Matt Osborne is a real life hero; the kind that stories are written about and the kind that you cannot forget. Brave, driven, focused and committed, Matt continues to blaze a trail in the fight against modern day slavery.
As Senior Vice President for Rescue and Rehabilitation at Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), Matt rescues and ensures rehabilitation for children trafficked and sold into sexual slavery in the U.S. and around the world. Since joining O.U.R., Matt has led a number of rescue operations that have resulted in the liberation of some 120 trafficking victims and the arrest of almost 40 suspected traffickers.
Matt’s commitment and passion for guarding others from harm became clear after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Matt felt strongly about protecting his country and began working in national security, a decision that led to a twelve-year career with the CIA and later the Department of State. During that time, Matt worked with issues of terrorism against the U.S., chemical and biological proliferation and the war in Iraq, and ensuing insurgency and political transition after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
An important aspect of Matt’s work for the federal government was providing classified information to U.S. Presidents, senior cabinet officials and the National Security Council. He served overseas tours as a Foreign Service Officer in places such as Spain, Mexico and Venezuela, focusing on issues of terrorism, counter narcotics, and human trafficking. During these tours, Matt organized visits for high profile government officials such as President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also worked on the Department of State’s Trafficking in Person’s (TIP) Report, which further opened his eyes to this terrible crime.
Matt first met O.U.R. founder Tim Ballard back in 2000 at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), both as graduate students and Research Assistants at MIIS’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies. They remained in contact over the years, and when Tim started O.U.R. in late 2013, he strongly encouraged Matt to join the fight against child exploitation and human trafficking. Matt was impressed by how quickly O.U.R. was progressing. He could see Tim’s passion and commitment, and had also seen the caliber of his work in his role with the federal government. Ultimately, it was the cause of fighting for innocent children that won Matt’s heart and allegiance.
Matt joined O.U.R. in August of 2014 and the vision became clear: the O.U.R. jump team could be what he calls a “force multiplier.” Matt felt that those in the U.S. government and in select countries around the world were doing exemplary work saving kids, but with more resources from O.U.R., these officials could simply do more to fight child exploitation.
Matt had enjoyed both serving his country and traveling the world in a government career, which had availed him many opportunities and privileges such as meeting presidents, prime ministers, kings, princes, and other high profile officials. In leaving the CIA and U.S. Department of State, Matt made the considerable sacrifice of giving up his U.S. government pension, health care, and stable salary in order to fight for the O.U.R. cause. A family man, Matt was grateful that the move to O.U.R. allowed him to move back to Texas with his family. The calling of defending the defenseless had been a continued drive for Matt, and it has now become something to stand up for beyond his own need for professional comfort and security.
In an interview with Matt in late July 2016, he recounted his first days as a jump team member and how things have grown at O.U.R. since the start. He said that initially, O.U.R. needed to reach out to countries to request the opportunity to work with them, and then raise the money to allow the work to be done. Funds raised at that time were just enough for one rescue, and then the process would begin again to find another willing country and raise more money to rescue and rehabilitate. Now, as Matt reports, funding for rescues has increased significantly, and more countries than ever are seeking out the help of O.U.R., causing the number of countries and jump team members hired to lead rescues—and most importantly the number of children saved—to increase as well. The O.U.R. team is getting ever more skillful about how they are building and fundraising, and they are now leaner and able to do more work with less money. What’s more, the individuals joining the jump team are arriving already incredibly skilled.
When asked about O.U.R.’s potential in the near future, Matt says that the focus will be to continue to expand rescue work with partners in the U.S. and overseas. O.U.R. had first concentrated on foreign rescue missions due to the need. However, with more advanced technology, the O.U.R. team has what Matt calls a “comparative advantage,” putting the organization in a position to be even more successful in mission support at home and abroad.
Matt is a native of Dallas, Texas and holds a B.A. in International Studies from Miami University in Oxford, OH, and a M.A. in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. He is married and has two daughters, who he says give him the drive to fight child exploitation and human trafficking every day.
Matt says he feels blessed to be helping kids, and that there is simply no higher cause.