Eleventh Candle Co. Fights Human Trafficking One Candle at a Time

Photo by Susan Post

Over the last three years, all but one woman has successfully completed Eleventh Candle Co.’s training program. Amber Runyon, founder, credits these impressive results to the company’s small class sizes, as she traditionally employs four to six human trafficking survivors at a time. By creating a safe space and close knit environment, Eleventh can provide supportive services and personalized mentorship to its workers. 

To see first-hand the impact of this employment model, look to Eleventh’s current production manager and human trafficking survivor, Felice. Almost two years after starting in the warehouse, she has been promoted to a leadership role within the company. When she was hired, Felice was able to secure her first apartment; now she is helping other women rebuild their lives.

Eleventh measures its impact through the success stories of people like Felice.

“The beautiful part about all this is that I get to watch this first hand,” Runyon says. “It’s watching people get keys to their cars for the first time. People getting apartments for the first time at 35 or 36. People being able to buy Christmas presents for their kids.”

But in addition to the immediate changes, there is a larger ripple effect. Improving Felice’s situation changes her son’s life, which means he has a greater chance of living past the age of 35 as a young African American male. Another employee was reunited with her child after going to court with an employer letter of recommendation and pay stubs. The impact Eleventh is having on the community it serves is generational and compounding.

But Runyon is always looking to the future and how her mission can have a greater impact. Despite the tremendous effect Eleventh has had on its workers since its founding, one business can only employ so many people. Legacy, the non profit affiliated with Eleventh, is actively creating a workforce development program that will partner with other organizations committed to supporting survivors of human trafficking. It could eventually change the lives of hundreds of women.

Runyon admits that starting a company as a nurse with no background in business, growth has been her biggest challenge. She has to focus on the immediate next step, every time returning to the mission to employ, empower, and educate. This approach has led to four moves in three years to accommodate increasing employment and demand.

As of 2018, Eleventh Candle entered a partnership with coworking space COhatch. The financial relationship between the for profit corporation and social enterprise gives both companies economic stability and a greater chance to create impact. When running a social enterprise, Runyon believes you must focus on two things: the financial bottom line and the missional bottom line. Both have to work for each other. The partnership with COhatch, alongside a projected record number of candle sales, finances further employment and education.

Just one way this is occurring is through the retail space Eleventh opened at Polaris Fashion Place in October 2018. At the kiosk, consumers can pour their own candles with custom scents, while learning about the problem of human trafficking during the half hour process. Customers walk away with not only their high-quality candle, but also a newfound understanding of human trafficking in Central Ohio, and a satisfaction of knowing they had a small part in eradicating the issue.

Within the next year, Runyon plans on developing a franchise model to further grow her social enterprise. She hopes to find people like her who want to help the community but do not exactly know how and present them a packaged opportunity to create impact. Millions of people visit Polaris each year. Through a franchise model, an Eleventh Candle Co. kiosk could eventually be in every mall and exponentially grow the organization’s reach.

Runyon’s advice to other potential social entrepreneurs?

“Have a really great mission and a really great product,” she says. It is clear that Eleventh has both.

If the public wants to get involved, they can buy a candle, donate to Legacy, or educate themselves about human trafficking. To learn more about Eleventh Candle Co., visit eleventhcandleco.com or go to one of their locations: The Madery – 752 High St., Worthington or Polaris Fashion Place – 1500 Polaris Pkwy, Columbus.

About SocialVentures

Founded in 2014, SocialVentures is a non-profit organization that advances remarkably good businesses—businesses that intentionally integrate social impact as a non-negotiable component of their business model. To contact SocialVentures, send an email to info@socialventurescbus.com.

Amber Runyon – photo via Eleventh Candle Co.’s Facebook Page