focus was widows and orphans. Out of that, we then started some orphanages because sadly sometimes a widow with kids, she will also pass away which means the kids need somewhere to live. Out of necessity, we started some orphanages which added to the learning curve of how to run homes. Different again to an after care home where there's a lot more… potentially a lot more trauma involved, but it was just building on each piece of the pie.
Then in 2005 is when we started our first after care home. Again, it was a baby step because we didn't rescue the children. We set up a home actually in Cambodia, that was our first after care home. There was another organization that rescued some kids and sometimes it came through the police or the government, they would place children in a home. So we learned how to care for kids that have been traumatized. Then in 2006 is when we first started to rescue and again, we had no idea what we were doing but I just felt it was time that we started to at least try.
So I would say at least six months of myself and the boys going out and looking, trying to find kids stuck in the sex trade. Each time we found a kid, I'd be saying to them straight away, "I can get you out of here. We can run for the door. We can climb out the windows, whatever." And we had 100% no, I don't want to go with you.
James McKinney: No, they said no?
Tony Kirwan: No, no. it was like I don't understand this. I'm offering you an out but you're saying no. so it was a real learning curve to even find out how to rescue. And the thing that we were doing wrong was we didn't give it enough time to build trust because when you take a step back and you look at the reasons why most of the kids are in the sex trade, it's because someone that they trusted totally betrayed them, and tricked them, or coerced them, or literally pushed them into the sex trade. So when you think about that in some random guy walking into this bar or brothel, the moment I step into the bar their assumption is I'm a bad guy because good guys don't go to the brothels.
For me to step in there and straight away say, "I can get you out of here," and all these promises, get you back into school or whatever it is that kids needs was, they just didn't believe me. So what we found is we had to go back there multiple times, showing them that we're the same good guy from the first night to the last night, to when we actually feel we have their trust and then we say we can get you out of here. And that's when everything changed. But it was a… felt like an awful long time of no's.
James McKinney: When was your first rescue?
Tony Kirwan: Our first rescue I would say sometime in 2006, towards the last quarter would be my pluck. In the early days, we didn't really keep real solid records of that sort of stuff. In 2011 we got pretty serious about recording rescues because we had specific targets and all that sort of stuff. But in 2006 it was a bit green and raw.
James McKinney: And again, because you're technically a startup. 2006, even though it's nonprofit, you're still figuring things out. Especially with what you're-
Tony Kirwan: Yeah, still am.
James McKinney: Yeah, with what you're trying to do, I'm sure there's a lot to be figuring out, especially since you're operating, navigating in such dark territory, and you're trying to rescue. And I'm sure there's safety concerns, all kinds of things, when it comes to rescuing people that are enslaved in this. But just for our listeners, can you walk our listeners through what a rescue looks like? What a rescue operation looks like, and then what is the care that takes place once you do rescue a girl?
James McKinney: I hope you're enjoying this episode of The Startup Story. Throughout the month of January, we are highlighting the mission of Destiny Rescue. For just $1500, we can save a girl out of the sex trafficking industry. Think about that. For just $1500 we can completely change the future for a young girl. My hope is that all of us, the entire The Startup Story community, the tens of thousands of listeners, can come together to save not just one girl but to save 10 girls during the month of January. That's just $15,000. So throughout this month, across our shows and social channels, you will see calls to action to get involved and contribute. Visit thestartupstory.co/rescue to help today. We will also include a link in the show notes. When you see these posts, share them across your profiles. Let's see what this community can do to help save girls out of sex trafficking. Now let's get back to our episode.
James McKinney: Just for our listeners, can you walk our listeners through what a rescue looks like? What a rescue operation looks like, and then what is the care that takes place once you do rescue a girl?
Tony Kirwan: There's two basic styles that we do. One involves law enforcement and one just involves our rescue agents. If we are going to do a raid at a place because there's a large number of kids or we have previously rescued a kid from that brothel and have replaced it with another child, because we definitely keep track of that because we're not wanting to create this revolving door, pull one out they just replace it with another child. And those sort of situations we'll build a case and hand that over to the police. So what that would involve is a lot of video work. So we do a lot of videoing while we're inside these places, which you obviously have to do very wisely because if you get caught videoing, they really don't like it.
