Social entrepreneurship, when done right, combines both business and doing good. In a special segment of “The Valley Business Today,” on The River, 95.3 FM, Dean and Professor of Management at Shenandoah University’s Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business Miles Davis, Ph.D., spoke with the founder of Thistle Farms, Becca Stevens. Through her nonprofit organization, Stevens has found a balance between business and charitable work. In this segment, Stevens talks about her inspiration for taking on this social enterprise, and her approach to combining business and doing good.
Twenty years ago, before Thistle Farms was founded, Stevens worked in a residential community offering sanctuary to female survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution. She wanted to bring healing to these women who had experienced trauma, but she realized, “If we are worried about loving and healing women, we need to worry about people’s economic well being as well.” In addition to selling natural bath and body care products, Thistle Farm’s mission is to “heal, empower, and employ women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction by providing safe and supportive housing, the opportunity for economic independence, and a strong community of advocates and partners.”
“Thistle Farms is a business,” said Dr. Davis. “They are a charitable organization, but they are not a charity.” It is both making money and transforming lives, which is, as Davis points out, uncommon in the world of business. He claims social enterprises like Thistle Farms are important because, “businesses have a role in transforming society.”
Thistle Farms is, in its own way, transforming society and its community by providing women with the opportunity for economic independence. “The dignity of working and being a part of something is very important to people,” said Davis. “Providing them with the means to support themselves makes more of an impact than charity.”
Stevens’ business model is deeply rooted in her belief in the community’s responsibility and its ability to bring about change. “I have found that if you have a really good idea and a community is behind you, you can run a business,” she said. “People have been coming together as a community to make and sell things, it’s not new; they’re called bazaars. I have always thought, there is so much healing around us, we just need to know how to make use of it and embrace it.”
During this episode, a graduate, and now employee, of Thistle Farms, Regina Miles, said it serves as a place where women, like herself, who find themselves homeless and with criminal records, can find success. “It has been my absolute lifeline,” she said. “Becca’s vision has helped so many women like me to realize [we] do have a life, and [we] get to decide how we want to live it.”
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