Melanie Bryan OBE


Melanie Bryan OBE

Melanie Bryan, ceo of WhyNotChange, works with organizations and individuals to turn their passion and purpose into sustainable profit and a greater positive difference – from helping them to win over £150m of public sector contracts to saving a church hall from being demolished and turning it into a thriving community hub powered by social enterprise, life is never dull!

How do you make waves with WhyNotChange?

Everything I do is about supporting people and organisations to make a positive difference, and to do so myself. There is an African proverb which says ‘if you think you’re too small to make a positive difference then you’ve never been to bed with a mosquito’ – just imagine what our world could be if everyone made just one small positive difference on a regular basis.

With this in mind, I wanted WhyNotChange to demonstrate that there is a different way to do business. I wanted to show social enterprises and small businesses, that profit and positive impact are not mutually exclusive – doing good is genuinely good for business, and making a healthy profit can let you deliver a greater positive impact – it’s what you do with the profit you generate, and the way in which you make it that counts.

So, what does this mean in practice?

Firstly I decided to do something rather different – I have donated at least 51% of my time from day one to pro-bono work that delivers a positive impact. This rather turns on the head the traditional social enterprise model of reinvesting 51% of profit after it’s been made, and enabled me to make a personal positive impact from the very beginning. The roles I’ve taken on are varied. For example: serving as a Greater Manchester Poverty Commissioner, looking for practical ways to address poverty within my region; being a Big Venture Challenge Judge contributing to decisions on investment funding to help social enterprises scale up; as a Member of the Community, Voluntary and Local Service Honours Committee helping to ensure that the fantastic inspirational and impactful work being undertaken throughout the UK is recognised, as an UnLtd mentor supporting grass roots social entrepreneurs; and many more. This approach wouldn’t work for everyone, but it has been pivotal in helping me to understand issues through experts that I wouldn’t normally be connected to and it keeps me permanently on my toes!

For my remunerated work I try wherever possible to offer my expertise through funded or sponsored routes to ensure financial inclusion and a greater reach. For example, I work with ambitious small business and social enterprise leaders as part of the fully funded 10,000 Small Business Programme helping them to achieve their growth ambitions, have a positive impact within their communities, and create jobs; and I provide support to third sector infrastructure organisations through the Big Assist Programme. Where there is a gap and funded programmes aren’t available I try to develop collaborations to fill these, for example, my award winning partnership with Cheshire East Council to help small local organisations win public sector tenders.

One of my passions is bringing together different sectors to dispel misconceptions and learn from each other - so each year I design and deliver the award winning North West Women’s Enterprise Day attended by over 250 enterprising women. This ‘not for profit’ day is affordable for everyone thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and the wonderful talented women from within my network who donate their time and services to make it happen. Take a peek at to see why as a result of this day we’ve had businesses and social enterprises start, others grow to a whole new level, and women climb mountains – both metaphorically and actually!

Give us an example of a story that particularly impressed you, and was a turning point for you?

One day I got a phone call out of the blue from a Priest whose church hall was due to be demolished. He felt this wasn’t the right thing for his community, but as the hall was poorly used he was struggling to see a different way. Over a cuppa I was able to introduce him to the concept of social enterprise and provide a range of ideas that might inspire his community. Fast forward and the hall is not only still standing but is now a thriving community hub powered by social enterprise. A key learning point for me was that most people and organisations see everything in terms of money and so this is what they ask for. I hadn’t realised that my own way of thinking – asking for what is actually needed rather than the money to buy it – isn’t ‘normal. For example, this community team told me that they needed to find £22k in funding for a disabled accessible kitchen for their community cafe but were struggling to find it. One quick conversation by me with a local building company asking for the kitchen itself...and the rest is history!

If nothing was in the way, what would you like to overturn and how would you do this?

Whilst the Social Value Act intends to generate more social value from Public Sector contracts, and Lord Young’s recommendations seek to simplify the Public Sector procurement process to make it more accessible to small businesses and social enterprises, I’m not convinced that the expected results will be delivered. So with my magic wand I’d simplify the process, break down contracts into smaller lots, deliver greater social value, and provide the knowledge and support to small organisations to make sure they can win these contracts.

If you were to give three tips to a woman newcomer in the social enterprise world, what would you invite them to think about?

- Who will ‘buy’ what you have to offer? If nobody is willing to ‘pay’ for it then however wonderful your idea is, sadly it’s unlikely to be an enterprise and you may need to look at other options to take it forward.

- Follow your social enterprise vision, not the funding. Funding can be really useful, but only if it helps you deliver your strategy. Too often I see social enterprises that have somehow lost their way through changing what they do to fit available funding rather than staying true to their vision, strategy and values.

- Be generous with your knowledge and time, and be open to collaboration, including with your competitors! Some of my best and most exciting work has happened when I’ve collaborated with people who others perceived to be my competitors...

What question do you wish someone had asked you when you started WhyNotChange?

"Where does Melanie stop and WhyNotChange start - and does it matter?"

What's your future self telling you?

You’re doing just fine. Keep on listening to your instinct and you won’t go far wrong.

What's next for you?
Who knows? One thing I have learnt, which has been incredibly hard for me, is to let go and stop trying to control everything. By being open to new opportunities as they arise, life is always interesting, if a little scary. However, one thing that is definitely on my ‘to do’ list is to create a set of products to make my support more accessible.


Finally, could you share with us the names of women who inspire you and you would encourage us to know more about or rediscover?

Tessy Britton – A social designer and source of fantastic knowledge on the amazing work communities are doing around the world – and she gets to do lots of community based experiments that I’d love to try!

Maria Popova – constant source of eclectic interesting ‘things’...

Finally... most of my inspiration comes from the ‘(extra)ordinary’ people around me...

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