James McKinney: So this is illegal there. This is not something that the culture condones, this is illegal activity taking place.
Tony Kirwan: Oh, absolutely. Totally illegal. However, culturally it's sort of accepting, it's fairly normal. It's getting a bit better now but when we first started it was pretty normal. So we go in there. We'll sit down. So if it's a go-go bar for example, we'll go and we'll sit down and we'll just sit and look on the stage. Because the only well lit area is on the stage because it's basically a meat market. They want you to see the girl and then call them over. So we'll just visually try and identify the youngest looking girls there and we'll call them over, buy them a drink, and start talking to them and just asking them questions, trying to gauge how old they are without necessary going straight and saying, "How old are you," because that'll normally lie. You want to ask different questions without them thinking too much about it and get the information from a different angle.
So once we're confident they're underage, we will start building trust relationship with that girl to the point that she will most likely show us her ID which will have her right age on it. Once we've decided that, obviously we'll take a photo or a video. What the police require us to do is buy the girl for as far as the brothel owner is concerned and you're taking away for sex. Obviously, that's not what we do so we'll pay the bar fine and video the transaction, who takes the money. Take that girl out of the bar. In her head, she will assume we're taking her back to the hotel for sex but we'll just go to McDonald's or something, have a meal. Then oh, I've got a sore stomach, I've got to go home, whatever a story of why it doesn't go beyond that.
Then we take that footage and everything else that we've gathered, give it to the police, then we'll do a raid with them. So what that will involve is us going back with the police and doing that, we call it a drive by. We buy the girl again, videoing it all, and this time we'll take them back o a hotel room where the police are waiting. So the police will rescue the girl, confirm she is underage, and then they'll have another team that will go back and raid the brothel, the bar, and nab the people- who are selling her. So obviously we're using marked notes on the notes, so whoever is holding the money, they get arrested. Then they'll also check everybody else's age, and anyone else who is underage gets rescued as well. So that's a raid style rescue.
The other one is very similar, except potentially can take a little bit longer because you have to build enough trust that the kid will believe you when you say I can get you out of here and give you a much better life. It's the same process. So on the night that we make an offer of escape, we quite often will pay the bar fine and take her away. Again, we'll normally go to McDonald's because it's nice, well lit, and it's open 24 hours. And we'll tell her you don't have to go back, we can disappear tonight.
The good and the bad part of that is… well the bad part is she, I would clock 90% of the time she doesn't say yes or no, she can't decide. Now, I believe the reason why that is, as I've said before soon as I walk in the bar I'm a bad guy. Sit with her, treat her with respect, very strict touch policy. Never touch her there, never let us touch her there, show ourselves good guys night after night so her thinking, "Oh, this guy's different. He's a good guy." Then I pay to take her away. Then in her head, "Oh, he is going to have sex with me. Maybe he's not a good guy. We get to McDonald's and I tell her I can get her out now, I'm a good guy. So she's on this emotional rollercoaster.
So I hate the fact that so many times she doesn't leave with us right there and then, but the positive is when she does decide which could be a few days or it could be a few weeks, there's a delay from when we were in there and the time that she disappears. So the brothel owners doesn't tie us to that girl missing. We can go back to the same brothel time and time again if there's more than one kid, and the brothel owner doesn't even pick up that myself or the boys are the reason why the previous girls have disappeared.
James McKinney: Now what is the reason for even having the two options? Because it sounds, again for me and the listeners, it sounds as though the first one, the raid, would be final, right? They raid the whole place. I assume they shut the place down after that point. So why even have the second option if the first is one that actually works?
Tony Kirwan: They both work. The challenge with the raid option is, it might sound weird but she's had no choice. Quite often, when there's a raid the girl feels like she's being bullied into a particular option and the other negative thing is most of the time we don't get that child. So they get placed in a government organization or another place. We do have really great success with our aftercare. We are a Christian organization so we definitely like to be able to present our faith to the kids, whether they choose it or not is totally up to them. We don't enforce it, but we definitely give that opportunity. We like to have them come into our program. That's our first choice and we can achieve that through a covert rescue where just the rescue agents get the girls out.
