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Meet Brandy Svendson and Natalie Chan, Co-Founders of Be the Change Group.

2022 Social Change Award Finalists: National Impact

Brandy Svendson & Natalie Chan

Be the Change Group is a research firm and creative agency under one roof, helping clients in the population health, education, and climate sectors to create positive social change. Co-founded in 2012 by Brandy Svendson and Dr. Natalie Chan, the pair identified a need to bring public and population health experts, researchers, and creative minds together under one roof to solve complex problems. As CEO and Creative Director, Brandy is responsible for overseeing the team and ensuring that all deliverables are of the highest standard. She brings experience in population health, community non-profits, and the creative field. As President and Research Director, Natalie brings expertise in science, medicine, and community health promotion and prevention. This allows her to assess and integrate clinical strategies and workflows, and effectively manage a multidisciplinary team.

 

My first job ever was…

Brandy: When I was 13, I worked in a senior living home serving food. I love working with the elderly; their blatant honesty is so refreshing. 

Natalie: I was 15 and I got a job at my favourite shoe store at the time, Nine West. I felt posh selling heels and stilettos to women in business suits. One thing I don’t miss about that job is the constant pulling and re-stacking shoes in the back. 

 

I chose my career path because

Brandy: As a kid I could never sit still. I got bored easily, alway questioned the rules and was very social and inquisitive. Needless to say, I spent some time in the principal’s office. Being an entrepreneur allowed me to use these traits to my advantage. The best entrepreneurs are always rule breakers. I am constantly being challenged and having to multitask, I am surrounded by people all the time and, of course, I am my own boss. 

Natalie: I love working with people and problem solving. On an individual level, I deeply value the trust that patients place in me to care for their health and the opportunity to get to know who they are and listen to their life stories. It is truly special. 

On a population level, the only way to change the outcomes for our communities as a whole is to take on the challenge of reducing health inequities that are deeply rooted in our existing social constructs. It is complicated work that both captures and drives my passion. 

 

When starting out, I wish I knew  

Brandy: How to properly set rates, track time, and manage scope creep. It is hard when you start to fully understand what the industry standards of billing are, as they seem to be top secret. You are so eager to please and get a name for your company that you often undervalue your company and team’s services, and don’t say no when things are out-of scope. This then continues on and can become part of culture. This is where our mentors really came down hard on us, reminding us that we are trying to grow and sustain a business, and you cannot do this if you give time away regularly. 

Natalie: How to accelerate the growth of our company earlier. I think it took us a lot of trial and error to get to where we are, and I know there is still so much more for us to learn. 

 

The part of my role that I love the most is…

Brandy: Working with our amazing team. There is not a day that goes by that we don’t laugh out loud. We get to bring out the best in people, see them blossom, and watch ideas come to fruition. The team is just as committed as Natalie and I to solving the complex issues our clients bring to us and they are always striving for excellence. Our culture is what makes us, and what sustains us, on hard days.

Natalie: Working side by side with our team. They are equally as passionate about our work and clients as I am and they are fiercely smart, yet so humble. I am grateful for the way they take care of each other and how much they make me laugh. 

 

The biggest challenge of running a social enterprise…

Brandy: My challenge is personal to me, and I think not enough leaders talk about it, and we need to be more open and begin to change that record. As leaders, we’re often poor at looking after ourselves and not managing our own wellbeing. We’re quick to support and impress the importance of striking a work-life balance to our teams, but we’re poor at following our own advice. We need to do better. It’s my biggest challenge. I’m quick to admit that I’m a workaholic but I recognize the need to lead by example. But it is hard when you are constantly trying to grow, do better, meet your client and team’s needs, you in the end are always last on the list.

 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know…

Brandy: I lived in Brazil, and I finished my high school there. It changed me, gave me a great perspective of my privilege and how I wanted to be in the world. 

Natalie: How quirky I really am. I try to keep that on the inside until you get to know me.

 

My best advice from a mentor was…  

Brandy: I’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of great advice throughout my career, but the one thing that sticks with me and has had the biggest impact on the growth of our company was simply “you can’t improve what you don’t measure.”

Natalie: This advice was not from my mentor, but it is advice that I live by, so much so that it’s permanently tattooed to my body, which is “be tough-minded but tenderhearted.” When running a business, there are times you need to be sharp and have a thick skin, but that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice compassion and empathy. 

 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a business is…

Brandy: Fully commit to your idea. Be bold, be brave, and stick with it. You will doubt yourself, you will be exhausted from working 16-hour days, and you will be challenged in ways you have never anticipated. Don’t give up on your dream, self doubt will paralyze you. Find yourself and invest in a good personal and professional support circle that includes a financial advisor, a lawyer, and an accountant — we had this from the start and they have grown with us and feel like an extension of our team, supporting us in so many ways. Finally, my favourite piece of advice: hire sooner and fire faster. When you think you need to hire, hire. You can afford it. When you think someone is not a good fit, let them go — you are doing both of you a favour.  

 

I stay inspired by…

Brandy: Listening to other entrepreneurs via podcasts (How I Built This is my fav!), reading leadership books, and masterclasses. It is amazing how much you can learn from others’ failures. That’s why I think we all need to talk about what we did wrong — not just how we got started in the dreamy start-up phases, and then fast forward to our glowing successes. 

Natalie: Reading stories, both true stories and fictional stories. There is a pile of books on my nightstand.

 

Success to me means…

Brandy: Being recognized as a thought leader in the entrepreneur space and being able to provide mentorship just as we have been mentored. 

Natalie: Waking up and looking forward to my job. Most days, I look forward to going to work because I find my work interesting and rewarding.