Business management

Black History Month: #TimeForChange with NALW CEO Christiana Melam

Christiana Melam founded the National Association of Link Workers in 2018 to promote and support the important work being done by members of the care community.

Link workers connect people who suffer from mental health problems, loneliness and isolation, or have complex social needs, to community groups and statutory services. And where these services don’t exist, link workers help to create them.

The ‘social prescribing link worker’ health model reduces strain on primary care facilities and the emergency services, and helps individuals get the help they need within their own communities. The NHS estimates that at least 900,000 people will be referred to social prescribing by 2023/24.

Describe your business

“The National Association of Link Workers is the only professional body for link workers in the UK. We currently have 1,000 members, and we actively promote the services that link workers offer. We also raise awareness of the social prescribing link worker model generally, and provide holistic support to its practitioners and their employers.”

Why was starting a business important to you?

“I wanted to support the NHS to help move to a new model of healthcare. In order for social prescribing workers to be successful in advocating for their patients and meeting their patients’ needs, they need to have a voice and be able to influence policy and practice. I also wanted to give patients and communities a voice. Most of the people link workers support have been let down by society, or just need some help and guidance.”

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve encountered and how did you overcome it?

“Being a Black woman in healthcare is challenging. Healthcare is not a space where, even as a non-clinical person, you can easily break in because it’s a heavily medically focused model. I’m not a doctor, although I have a background in public health, and that in itself is challenging. But then I’m Black and I’m a woman too. At the beginning it was very difficult to get my voice heard, but the more people tried to silence me, the more determined I became to speak up. Eventually, everyone said: She’s not going away. She’s delivering results. So, let’s pay attention.”

Black History Month is an opportunity for people’s voices to be heard and for people to be inspired by what others in their community are doing

Christiana Melam
Founder and CEO, National Association of Link Workers

Can you pinpoint a positive change you’ve made?

“In 2021 I was included in the Health Service Journal’s ‘50 most influential Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic People in Health’ power list. I think that sums up all the work I’ve been doing over the last five years. It was a very pleasant surprise to be included in that, because it recognised that what we’re doing is driving social change. We’re trying to empower patients and communities to take control of their health and well-being, and influence healthcare transformation.”

What is the importance of Black History Month for you?

“It’s a time to reflect on how far we’ve come. I think it symbolises what social prescribing is about, and what my organisation is about and what we’re trying to achieve. Sometimes social injustice can stereotype people and silence their voices. Black History Month is an opportunity for people’s voices to be heard and for people to be inspired by what others in their community are doing. It’s about understanding that you can overcome disadvantage.”

What’s your top tip for other entrepreneurs?

“You don’t have to wait around for permission to do whatever it is you believe in, and when you’re making a change, make sure you’re staying close to the people you serve. Always keep listening to them and understanding their concerns. Also, you need to be clear with yourself that you’re actually solving a problem. Having a passion for what you do is important, but you have to react to market needs as well.”

To celebrate Black History Month, we are hosting a special celebration of Black culture and heritage on Friday October 28. Find out more and grow your own network here:

Black History Month event

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