No One is Coming To Save You, How I became a Social Justice Leader – Activating Your Inner Change Agent


No One is Coming To Save You, How I became a Social Justice Leader - Activating Your Inner Change Agent

Christiana Melam, Chief Executive of the National Association of Link Workers (NALW), spoke at the virtual NHS International Women’s Day conference hosted by the NHS Confederation Health & Care Women Leaders Network and NHS Chief People Officer on the 8th March 2021. Christiana is passionate about the positive impact of social prescribing and the beneficial outcomes for individuals and communities. This article features her thoughts and the questions that were raised at the conference by audience members.

Social prescribing by its very nature is about empowerment and enablement. The main driver of the social prescribing link worker model is the acknowledgement that the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities are often dictated by a range of environmental and socio-economic factors. Social prescribing is all about holistic wellbeing and placing control of health with individuals, so they can save themselves.

No one is coming to save you! Hello hello, surprise surprise!

Christiana states that ‘in my experience, no one can actually save you, you have to save yourself’. She discussed the concept of social prescribing alongside health inequalities and social justice and how these 3 key concepts can transform the way health services are delivered.

One of the comments made by an audience member was ‘I used to think that someone or something would save me and find life difficult. It was only when I realised it was up to me to make changes in my life’. For Christiana, this comment relates to social injustice and inequalities prevalent in the health service and wider society.

Christiana was able to reflect on her own experience of facing social injustice and how she had to shorten her last name to make it sound less ‘foreign’. Her experience of being on the frontline link working and delivering public health services meant she was able to access disadvantaged and marginalised communities, and from the vantage point she was able to identify strategies that could empower these communities to improve their own health outcomes.

The problem with social injustice, according to Christiana, is that it stereotypes people into specific roles and by default, it silences their voice. They become invisible to the system and their contributions are not maximised as they should be. However, social prescribing link workers ensures that these people are able to challenge social injustice head-on.

The journey to being heard was not easy. Christiana recounted many instances of attending social prescribing conferences and events but having to listen to narratives which did not address what was happening in the link worker workforce, and how sad it would make her and colleagues feel. It made her realise very quickly that ‘no one is coming to save you’. Christiana spoke about the role of social prescribing link worker being to help eradicate social injustice and enable access to care, but this was often misrepresented or misunderstood. She had to work hard to make sure the voice and concerns of link workers were heard.

The problem with social injustice, according to Christiana, is that it stereotypes people into specific roles and by default, it silences their voice. They become invisible to the system and their contributions are not maximised as they should be. However, social prescribing link workers ensures that these people are able to challenge social injustice head-on.

We are the change that we seek, and we can’t keep waiting for anybody to come and save us.

Christiana shared with the audience how NALW came about, and how they now have a huge community of social prescribing link workers (SPLW) who are challenging social injustice around the country, and are social justice warriors. One of the key defining characteristics of SPLWs? According to Christiana it is passion, if you are passionate about a cause then not only are you able to challenge the status quo, but you also have a drive for change which no one can take away from you.

As one of the audience members asked ‘how can I use my agency to make change? How do we get excited and make an impact?’ Christiana shared her tips for effecting meaningful change:

• identify that something needs changing
• work towards breaking down barriers
• create facilitators for change
• stay passionate about your cause
• build a network of contacts, coaches, and mentors
• have a structure in place and roadmap for what you want to achieve
• be authentic and grounded
• have the courage and take action!
• review the impact of your action

Ideally, Christiana wants individuals to address social injustice wherever they see it, and always think about the changes required and whether these are needed at policy or societal level.

Is Social Prescribing a short term luxury ?

Absolutely not according to Christiana, she maintains that the role of SPLW is here to stay, and crucial if we as a society are to challenge social injustice, and reduce health inequalities. We need more social justice warriors to reverse injustice and make health easily accessible by all.

Christiana is passionate about the impact social injustice has overall on the entire health system, and how the narrative needs to change ‘from being responsive to ill health, to preventing it on the grounds of injustice or inequality’. A proactive approach is far better than a reactive one, and the role of SPLW is to help reduce inequalities.

Social prescribing will never be a short-term solution, states Christiana. Social prescribing is all about tackling the issues which the NHS cannot reach, the ground-level social and emotional wellbeing of people who are often overlooked or underserved.

“Why are you always so happy?”