James McKinney: Now for our listeners, we're spending a lot of time on the operations of what Destiny Rescue does because we are focusing on saving girls this month. It's January. It's Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery Awareness month, and we want to save girls. It costs $1500 to save a girl, which to me blows my mind away that that is all it takes to save a girl and to use the name of the organization, to rescue their destiny. It boggles my mind that's all it is. So we're spending a lot of time on the tactics. I want you to understand how much thought and care is put into how they go about rescuing these girls. It's a little bit gorilla a lot of times, but that's what we're trying to do is to save girls. So once you rescue these girls, there's some dark baggage that comes with that.
Tony Kirwan: For sure.
James McKinney: So through your learning and your growing Destiny Rescue, you have an entire after care process and program. Can you walk us through what aftercare looks like?
Tony Kirwan: Sure. So if a kid comes into one of our homes, we have counselors and caseworkers, and do medical checks and all that sort of thing. But as you mentioned, a lot of them come with a lot of baggage and they need to get that counseling and everything so they can deal with what has happened to them. A lot of it will depend on how they got in there. If the child felt like they had a level of choice, like the parents were pressuring them and they felt I really want to help my family, I'll take a bullet for the family, a lot of those kids seem to process what's happened to them a lot better because of the choice factor I believe. But many of the kids didn't have that choice factor, and it's literally being raped night after night. So those kids that have experienced that level of trauma, it takes time.
So we've been really blessed with a guy called Dr. Robby Sanduraga. He's written some great programs that he's given to u s for free, and we utilize them. He wrote a thing called the Empower Program, which he designed specifically for the child soldiers over in Sudan, to go into Sudan and Uganda or whatever and do really quick but really effective trauma rehabilitation, group therapy type stuff. We've found that really effective. He also designed a thing called Grow.
So the first part of the Empower, a lot of it is about forgiveness, learning to forgive yourself although as adults looking in you can straight away say you don't need to forgive, you've done nothing wrong, you're a child, the bad people did things to you. But some kids feel responsible at some level. So even though they're not, learning to forgive yourself is a piece of the pie. Then the other big part is learning to forgive those that have done those abuses or those who pushed you or tricked you to get into that yucky environment in the first place. So big focus on forgiveness, because you can't really move past what's happened to you until you can forgive and reconcile it within yourself.
Then the next part was Grow, which is all about building resilience. I believe God can do the miraculous and have 100% healing, but I also believe most of the time, most people don't see that 100% healing. So you're still carrying some of that wounding potentially for the rest of your life. But if you have resilience when something happens and it triggers a memory, if you have those tools to calm yourself down, to not drop on the floor into the fetal position and you just know how to cope, having those tools make that difference of being able to just keep going forward, keep going forward.
James McKinney: How do you keep them from going back though? For a lot of girls, that's all they know.
Tony Kirwan: It's a very individualized care. At times, we look at the whole family and normally, always the reason why the child is in the sex trade is due to money, lack of money. We'll either be trying to help the child, depending on how old they are of course. If they're 16, 17 which is a large percentage of the girls we rescue, we'll plug them into some sort of vocational training and then help them find a job. So that removes that urgency, that need to find funds through the sex trade. So it's removing the reason why they got in there which is the money problem. So sometimes we'll address that through the mom and dad, so we'll help the mom and dad in a small business or help them find a job, or whatever the need is.
James McKinney: So your process is rescue, rehab, and train up, and empower them to have a completely different future.
Tony Kirwan: Absolutely. Not every kid we rescue is 100% success. We sadly do have some kids that do go back, but we are having a really great success rate.
James McKinney: To the best of your ability, because I know you didn't track for many years, how many girls have you rescued since you started this? Really I guess 2006 was your first rescue, so how many girls have you rescued?
