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Becca Stevens: “Trust work more than inspiration when you are working”

I believe a thought leader is someone groups of people trust to speak their hearts and minds. By virtue of their experience, research and reflection, they have been offered a platform to share their ideas, stories and strategies. I think of influencers as people on social media that can boost sales, bring attention, and create […]

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I believe a thought leader is someone groups of people trust to speak their hearts and minds. By virtue of their experience, research and reflection, they have been offered a platform to share their ideas, stories and strategies. I think of influencers as people on social media that can boost sales, bring attention, and create a buzz. I think of thought leaders as shaping how we respond to current issues, social injustices, politics, religion, and economics.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Becca Stevens. When Becca Stevens opened a home for five women survivors of trafficking, addiction, and prostitution called Magdalene in 1997, she never imagined it would grow into the world-changing nonprofit Thistle Farms has become. A priest, author, speaker, and social entrepreneur, Becca set out to provide sanctuary and healing for women society has historically not served or seen. More than 20 years later, those efforts have exponentially grown and are housed under Thistle Farms, a multifaceted, international nonprofit still spearheaded by Becca. Becca has continued to lead important conversations in demanding ways, including writing 10 books and delivering talks across the country. Her 2017 book, Love Heals, generated widespread acclaim thanks to its empathetic but pragmatic spiritual guidance. A graduate of the University of the South and Vanderbilt Divinity School, she also holds multiple honorary doctorate degrees. Becca lives in Nashville with her husband, Marcus Hummon, and their three sons.


Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I believe that my experience in building a multi-million dollar justice social enterprise with women survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution, coupled with my writing and speaking career has helped propel me onto a national stage. I think that my personal story of surviving child sexual abuse has afforded me the hard gift of being able to be an authority on early childhood trauma and what developing a healing community looks like. Community, as the most powerful healing element we have at our disposal is an axiom at the heart of my message. Many people are lonely and feel overwhelmed with all that is coming at them through the screen and my thoughts around inspired action, healing and hope is striking a chord.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I believe that in all the highs and lows of this journey as founder and president of Thistle Farms, as well as a priest, advocate, entrepreneur, and author, some of the most interesting stories are not the amazing successes, but the hard experiences that formed my core belief that love heals. One interesting and early story came seven months after we opened our first home for women survivors. One of the residents didn’t come home and I learned from a call that she had relapsed and ended up at a truck stop. As the story unfolded we learned that she had been kidnapped, tortured, and eventually shot execution style in the cab of a truck. I didn’t know what I should do in the face of it. Would people blame me? Her? Would this impact the reputation of our small program going forward? It was the other women living in the home who taught me what I needed to do to move forward for the rest of this career. I needed to embrace the hardest truths without judgement or apology and continue to tell the story of women survivors. Julia Baskett was first raped by her father when she was still a child. She was a beautiful soul that like so many women was broken open. For the past 20 years we have named the volunteer award in her honor to remind all of us of the life and death nature of this work, and how together we are safer, stronger, and can change this country that still buys and sells women as commodities.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Definitely my fundraising was comical. I would say that I was more of a beggar than a fundraiser to start this journey. One day, I went to lunch and asked the person I was eating with for money to support this new long-term, beautiful home for women survivors. She said it was her “privilege” to say no. I couldn’t believe it or understand it at the time, and food hadn’t even been served. We spent the next 30 minutes almost in complete silence. During that time I began to hone my craft in my head and think about what I could do differently. After helping to start seven not- for-profits and raising more than 50,000,000 dollars, I look back on that excruciating lunch as a graduate school course in fundraising and humility.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

I believe a thought leader is someone groups of people trust to speak their hearts and minds. By virtue of their experience, research and reflection, they have been offered a platform to share their ideas, stories and strategies. I think of influencers as people on social media that can boost sales, bring attention, and create a buzz. I think of thought leaders as shaping how we respond to current issues, social injustices, politics, religion, and economics.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

I think the benefit for me is to be able to inspire a wider audience to invest in women, engage in the global issues of human trafficking, and take care of their own bodies and communities.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Recently Forbes said Thistle Farms was successful because we are mission with a business, not a business with a mission. Our mission is a huge asset in growing a bath and body care company. We integrate our individual and collective stories into a business and find ourselves in the marketplace talking about healing and human trafficking. It propels our mission, as well as allowing us to grow and be sustainable.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry.

  1. Follow your passions. It means you will have energy for the arena in which you will need to work to gain knowledge, experience and expertise.
  2. Trust work more than inspiration when you are working. I think inspiration can be as elusive as a muse, but if we do the work, inspiration will come.
  3. Form rituals that carve out time in your day to collect your thoughts before you are bombarded with everyone else’s agenda.
  4. Lead with love. I think we think being driven in whatever field you want to lead means leaving love at the door. Love is powerful, you can lead with it.
  5. Follow-up is 9/10th of the work. We all have inspired thoughts, the work is in the follow-up and clean-up. That is the difference between a good idea and new products, new programs, new initiatives!

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

The person who has influenced my work more than anyone is Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. She kept a bowl of soup heated as she served and added to it for more than 40 years! Through the depression and wars, that soup kept giving. She also wrote articles, books, and did interviews while the soup was cooking; and she asked people to think about “why” the soup was needed. I loved her humility, her passion, her idealism, and all the hard work she was willing to put in to see her vision lived out.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I believe it is a trending word that will probably fall out of fashion; but it will be replaced by yet another term that tries to capture its essence — people who have innovative ideas and have inspired companies and movements, and who help us form opinions. I love that they can help us think and move through this complex world.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Run to community. Community is the antidote to terrible loneliness and stress of leadership. I think the word community has fallen by the wayside because it’s not very flashy! But community is the entity that holds us up, holds us accountable, and discerns new thoughts. Community can carry your load when you are tired, carry out your vision of what it takes to grow your thoughts, and carry on what you started. Community allows us to travel further than we could ever go on our own.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe the work I am doing is a movement. It’s a movement for women’s freedom. We are growing exponentially around the world. With more than sixty affiliate houses for women survivors in our network, more than 1,200 women served through our global marketplace, and more than four million in annual sales revenue, we are beginning to see the difference between being a good nonprofit with a powerful mission, to a movement that brings a bright and healing light into the world of human trafficking.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“God bless the broken road that lead me straight to you”. It is a Grammy award-winning song that was written by my husband, Marcus Hummon, of 30 years! He wrote that early on in our marriage. It is the truth that keeps us so grateful for all the beauty and brokenness we have experienced. It also is the song that helped pay for our house and our kids education! Marcus Hummon is being inducted this year into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in Nashville. We are thrilled.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I want to sit down with Brian Stevenson and the head of Starbucks. I think there would be a beautiful partnership with women, justice, and tea!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

IG & FB @beccastevens

TW @revbeccastevens

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