Written by Jennifer Lawhead
Some women are born with a strong sense of business savvy, which guides them throughout their career to make sound decisions. Others are highly intuitive, which allows them to nurture others and tap into their well-developed emotional intelligence.
Samantha Thomas, founder of the Love Summit business and leadership conference and the Just Choose Love movement, has been granted both sets of gifts. She’s an alchemist in every sense of the word. She’s multitalented, excelling in every career decision she has ever made. She’s tapped into her power in her youth, discovering lessons that most spend their entire life trying to understand. She is brave and courageous when she needs to be, but always thoughtful and reflective. And Samantha is reinventing what it means to create systemic change – by insisting that love must be infused into all business, government and social operations in order for humanity to truly move into a sustainable future.
From a young age, Samantha learned her first lessons about love from her mother and grandmother. Both were beacons of light for her, instilling values of kindness, confidence, non-conformity and female empowerment that stay with her today. She grew up with a passion for connecting with people, cultural arts, and – thanks to her mother and step father’s alternative health business – an astute awareness of the profound relationship between health and wellbeing. The culmination of these experiences inspired Samantha to enroll in and later graduate from consciousness-based university, Maharishi University of Management, with a degree in sustainable living and a minor in business (2011). She knew she wanted to start a social enterprise one day, but felt she needed more clarity of purpose before getting started.
On the path to discovering her life’s work, Samantha spent the first few months out of college traveling Europe. It was there that she fell in love with other cultures, how they lived and how they ate, and was inspired to start the slow food and slow lifestyle blog, Samantha’s Bread & Butter.
Putting her wanderer days briefly behind her, Samantha made a sharp pivot and moved to New York City to work in the eco-fashion industry and pursue modeling. She interned with a company called The GreenShows, a leading event, education and consulting firm dedicated to promoting and growing the luxury sustainable fashion movement. Through this experience, Samantha worked with avant-garde fashion designers and helped organize premiere events such as the ethical fashion extravaganza at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City (2012).
But a year into her New York City life, Samantha found the fashion and modeling industry to be disheartening. As much as the eco-fashion industry was committed to ethical production and fair-trade standards, its culture still seemed to be on par with the traditional fashion industry: cut throat and focused on the superficial aspects of business, like status and bottom line. And when it came to modeling. Samantha found the standards to be unhealthy and unrealistic. All of her life, she was told she should try modeling, but when she did, her body was picked apart and criticized by the big modeling agencies. A nonconformist and entrepreneur by nature, Samantha began freelance modeling, and quickly became a proponent for body positivity, empowering women, and changing the perception of beauty.
But before she could get too deep into freelance modeling and the eco-fashion industry, life presented Samantha with an alternative path: a three-day business leadership workshop at Omega Institute, an hour outside of New York City that her mother encouraged her to look into. So Samantha did, and made the decision to attend. It was there that she learned about Dream Change, an organization that would inspire the rest of her career.
Dream Change was a dormant nonprofit founded by New York Times Bestselling Author and economist John Perkins that had historically worked to help indigenous people around the world – largely in the Amazon rainforest – preserve their lands and culture. Perkins expressed an interest in revitalizing the nonprofit, this time with a focus on how corporations could use the values of indigenous cultures to create successful businesses that contribute to a more socially just and environmentally sustainable world. Samantha enthusiastically volunteered to help.
As luck would have it, Dream Change happened to be the recipient of the prestigious LennonOno Grant for Peace at the same time Samantha volunteered. Samantha’s first project was writing the brochure about Dream Change in order to officially receive the grant. From there, Samantha became an integral part in the successful revitalization of Dream Change.
The next several years were spent working alongside Perkins, building up Dream Change to shine on the national stage, with Samantha eventually at the helm. Her volunteer role quickly morphed into a project manager and later, executive director. In the six years Samantha spent with Dream Change, she developed events and campaigns to promote corporate responsibility, inspiring business leaders around the world to give back, correct social injustice, change communities for the better and create movements.
It was through Dream Change that Love Summit was born. Samantha was so moved by the work she was doing as executive director that she dreamed up an event that could collect business leaders, government leaders and activists around the world to continue promoting change. The Love Summit became Samantha’s passion, as she worked tirelessly to create an inaugural event that would be memorable and initiate the wide-scale change she hoped to see in the world. In 2015, in Portland, Oregon, the first Love Summit filled to capacity, with a speaker lineup of leaders, CEOs and change-makers from some of the world’s most recognized brands. Keynoter Dan Wieden; co-founder/chairman of Wieden+Kennedy and creator of Nike's slogan, Just Do It; blew the audience away with a message of the importance of love in his career and success culminating in a standing ovation. In that moment, Love Summit became an energy force, paving the way for future summits that continue to spread the message that social, environmental and economic sustainability begin with love.
Love Summit’s success has proved American corporations, governments and professionals worldwide are hungry to incorporate more humanity into their work. It has also paved the way for Samantha to start the #JustChooseLove movement, to inspire acts of love, kindness and camaraderie over fear and hate. The movement represents all of Samantha’s talents – Love Summit, public speaking, and the consulting and brand strategy she does with businesses to reinforce social responsibility. Samantha is growing her coaching arm of JCL, working with business executives, female leaders and individuals to get clear on their purpose, personal values and leadership skills so they can live a meaningful, fulfilling life. She is fiercely passionate about female empowerment and continues to find opportunities to light women up, both in the workplace and in their personal lives. And Samantha’s love for fashion still lives on as she is currently designing a #JustChooseLove eco-fashion brand, due to launch this fall.
With grace and gratitude, Samantha feels it’s an enormous privilege to do the work she’s been called to do. It’s clear in everything she does, from the hard-working and brave spirit she brings to what she creates, to the way her eyes smile and resemble two bright rainbows when others tell her how they’ve been forever changed as a result of her leadership.