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050: How Mission Trips Fail (And What To Do Instead) with Amber Runyon

About Amber:

Amber Runyon is a speaker, nurse, candle maker, and social entrepreneur. She is the visionary behind the non-profit, Legacy, and it’s for-profit counterpart, Eleventh Candle Co.

While working medical missions in Ethiopia as a nurse, Amber watched two young girls get sold into sex trafficking in broad daylight, and that moment changed her. It is what led her to found Legacy and Eleventh Candle, with the mission to redeem, restore, empower and equip those who are vulnerable to human trafficking, abuse, exploitation and addiction.


Places to Find Amber:

Eleventh Candle Co. – website

Legacy’s page on Facebook

Amber’s Blog

On Instagram @ambernrunyon


Show Notes:

[3:00] minute: What was life like for you growing up, and what eventually led you to nursing?

  • Grew up in foster care.
  • A billboard leads to Nursing school.

4:00 minute: Tell me how the medical missions in Ethiopia started?

  • She always wanted to give back, and it seemed like international medicine was the best opportunity for her.
  • Has done trips in Haiti, Honduras, and throughout Africa.

[4:40] minute: How do you think your experience in foster care growing up played a piece in your drive to give back?

  • Agreement with the Universe to do good.

[5:00] minute: For those who don’t know, could you paint a picture of what life is like in a place like Ethiopia that you worked?

  • It is utter poverty everywhere, and that can be shocking.
  • Intentional while there to learn how everyone lives. Have to immerse yourself in the culture to even get a small understanding.
  • The juxtaposition between there and getting back to the states each time can be jarring.

[7:20] minute: Tell me more about doing nursing there, what were those missions like, what were you doing?

  • Started in short-term mission trips, but learned how ineffective they really are and now avoids them.
  • Long-term sustainable care is her passion now. Working with local hospitals to do training and bringing in specialists who could teach the local doctors so that when they left the work could continue.

[9:15] minute: You see so many people take a mission trip that seems like it is more a feel good trip for the person rather than actually beneficial for the people they are going to help, what advice would you have for someone planning a trip like that?

  • One trip to Ethiopia changed her view and convinced her the practices all needed to focus on sustainability.
  • Shifted to how to build up the community and help them be less dependent on our foreign aid.
  • The education works two ways.

[12:55] minute: You’ve mentioned micro-financing, can you explain what that is and how it works?

  • Funded a co-op that would allocate small funds to women who had a business idea.
  • Tells the story of an entrepreneur who created a laundry service and quickly paid her loan back and is now employing others in the community.
  • Defines and explains the community-oriented nature of it.

[15:50] minute: Tell me about this life altering experience you had in seeing two young girls get sold into slavery right in front of you? What exactly happened, how did it make you feel?

  • While riding through a village her eyes caught a man leading two little girls who were blindfolded, and he was taking them to be sold.
  • Her translator had to tell her what was happening, and she couldn’t believe it.
  • Sadly, it’s a very common practice that is much more out in the open there.
  • The same thing happens here in the United States, it is just more hidden from us.

[19:40] minute: You knew you wanted to do something about this, so what were your first steps towards action?

  • Committed to Ethiopia but wanted to help in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio as well.
  • Wanted to create the generation that went “from rape to redeem”.
  • Saw a dead end for those rescued from trafficking when they tried to enter the employment pool, so that became her area to help.
  • Googled “cheapest company to start”, and that led to her candle company.

[22:30] minute: Were Legacy and Eleven Candle Co founded separately or are they meant to be joined?

  • Started as one company, but for ease of business split into two that still work together.

[23:15] minute: Tell me about the women who you hire, how do you get connected to them?

  • When first started, they took women straight off the street but quickly learned that there needed to be some steps between that.

[25:30] minute: You mentioned you offer these women grief and PTSD counseling to help them get on their feet, what all types of things do you offer them from an emotional standpoint to help them get back to a good place?

  • Trauma informed therapy offered, specifically EMDR.
  • The non-profit helps pay for coaching and counseling, as well as gym memberships, cooking classes, and retreats.
  • Giving them the chance to have experiences and relax and breathe.

[26:30] minute: What was the biggest challenge in getting Eleventh Candle Co off the ground?

  • Not having any business background at all.
  • Every step was hard, but Columbus has a great community who bought in and helped out when they could.

[27:20] minute: How has mentorship played a role for you, to get over that learning curve I’m sure it took reaching out and working with others, can you tell me about that?

  • Sought out those doing a really good job and bugged them until they would give her even 15 minutes of their time.
  • Leveraged relationships in other organizations that she was a part of, and made sure to always give back as much as she could so it was a two-way street.

[29:50] minute: Do you think your customers for the candle business care about your social mission, do you think it influences their buying behavior?

  • “We don’t sell candles, we sell hope.”

[30:40] minute: Who has been the most impactful person in your journey to do well and achieve financial success?

  • Matt Davis – her partner at Co-Hatch

[31:00] minute: Who has been the most impactful person in feeding your drive to do good and make an impact?

  • Mulu – a little girl in Ethiopia. She fell in love with her on one of her first trips and was a big reason for going back over and over.
  • “I have this much time to improve her community before she grows up. I want her to live in a better world than what she currently lives in.”

[32:00] minute: When you’re having a bad day, what do you do to get yourself out of the funk? Do you have any sort of regular personal development practice?

  • Motivational YouTube videos every morning – there are so many.
  • Podcasts that help clear your headspace with positive affirmations.
  • Also, cat videos.

[33:20] minute: What book do you find yourself recommending to people most often?

  • Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown – purchase here.
  • How do you actually find who you are? The only way to do that is to brave the wilderness. All of Brene’s books are great but this is the one she gives everyone.

[33:50] minute: What is the best piece of advice related to happiness that you’d give to my listeners?

  • You are the only person that you will wake up to every day for the rest of your life, so if you can not like yourself, then no one else is going to like you, and you probably won’t like anyone else.


Do Well & Do Good Challenge Nominee:

Legacy: a nonprofit working globally to redeem, restore, empower, and equip those vulnerable to human trafficking, abuse, exploitation, and addiction. Their programs help support the victims of trafficking that now work for Eleventh Candle Co., as well as women around the world who are affected by human trafficking.

To donate, visit here.


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About the author, Dorothy

Dorothy Illson is the founder of Needle's Eye Media, a full-service Facebook advertising agency. She's also the host of Do Well & Do Good, a podcast dedicated to telling the stories of people who have created financial success and leveraged it to increase their positive impact on the world.

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