Entrepreneur Kelly Evans has made it her life’s work to make small changes that will have a big effect on the world. After working in the public sector and seeing how many people from all different walks of life want to make positive changes, she started Social Change UK to give them the building blocks they need.
Kelly spent six months in upstate New York in 1998 documenting the lives of children who had been sent to a summer weight-loss camp for the BBC and became determined to find out the underlying issues that shape people’s lives.
“It was what’s known as a ‘fat camp’,” said Kelly. “I found that these kids had really bad emotional problems and issues at home – they weren’t addressing any of that. So the children would come for the summer, lose some weight and then they would be back again the next summer.
“It was a big eye-opener for me and it made me think about the issues in a more complex way.
“It was a really interesting part of my life that helped shape who I am today. It’s why I set up this business and the reason for the journey I took after that. I became so passionate and engrossed in how you tackle these issues.”
For many years, Kelly worked in the public sector, from the NHS to government, but with the change in government in 2010 and the subsequent cuts, many civil servants, including Kelly, lost their jobs through redundancy.
“I had always wanted to run my own business. I was quite lucky and I worked pretty hard to work my way up in the public sector and in government.
“At that point, I needed to decide if I wanted to go out and look for another job in an environment that was really tough, especially in the field that I worked in, or if I attempted to start my own business – the kind of business that I think is really lacking in this area. So I thought that I would give it a go.”
Keen to make a real difference, both to people’s lives or the impact that people and businesses have on the world, Kelly created Social Change UK at the age of 30 – a business that she envisioned would change the world one step at a time.
In just five short years, Social Change UK has already made a name for itself and is responsible for a number of national and international campaigns like Change for Life, Smokefree and has even advised the government on climate change.
A change for the better
To some, it may seem like an idealistic approach, but Kelly strongly believes that every business needs to change at the same rate as the world around them and not be held back by outdated traditions and processes.
In an attempt to help companies in Lincolnshire understand that they can play a vital role in helping communities, climate change and the environment, she organised the Secrets of Sustainable Business conference last October to show how the smallest change could have a huge impact – and it could even mean the survival of a business in the years to come.
“Businesses won’t survive long term because we, as people, really demand more from the businesses and brands that we work with.
“We want to know that they aren’t just here to make profit. We know that making money and profit makes the world go round, but actually we are starting to choose businesses and organisations that do something more than just what they initially set out to do.
“As consumers start voting with their feet, businesses need to stand up and think about their wider purpose as an organisation. We can see that in the statistics and where the money is flowing at the moment. It is more towards companies and brands that do make a difference or do at least contribute towards a better society.”
It is a big challenge taking on the world of business and not just becoming a part of it, but Kelly is also trying to influence and change other companies’ ideas and structures in a bid to help them grow. She has found that many are very set in their ways.
“Still so many people don’t get it or understand why we should be doing this. Because we have been in a recession, a lot of the emphasis for business is quite rightly around this push for making sure that their business survives. It’s very much about price and profit and keeping people employed.
“One of the biggest challenges has been trying to persuade businesses that this makes business sense because actually purpose equals profit and we need to think like that.
“There are some businesses that are really behind the times, it’s a bit controversial but if you are still doing business in the old way, then don’t expect to be here in five to 20 years time.”
Expanding on her company, Kelly has embarked on a new project. She is looking to help both businesses and consumers understand the nutritional aspects of what they are eating and serving with a new app called MenuLab.
“When we eat out we are largely unaware of what is actually in our food. When we spoke to businesses we discovered that many didn’t know how to understand the nutritional make-up of their food and many were not aware of what allergens are in food they serve.
“We are planning to develop a consumer-facing app, which will help people to decide which restaurants, cafes and hotels to choose when dining out – very important for someone with a life-threatening allergy or simply on a diet and wishing to watch what they eat.”
Making a stand
Kelly’s dream of building a successful company has already proved fruitful and it’s getting stronger every year. Over the last five years, Social Change UK has expanded by an average of one new employee a year and in her fifth year she saw a 64% increase in business.
Despite the constant growth, there have always been obstacles on Kelly’s career path to be a successful business woman, and although there is support for women in the world of business, she is conflicted as to how she feels about the segregation.
“When I first started out I was told to go to the women’s this and that. I don’t go to any of them anymore. It’s not because I don’t think that they are doing wonderful things – I actually think that if we are going to progress and move forward, then we need to not segregate ourselves and have our own women’s this and women’s that. It just should be business.
“I thought, ‘I don’t think that we’re making progress while we’re doing this.’ So I decided to make a conscious decision, that not many people are aware of, to take myself out of that and not to be a part of it.”
Business may still be a very male dominated world, but Kelly is determined to be one of the best in it. “I think we need to be in those forums and to be in those groups. If you’re a female leader, or are trying to lead, then you should at least be in the mix with men.
“Whilst we keep doing our own little clubs, it’s not going to change anything.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 62 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.