Lunch Discussion with Kerry Hilton

EMDC co-sponsored a lunch discussion with the Darden South Asian Society and Net Impact back in February. The event was a 1hr lunch presentation by the founder of Freeset Global on their work in the district of Sonagachi. We asked one of the students attending to write a short post of her thoughts on the event. We would like to thank Patrice Yao for sharing her perspective on the event.

This past week, I had an opportunity to hear from FreeSet founder Kerry Hilton and volunteer Anna Kim as part of Darden’s ‘chai & samosas’ leadership speaker series.  Kerry and his wife founded an organization called FreeSet to provide employment to women in Kalcutta, India who were trapped in human trafficking and prostitution.  The presentation was not easy to digest- there were personal stories of women who had been forced into prostitution- it made me think of both the freedoms that I have, but also the responsibility I have as a civic and business leader.  Kerry’s organization has grown to employ 200+ of the estimated 10,000 women that are trafficked in the Kolkata region.  They have started to research other business opportunities that could grow and employ women, either in Kolkata, or other areas around the world experiencing similar issues.

In the midst of our fast paced FY courses and looming exams, this presentation gave me pause to remember the impact that we can all have as business leaders in our local community and as far away as South Asia.  Kerry mentioned several times that he didn’t have a formal MBA or business degree- he simply had a heart for the people of Kolkata, and a desire to make an impact for the local women.  Many of us stayed after the presentation to chat with Kerry and Anna, and asked about volunteering our time and skills to help as they expand their global operations.  It is my hope that Darden will continue to bring in speakers and non-profits like FreeSet to help us understand the impact that we can have, and the organic/grassroots approach that business leaders can have on communities so far away from Charlottesville, VA.  Given our talented and civic-minded students, I’m certain we will produce many Kerry’s, Anna’s, and FreeSet’s in our time after Darden.


In 2001 Kerry founded Freeset Bags & Apparel as a means to provide alternative employment and economic freedom to women who were victims of India’s notorious sex trade. Operating in Sonagachi, India’s largest red-light district, Freeset has enabled ~200 women to escape debt, servitude and social exclusion and brought light to the issue across the world.

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