According to Christiana, nothing makes her more happy than feeling she is making a difference and seeing the transformation SPLW brings to communities. There is a huge sense of fulfilment for SPLW because they are making change through actions.

How do you keep the passion alive and energy levels up to keep going through those hard times?

Christiana responds to this question by saying that focusing on what you need to do and WHY you need to do keeps her passionate about her role. Empowering communities is a sustainable way to achieve better overall health outcomes on a large scale. That is groundbreaking work, and the SPLW are leading the way in this innovative way of delivering care.

Fighting social injustice can be triggering and exhausting. Having clear and measurable goals and outcomes, and achieving them is a great morale boost when things get tough and you need some much needed validation. Christiana likes to focus on giving people opportunities, and giving them a voice. Social inequality and injustice can be challenged at all levels, in your workplace, in your community, and via your GP practice. Most importantly – persevere! If everyone challenges injustice and takes action then collectively we can work better to eradicate it.

It is also crucial to raise the profile of SPLW and the work they do. Christiana mentioned a case study on a SPLWs in Wirral that managed to increase the uptake of smear tests by identifying and removing barriers for women taking the smear test. This was a remarkable achievement and is indicative of the power of SPLW and their impact on care.

Inequality is something that is unfair, SPLW have been involved in the COVID vaccination programme where SPLW have enabled and supported people with disabilities have access to vaccinations and can attend. There is a movement of SPLW that are trying to challenge the ill of social injustice in society. The SPLW acts as an advocate and a social justice warrior.

Christiana is passionate about the impact social injustice has overall on the entire health system, and how the narrative needs to change ‘from being responsive to ill health, to preventing it on the grounds of injustice or inequality’.   A proactive approach is far better than a reactive one, and the role of SPLW is to help reduce inequalities.

We are the change that we seek, and we can’t keep waiting for anybody to come and save us.

Christiana shared with the audience how NALW came about, and how they now have a huge community of social prescribing link workers (SPLW) who are challenging social injustice around the country, and are social justice warriors. One of the key defining characteristics of SPLWs? According to Christiana it is passion, if you are passionate about a cause then not only are you able to challenge the status quo, but you also have a drive for change which no one can take away from you.

As one of the audience members asked ‘how can I use my agency to make change? How do we get excited and make an impact?’ Christiana shared her tips for effecting meaningful change:

  • Identify that something needs changing
  • Work towards breaking down barriers
  • Create facilitators for change
  • Stay passionate about your cause
  • Build a network of contacts, coaches, and mentors
  • Have a structure in place and roadmap for what you want to achieve
  • Be authentic and grounded
  • Have the courage and take action!
  • Review the impact of your action

Ideally, Christiana wants individuals to address social injustice wherever they see it, and always think about the changes required and whether these are needed at policy or societal level.

Is Social Prescribing a short term luxury ?

Absolutely not according to Christiana, she maintains that the role of SPLW is here to stay, and crucial if we as a society are to challenge social injustice, and reduce health inequalities. We need more social justice warriors to reverse injustice and make health easily accessible by all.

Christiana is passionate about the impact social injustice has overall on the entire health system, and how the narrative needs to change ‘from being responsive to ill health, to preventing it on the grounds of injustice or inequality’. A proactive approach is far better than a reactive one, and the role of SPLW is to help reduce inequalities.

Social prescribing will never be a short-term solution as it is part of delivering holistic care, states Christiana. Social prescribing is all about tackling the social issues which the NHS cannot reach, the ground-level social & emotional wellbeing of people who are often overlooked. These issues impact medical care and needs to be addressed.

“Why are you always so happy?”

According to Christiana, nothing makes her more happy than feeling she is making a difference and seeing the transformation SPLW brings to communities. There is a huge sense of fulfilment for SPLW because they are making change through actions.

How do you keep the passion alive and energy levels up to keep going through those hard times?

Christiana responds to this question by saying that focusing on what you need to do and WHY you need to do keeps her passionate about her role. Empowering communities is a sustainable way to achieve better overall health outcomes on a large scale. That is groundbreaking work, and the SPLW are leading the way in this innovative way of delivering care.