Tony Kirwan: Well we never tracked from 2006 to the end of 2010, but having said that, I know it wasn't huge numbers. I would pluck, for that period up until 2010, it would be somewhere between 50 and 100 rescues. Then in 2010, I put the challenge to the team... 2011, sorry, I put the challenge to the team that I want us to aim for 100 rescues this year, which was fairly bold goal being that we hadn't achieved that in the previous five years. But we ended up rescuing 105 in that year, which to me was one of the biggest things I've learned is, and it's common sense, but maybe I'm a slower learner, having clear goals makes such a difference. The previous five years, no way in the world were we just slack and lazy, and we didn't care whether we rescued one this week or not. We were going hard, but as soon as there's a number in front of us, a clear goal, something changed because we rescued 105 when we hadn't rescued that much in five years.
James McKinney: Because your goal went from rescuing girls to rescuing 100 girls.
Tony Kirwan: Yes, yep.
James McKinney: Because rescuing girls just means okay, as long as I rescue two we're doing our job. Recuing 100 is measurable, so you're right. Having those clear goals makes a difference all the way around. So I'm sorry, continue on with the question of how many girls have you rescued.
Tony Kirwan: As of last week, not counting the number before 2011, we've rescued 5,003.
James McKinney: Unbelievable.
Tony Kirwan: Yeah. These last few years have been a big growth. Add to that is our focus is children, but specifically when we do raids, a lot of the time when we do raids there's young women in the raid that are also human trafficking victims but are not minors, so we do count them in our numbers. But when we count them, it's when we've got a letter from the police stating the number of human trafficking victims. So within that 5.003 there's definitely a chunk of adults as well.
James McKinney: Unbelievable, unbelievable. So there's a lot of things that have happened inside of Destiny Rescue to get to where you are today. You started in 2001. 2006 was your first rescue. You started with orphanages, with widows and orphans and caring for them. Your first rescue in 2006. So in 13 years, you've rescued 5,000 but really in the last eight years is where those real 5,000 came from because just a handful before that, and a lot of learning. When we go back to the beginning of the Destiny Rescue story, it was self funded with that credit card. Starting on your own and you had to develop wins in order to now start fundraising.
You had mentioned before that you're not a sales person, and fundraising is very much while it is storytelling a lot of times, because that's really what good salesmanship is, is storytelling and helping people to understand how they're a part of it. How has, because I'm in the United States and you're not in the United States, so obviously I have heard about you through representatives you have in the states. How has the fundraising process for Destiny Rescue grown over the years to the point where I would hear about you in the US?
Tony Kirwan: When I stopped trying to do the fundraising, things started to get better.
James McKinney: Explain, please.
Tony Kirwan: In the early days, in 2001, October the first 2001 is when I first started. Then in also October 2004 we moved to Thailand as a family to be hands on ourselves. So those first three years, we didn't raise big money because everything that was being done was basically just myself. Looking back, it was quite cowardly but I just didn't put myself out there to try and get in front of crowds because speaking in front of people scared the poop out of me. So I avoided it at all costs. The only speaking engagements were people inviting me there. I think that only happened because of my father and the church movement, he knew heaps of pastors and through that they knew me, and I got an invitation basically because they knew my dad. A pity call.
James McKinney: Even in the nonprofit space, it matters who you know.
Tony Kirwan: So I'd go to different churches and present, and through that sometimes there'd be the odd person that would do some fundraising. But just before we decided to move to Thailand as a family, we put someone on staff that was clearly a lot more competent in fundraising than I am. That's when it started to get a bit more traction. I was definitely the reason it was going slowly and very grateful for the team that are doing it now because they know what they're doing.
James McKinney: How many employees does Destiny Rescue have?
Tony Kirwan: In funding and project nations, last figure I heard which was a little bit old, I think it was 212.
James McKinney: 212, that's incredible.
Tony Kirwan: That includes a bunch of fulltime volunteers that are overseas in the project nations.
James McKinney: If we were to get a number of those that are on payroll, how many employees?
Tony Kirwan: Maybe about 130 to 150, something around there.
James McKinney: That's amazing. If we were to try and back date it a big, I assume most of those came on probably after 2006 I would assume?
Tony Kirwan: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And that's including national staff in the project nations. Now, funding nations I would pluck between Australia, New Zealand, America maybe between 30 and 40 paid staff, and the rest are in project nations.
