Bilen Mesfin Packwood, the Founder and CEO of Change Consulting, is dedicated to advancing racial justice and social change through strategic communications. Established in 2009, Change Consulting has emerged as a vital force in supporting change makers to amplify their voices and drive transformative action.
Bilen’s path to entrepreneurship was an unexpected one. She transitioned from an early career in journalism to advocacy-driven work and ultimately built a team of 13 dedicated communications experts working toward the same goals. With a focus on dismantling systems that harm communities of color, Change Consulting’s work extends far beyond traditional communication strategies. They aim to build a range of complementary services, fostering learning opportunities and innovation to drive lasting impact in the fight for racial justice and equality. Bilen’s dedication to this mission and her leadership continue to shape a more just world.
We asked Bilen about the most meaningful impacts Change Consulting has had thus far, if she always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, and what’s next for her and her company.
Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding. How and why did you start working on Change Consulting?
A: Change Consulting was born out of a desire to help racial justice changemakers tell stories about their work and their vision to create a more just and joyful world. Since its inception in 2009, this work has been deeply personal. As a Black immigrant woman, I learned a long time ago that a lot of the issues I experienced growing up—racism, exclusion, and poverty—were part of a systemic problem facing many Black, immigrant, and communities of color. After being politicized later in life, I learned that it is necessary to change systems in order to change material conditions and dedicated my life’s work to offering strategic communications expertise to racial justice leaders. Fifteen years later, Change Consulting has grown into a team of 13 vision-driven communications experts who are committed to helping the changemakers advance some of the most important issues of our time.
Q: What problem does Change Consulting solve?
A: Change Consulting is all about partnering with social and racial justice leaders who are working on some of the most important issues of our time and providing the communications support they need to make change possible. Our clients bring the vision, mission, and people-power, and we bring the experience and expertise in racial justice communications and knowledge of communications best practices.
We primarily focus on using communications as a tool to shift systems that harm Black communities and communities of color. We are committed to racial justice and supporting the leaders and changemakers at nonprofits, foundations, and mission-driven entities who are addressing this issue in a myriad of ways. Our theory of change is to build the continuum of services changemakers need around communications—both the strategy and hands-on implementation—and providing learning opportunities to grow the sector.
Q: What are some of the most meaningful impacts Change Consulting has had so far?
A: Change Consulting has been involved with a large variety of organizations and projects, from local to national. Our communications efforts have helped secure more money for racial justice groups, raised awareness about issues facing Black communities and communities of color, got progressive leaders elected, and won new policies and changes within systems. For example, we helped develop and launch the Deliver Birth Justice campaign in five Bay Area Counties as well as the California Black Freedom Fund, helping raise more than $60 million toward Black power building in California. We joined Stop AAPI Hate as a California-based partner to help the coalition pass the No Place for Hate package, three bills focused on addressing street harassment as a public health issue. Governor Gavin Newsom signed two of the three bills into law. We also have been deeply involved in the criminal justice reform movement in California, and currently are working on a narrative change effort focused on youth justice.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
A: Being an entrepreneur was actually never on my vision board. I sometimes refer to myself as an accidental entrepreneur. I studied journalism and spent my early career focused on telling stories that needed to be told. I then realized I was more of an advocate than a journalist and crossed over into communications. I spent seven years as a solo consultant before deciding to build a team. In 2015, I hired my first full-time employee, and it just kept unfolding from there.
Q: What resources or people have contributed the most to your successes?
A: I am really grateful to my incredible, talented, and big-hearted team for their commitment to excellence with heart, our amazing clients for daring to believe that justice and equity are possible for all, and the friends and family who are traveling with me on this journey, especially my husband, Damon Packwood, and my daughter, Elyana.
Q: How have you grown as a leader since starting Change Consulting? What experiences have contributed to this growth?
A: I have learned so much about what it means to lead people since starting to hire. I am really proud of the fact that folks who come to work here tend to stay for a while. I absolutely believe that the only thing we can count on in life is change, but it means a lot to me that my company can be part of people’s lives over a long period of time. I have learned that leadership is not about me so much as it is about building a container and the environment where people can grow, learn, and flourish. It is about service and peoplemade. My goal is to make every day a little less about me and more about my team and the work we’re doing.
Q: Have you discovered any underappreciated leadership traits or misconceptions around leadership?
A: I tend to be more of an introvert, and I like to listen more than talk. So for that reason, I pretty much counted myself out of leadership positions for a long time. But after reading “Born to Build,” one of my favorite books on entrepreneurship, I realized my personality could actually be a strength and not a weakness.
Q: What would you tell your younger self if you were to start your entrepreneurial journey all over again?
A: It will be harder than you expect and take longer than you anticipate. Focus on enjoying the journey and not the outcome. Entrepreneurship requires daily discipline; stay consistent and show up for your responsibilities every day. You will make mistakes, and you will face challenges and obstacles—that is a given. Wake up the next day and start again. And try to always celebrate your wins. Find time to rest, care for yourself, and invest in yourself.
Q: What’s next for you and Change Consulting?
A: We are going to continue to get better as a company that cares for its people. We will also be exploring geographic expansion to the South and service-line expansion to add creative services to our offerings.