Fighting social injustice can be triggering and exhausting. Having clear and measurable goals and outcomes, and achieving them is a great morale boost when things get tough and you need some much needed validation. Christiana likes to focus on giving people opportunities, and giving them a voice. Social inequality and injustice can be challenged at all levels, in your workplace, in your community, and via your GP practice. Most importantly – persevere! If everyone challenges injustice and takes action then collectively we can work better to eradicate it.

It is also crucial to raise the profile of SPLW and the work they do. Christiana mentioned a case study on a SPLWs in Wirral that managed to increase the uptake of smear tests by identifying and removing barriers for women taking the smear test. This was a remarkable achievement and is indicative of the power of SPLW and their impact on care.

Inequality is something that is unfair, SPLW have been involved in the COVID vaccination programme where SPLW have enabled and supported people with disabilities have access to vaccinations and can attend. There is a movement of SPLW that are trying to challenge the ill of social injustice in society. The SPLW acts as an advocate and a social justice warrior.

Diversity Fatigue

Christiana touches on the concept of diversity fatigue and how there seems to be some apathy and fatigue around discussions about diversity and inclusion.  As long as people have access to SPLW and can be heard then we can continue to be inclusive and diverse.   As one audience member stated – ‘I don’t just want a seat at the table I want a voice at the table. Diversity of thoughts, views and opinions’.

According to Christiana, real change will come when we have community engagement and activation.   Communities need to have the opportunity to be actively involved in a meaningful way, this includes inviting them to discussions that relate to them, and funding them properly.  Poverty is one of the main facilitators of social injustice and needs to be dismantled. 

Christiana promotes a personalised care approach, and that’s what social prescribing link workers does, they centre the person in the discussion about their care and make them feel seen and heard.   People should not just feel like they are the subject of an intervention, they should be leading and channeling the intervention if we want the best possible outcomes.

Covid has shown much more community spirit and how much more united we are.   Engaging people and supporting them to give back means communities can be brought together to collectively challenge inequality, according to Christiana. 

How are you going to activate your inner change agent and be the change that you seek?

Take ownership, take action and be a leader, states Christiana.  The role of a leader is to move with the vision and people will join you.  You just need to have the vision, and to take action to realise your vision.

Christiana is a firm believer that your work speaks for itself.  She stresses, your work and what you are able to achieve, the evidence and impact you’re making, will win people slowly.   This was a powerful statement and call to action.

We need to value diversity in all its forms, value it and from there work with the local community.

Christiana spoke about how important it is for people to embrace their uniqueness, and not listening to negative comments.  Early on she was often described as having ‘too much’ energy, but as her profile and success grew the same people stated they ‘loved her energy’.  Her message is one of making sure you are grounded, you celebrate your diversity, and are not defined by other people’s perceptions.  

One audience member stated ‘I’ve started to think that my role is more than just about engaging services users to have a say, and its more about working with decision makers to spend the time to listen’.  For Christiana, this is key.  Changing narratives at all levels is possible and should be on the agenda for anyone fighting for social change.   She encouraged attendees to grow their own power, attend meetings and events, share thoughts with others, and use social media platforms to spread awareness.

Christiana spoke about how social change is about making sure recipients become active participants.  There is an ever-increasing evidence base for the success of social prescribing and its impact on reducing social inequality.  More and more NHS and statutory bodies are embracing social prescribing and committing resources to it, that is why Christiana believes that those who are passionate about social change should join the social prescribing movement. 

Not only will they be able to champion social causes, but they will be able to channel their energy and talent into achieving better health outcomes for others.

There is an ever-increasing evidence base for the success of social prescribing and its impact on reducing social inequality.  More and more NHS and statutory bodies are embracing social prescribing and committing resources to it, that is why Christiana believes that those who are passionate about social change should join the social prescribing movement. 

Not only will they be able to champion social causes, but they will be able to channel their energy and talent into achieving better health outcomes for others.

Have comments? Share your thoughts and connect with her on twitter @christy_melam @nalwuk

Related Articles

How Social Prescribing Link Workers are reducing social inequalities in the response to Covid-19

The NALW showcases the role of SPLW and its importance in reducing social inequality, facilitating access to care, and reducing pressure on NHS services. SPLWs are essential for any COVID-19 recovery plan, particularly as Covid has massively affected marginalised communities. If social inequalities are to be redressed then more SPLWs need to be trained, recruited, and utilised in the fight against inequality. SPLWs provide social, emotional, and practical solutions which ensure that social inequality is minimised.

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