James McKinney: What has been your role? Because you mention early that I absolutely love, you knew the organization was better suited to have someone else on staff to do fundraising. So you knew your strengths, you knew your weaknesses. So what is your main focus within Destiny Rescue? Are you operational all the time on rescues? What are you handling these days?
Tony Kirwan: I'm a mix of hands on rescue, because that's what keeps the fire burning for me is being one of the guys that is finding the kids and getting them out. I think if I stopped that, I would find it a lot harder. Like I love, love, love what I do and doing the rescue side of it helps me keep that love. The other side is obviously I set the vision and oversee different key leaders, and hopefully inspire the team. I definitely suffer from over optimism so definitely always setting big goals and trying to challenge us all to step up to them.
I'm also I guess very blessed that I don't get particularly depressed if we don't meet a particular goal. It's like okay, dust myself off and let's go for the next ridiculously big goal and give that a shot. So I guess that's my role is just helping the team keep focused. I'm a bit of a problem solver, idea type guy so I guess I look into each piece of what we're doing and continually trying to find tweak it slightly to either save some cash so we can rescue the next kid, or tweak how we do it so we get a better response of getting the kids out or keeping the kids out. Always trying to improve. I think as an organization, we're fairly primary, always looking on how to improve rather than we've arrived. I think the reality is we will never arrive. I think that's just a wise way of doing it.
James McKinney: One of the things that I love about your story, obviously the passion that drives you, the understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. Obviously the mission itself is so critical. But you've been doing this for 18 years. And 18 years really operating in some dark spaces. I can't imagine some of the disappointments that have probably come across your 18 years of trying to rescue girls, disappointments in probably dealing with some governments in some cases. But what has been a massive learning in your 18 years that would be of value to anybody trying to start an organization, whether it be for profit or nonprofit?
Tony Kirwan: That's a deep question, mate. I guess not giving up would be a big one. There's definitely been times, like as a leader you clearly are trying to lead. For that to be true, someone's got to be following you. So there's definitely, there are times when you really believe this needs to happen, or this particular change has to happen and feels like there's a period of time that you're walking that journey alone.
As a leader, you've got to have wise council and make sure you're not just being a buddy going off on a tangent doing something stupid. I'm not discounting that. But if you're really confident that this is the way that is the right way, and if you feel it's a God thing and you've got to do this, I think you've got to be willing to walk alone for a period of time, and that sucks. People either start to follow you gain or you'll start bringing other people on the team. I think you've got to know what's the right, have that gut feeling like this is right and follow it. Firstly, I found eventually people will follow you. They'll see you're serious. They'll see there's merit in what you're saying, and then they'll get behind you again. We've definitely had moments like that as an organization that have gone for a shift, but not giving up because giving up is easy.
James McKinney: Yeah.
Tony Kirwan: When you give up, you've given u p on what you're trying to achieve. In our particular case, it's talking about kids lives. Getting them out and keeping them out. So you can't give up.
James McKinney: As you were explaining all of that, I was wondering now that you've been doing this 18 years, obviously if we were having this conversation in we'll say 1998 when you had your electric company it'd be the easy answer, but do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
Tony Kirwan: Well, the way I define an entrepreneur I guess is very much linked with finances. But if you take that piece out of it and what happens behind the scene to get to where we are, I would say yes I definitely have that sort of qualities. I guess our goal is still to raise money, it's just not raising money for ourselves specifically. But definitely I guess it is still raising money but it's for a cause.
James McKinney: I 100% agree. I met a few nonprofits that listen to this show, and they have said, "I started a nonprofit. I still listen to the show even though I'm not an entrepreneur." And I shake my head because I'm thinking to myself how would you not picture yourself as an entrepreneur just because you're a nonprofit? So I 100% agree. But then let me ask this next question, and this is a question that my wife gave me a few episodes back when I unpacked my startup story. Do you believe entrepreneurs are made or are born?
Tony Kirwan: Nature or nurture, eh?
James McKinney: Yeah. Can it be something that someone learns or are they born that way?
