The shadow pandemic

Stacy Sawin and Asha Xu, MBA 2021, introduce their nonprofit, FinAbility, which aims to make financial resources available to all domestic abuse survivors. Drawing on personal and professional experience, Asha and Stacy explain the growing shadow pandemic and how they hope to address it.

2020 will forever be remembered as the year COVID-19 wreaked havoc upon the world. However, as news outlets and communities focused on the health outcomes related to the pandemic and  vaccine development, a shadow pandemic was underway resulting in the deaths of many women and men at increasingly alarming rates.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in three women have been subjected to physical or mental abuse in their lifetime. These statistics have only gotten worse during COVID-19, as stay at home orders gave abusers even more power over each aspect of their partners’ life, including their finances, electronic devices, and contact with family and friends. Where does one turn when ordered to stay at home, but when home is not safe?

Domestic abuse is a shadow pandemic from which no one is excluded. There is a common misconception that domestic abuse mostly impacts women of lower socio-economic backgrounds or socially conservative regions. However, one in four women and one in seven men are survivors of domestic abuse in the United States, where survivors span all income levels, ages, nationalities, sexual orientations, genders, and ethnicities.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported that in the United States alone, 8 million people call the domestic abuse hotline annually. That equates to an average of 22,000 people per day.

Many survivors in the US turn to government relief programs or nonprofits who offer emergency shelter, but COVID-19 has shut down or severely limited many of these programs. Advocates who work for these programs are now limited to giving survivors advice over the phone, as regulations prevent them from meeting face to face.

How can FinAbility help survivors permanently leave abuse?

FinAbility seeks to address the number one reason survivors are unable to leave: financial dependency. In nine out of 10 domestic abuse cases, the survivor also experiences financial abuse, where the abuser controls most, if not all, financial resources and uses it as leverage over the survivor. Because of this, the average survivor only has access to about $250, as reported by FreeFrom. We estimate that it can take at least $7,500 for a survivor to safely leave their abuser in the first month alone. This creates an impossible situation for most survivors – do you stay with your abuser in a dangerous situation, or do you risk homelessness?

FinAbility hopes to create a third option. We are a US based non-profit that seeks to build a trauma-informed web application that centralizes resources and helps survivors access financial products, enabling them to leave abuse permanently. To date, we have interviewed over 80 advocates and survivors who have stressed the need for educational materials centered on financial empowerment. Survivors and advocates need easily accessible resources that can guide them to loans, grants, or credit cards, enabling access to emergency funds. So far, this initiative has been met with incredible enthusiasm from the advocates who work in this space who are often required to provide financial advice, without the necessary skillset to do so.  

If you would like to join our cause and help the survivors of abuse to live in a fairer and safer world, please contact us! We hope that you join us on this journey to help survivors live financially independent lives, permanently away from abuse.


Stacy Sawin (MBA 2021) is the Co-Founder and CEO of FinAbility. While at LBS, Stacy also co-founded the LBS COVID Relief Group and served as Co-President of the Expedition Club.Prior to LBS, Stacy spent four years at Deloitte Consulting US, where she helped mission-driven organizations implement data strategies.

Asha Xu (MBA 2021) is the Co-Founder and CTO of FinAbility. At LBS, Asha leads the Cooking Team of the Foodie Club and the Social Team of the China Club. Prior to LBS, Asha worked in Automation Engineering, providing automation systems to many Fortune 500 companies. Asha completed her summer internship with McKinsey Abu Dhabi.

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