Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Rebecca Bender, CEO and Founder of Rebecca Bender Initiative, located in Dallas, TX, USA.
What's your organization, and who are your members?
I run the Rebecca Bender Initiative, a nonprofit that empowers survivors of human trafficking and equips communities and professionals to fight the largest social justice issue of our time. With our two programs, Elevate and Equip, we serve human trafficking survivors, law enforcement, community leaders, and professionals, as well as anyone who wants to learn more about human trafficking. Our mission is to lead leaders in the fight against human trafficking.
Tell us about yourself
After escaping my trafficker in 2007, I was determined to make a new life for myself and my daughter. While I was attending college online for my Master’s degree, I began dreaming about opening an online school for survivors of human trafficking - a place where anyone with lived experience could enroll and learn the skills and knowledge necessary to build a new life. I also realized that it wasn’t enough to help survivors of human trafficking simply escape - I developed a passion for prevention, activism, and education. I truly believe that we are all more than the bad things that have happened in our lives, and I want to use every opportunity to make a difference in the world. My book, “In Pursuit of Love,” is available on my website or on Amazon, and it tells the story of my life and escape from human trafficking.
What's your biggest accomplishment as an organization?
In 2014 I founded Elevate Academy with just five students. Eight years later, we have served nearly 1,200 students in 16 countries and over 580 U.S. cities across the nation. This innovative online school is thriving today and remains a place where survivors continue to connect, grow, and find tools to ignite their futures. I’ve also created specialized training that has equipped well over 115,000 professionals, including FBI, Homeland Security, police academies, local law enforcement, community leaders, and medical professionals.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being an organizational leader?
Human trafficking is an immense problem. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with how much still needs to be done to fight it. Every day I try to focus on what I can do to elevate and equip others, to break stigmas and misconceptions. Personally, though, as a survivor of trafficking myself, we joke that my trafficker never taught me how to run a nonprofit, so it has been a hands-on learning experience, a lot of coaching, counseling, and mentoring that continues to grow me as the leader I want to be.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow an organization today?
- I would say to start where you are with what you have. You don’t have to have fancy computers or a full staff to begin.
- Look around for opportunities to serve those within your community and sphere of influence or meet a need. There are opportunities all around you!
- Don’t box yourself in. Give yourself the freedom to dream and grow as a person and as a business or an organization leader.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Don’t be afraid to invest in your own personal and professional development. Be a lifelong learner and find new ways to connect with others. We are stronger together!
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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