Tony Kirwan: I think it's like talent. Like some people seem to be born with a natural talent in a particular area, but that doesn't mean they'll necessarily be the best in that area if they don't nurture it and practice and train. Someone with no natural talent could exceed them because they have the determination and the discipline and so forth. I definitely believe pretty much anything can be learned and can be improved on, absolutely.
James McKinney: I love that. Awesome. As our time comes to an end, there's two questions that I ask every founder. And the very last one I'm going to change up a bit for you, just because of what your mission is and what we want to accomplish in January. But the first one that I'm not going to change up is about gratitude. I ask every founder this question and the reason I ask is I believe that if we lose sight of all the people that have poured into our journey from childhood to now, and we begin to think that we did this on our own, we will isolate ourselves and operate in a vacuum. It's in those moments that our decline begins and inevitably will lead to our failure. I believe that we stand on the shoulders of others that have helped us get to where we are. So when you look back on your entrepreneurial journey and your startup story, who are the people that come to mind that you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to your journey in building Destiny Rescue and saving girls?
Tony Kirwan: I would definitely have to say my parents played a big role in helping me become the man that I am. I'm very proud to be their son. They're great models in their business life and in ministry. And probably the other person that jumps to mind is my brother in law. Something I didn't mention at the beginning is when I first wanted to start DR, I had a lot of people saying I was crazy and not to do it. I think I had about a dozen people coming up to me, just randomly. I hadn't even asked their advice and they're coming, a lot of them, because of my father being the pastors, different pastors and so forth. One guy said he's 95% sure he's heard from God that if I start I'm going to fail within two years. I had another one come up and say if I go, they're sure I'm going to die. And my brother in law had missed all these people saying no. it was a really simple phrase, but it meant a lot to me. He just said, "Yeah. This could be a God thing. Go for it." So simple, but amongst all the negative stuff, it meant a lot.
James McKinney: That's awesome. And the final question, and I'm going to tweak it a bit for you. Usually what I ask founders is to take the conversation from our tens of thousands of listeners down to a mentoring minute, where you're just giving one particular listener and persona a bit of advice. But what I actually want to do because of what we want to accomplish, and this is saving 10 girls. Amongst The Startup Story listeners, we want to save 10 girls throughout the month of January. I want to ask you why should the listener engage and participate in the mission of Destiny Rescue?
Tony Kirwan: I think it's a little bit more challenging for us in the west because we don't… it's not as confronting to us on a day to day. We don't see human trafficking in a big way so it doesn't feel as real, so we don't connect to it as much. So I would say let's use our imagination and think about if we've got children, what would we be willing to do. If we've got a nephew, niece, make it real personally. I think when we do that and as going back to what I said before, these kids don't have a mom or dad that's going to come and save them so it's going to take ordinary people like you and me stepping up to it.
When you hear about this yucky thing that's going on in the world, you're sort of stuck because now you've got to make a choice. Because before, maybe you didn't know and you can just palm it off. But once you know that this is happening, you need to make a choice. You can either get behind us or another organization, or you can choose to push it aside and do nothing. But both of them are a choice. So I guess I would challenge people make it real for you and think about what you're willing to do. And then make a choice to do it. Everybody has the capacity and ability to do something. So I guess it's a matter of deciding what your something is, and then just following through and doing it because we can all do something.
James McKinney: All right. It's January of 2020. You've now been given information on a topic that might be brand new to you. What are you going to choose? I believe in The Startup Story community. I believe that as an entrepreneur, you will choose to do something. I believe that you won't be able to ignore how you can contribute, and while we want to support Tony and the mission of Destiny Rescue by saving 10 girls this month, we also want to get more companies involved. So if you want to see your organization be part of the solution, then please reach out to me directly and let me put you in touch with the appropriate person based on where your company is headquartered. Just hit me up on Instagram @TheStartupStory, or on LinkedIn just search for James McKinney. Or even visit thestartupstory.co and hit us up on our contact page. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, and by supporting Tony and Destiny Rescue, we have the chance to change the future for a young girl. The Startup Story community, let's show up in a very big way this month.