These Best Friends Put Community First — Now They Run a B Corp Business that Impacts Lives Globally
Meet Brandy and Natalie, the Social Change: National Impact Award winners at the 2022 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards
By Khera Alexander
When two passionate people go into business together, success isn’t guaranteed. It takes a special fusion of skills, interests, and temperaments to turn a business idea into something fruitful.
Thankfully, when Dr. Natalie Chan and Brandy Svendson — co-founders of the research firm and creative agency Be the Change Group — met, they knew they had the potential to create an impact and accomplish amazing things as a team.
“It was like meeting your long-lost best friend, sister, [or] soulmate. I have no idea how to explain it,” Natalie, Be the Change Group’s President and Research Director says.
“We are very fortunate to have met each other and know that very well,” Brandy, CEO and Creative Director says. “We know each other’s strengths, complement each other on that, and we don’t ask each other to change.”
With similar passions and overlapping work experiences — Natalie in community health promotion, prevention, science, and medicine, and Brandy in public health, community non-profits, the environment, and the arts — they merged their skills to create a business that serves clients in the population health, education, and climate sectors while often communicating complex research findings to the public in a creative, digestible way.
When Natalie and Brandy were both working in HIV and the public health field, they shared mutual friends but never had a chance to meet. When they finally did, they realized that their unique skills and perspectives could make an impact and enrich so many communities that need education, visibility, and support.
“There was a gap in public and population health [with] conducting the research and not communicating the findings [to] the broadest audience, and then [having] creatives communicate the research in innovative ways but not having a deep understanding of the audience,” Brandy says.
When they founded Be the Change Group, they set out to continue to reduce stigma, educate the public, and use language to improve someone’s experience. By facilitating research and creative communications under one roof, Be the Change Group addresses some of the most pressing public and population health issues of our time.
“[With] the work that we do, we understand how so many different things like education and housing make such a big impact on your health,” Natalie says. “We have such a unique role where we can do a lot of knowledge translation for communities and the public so people can figure out what’s going on.”
Through their work, the organization has worked with clients like The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors (CIPHI), and CARE, an organization committed to addressing gender-based violence. Be the Change Group is also one of the few companies in British Columbia to receive a B Corp Certification, recognized for their commitment to inclusive societal change.
Although the duo has continued to grow Be the Change Group since 2012, they’ve learned a lot through trial and error, and they share key advice for anyone looking to grow their own business.
“You don’t know what you don’t measure,” Natalie says. “We didn’t measure all of our projects. We might have calculated the time of our staff, [but] we never actually measured how much of our time was going into it. That’s so important for your growth and your profit margins.”
Brandy adds that they have a deeper understanding of the significance of mentorship, owning their value, and charging for it accordingly.
“We would charge the most ridiculous rates in the beginning,” she says. “My dad was a big mentor for us, and he would always say, ‘Charge more.’ Know your industry standards in your market and do not underbid them.”
While Brandy’s father made a huge impact by being a reliable sounding board and sharing his business acumen, the duo share why they both sought out male mentors as well.
“I wanted a male mentor because I wanted to be challenged by how he moves in the industry,” Brandy says. “I wanted to talk about the rates we should be charging and how we take up space.”
Natalie echoes that perspective. “As a person of colour, what my parents taught me and raised me to do is value [my] history and [my] culture,” she says. “When you live in a world where it’s not always valued, you have to play how everybody else plays. If you’re in a male-dominated industry, it serves you best to know how other men are pitching or how they’re doing the work. You got to get in there and play the same way they play. You’re not going to change [the game] from the outside.”
Having received several distinctions and accolades over the years, Brandy and Natalie took home the Social Change: National Impact Award at the 2022 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards.
“What an amazing opportunity to be nominated and to have the chance to be recognized,” Natalie says.
Brandy adds, “It was definitely one of the best moments in our 11 years as entrepreneurs. It really propelled us [and] gave us extra confidence. We’ve had other opportunities already coming from it.”
Winning the award was also monumental for both women personally, too.
For Natalie, her family was excited. “This is the first time I’ve felt my parents be really proud. I saw my dad live texting to our relatives and that was a really big deal for me. Even if he doesn’t always say, ‘I’m proud of you,’ he shows it in his actions.”
Catching the event via live stream, Brandy’s father was overjoyed about their win. “He’s been such a big person in my life and the reason why I’m here,” she says. “He was so proud and he sent me all his voice messages that night and video message to us, and I just feel like having the opportunity for people you love and the people who support you to see you on that stage — I’m so grateful that he got to see that.”
The impact Be the Change Group has made under Brandy and Natalie’s leadership has been significant and they show no signs of stopping, but it’s clear that what also sets their organization apart is respect and a true friendship.
“For Natalie and I, all roads led to each other,” Brandy says. “Both of us had struggled in the sense that Natalie applied for med school a couple of times, I started a couple of companies. It was like we were just learning these things so we can meet each other to start this business.”