The Big Issue, thinking inside the box

This is the story of an social enterprise founded by a former homeless to help homeless people. This is the story of a hand up, not a handout.

The Big Issue is a magazine written by professional journalist and then sold on the streets of London, and other places of the UK, by homeless people. The sellers buy it from the Big Issue for £1.25 and then sell them for £2.50, the difference gained is for them. For 23 years The Big Issue has worked like this to help people moving out from homelessness. Now, they also help people through their way to move on and through investing in other social enterprises.

In last week issue (October 12-18, 2015 No. 1175), John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, wrote about “how do we provide a hand up and not a handout”. His answer to the question is quite interesting and clear: Think inside the box.
“If I am praised, at times for “thinking outside the box”, and many entrepreneurs are praised this way, this would suggest that it’s because the box is not working. I want to work inside the box, near the box, because all of the outside-of-the-box thinkers don’t add up to mass solutions.” [i]

To explain more about this enterprise, let me tell you my own story with The Big Issue. I heard about it and since then I was eager to meet any seller on the streets to buy one. It was a Wednesday afternoon and I was kind of lost in my first visit to Fritzovia, London. And then I heard: “The Big Issue! The Big Issue!” In the instant I stopped and bought it. The reality is that I only had £2.30 in my pocket. So I thought it was all lost. However the wonderful seller said to me there was no problem and gave it to me for that price. I had my first issue and with a discount!

Then, besides giving me the discount, she smiled and said to me “Thank you!”

I regret not staying to have a small chat with the seller. However, I understood in my way home how this is working to make the box better. It is not only homeless people working and receiving an income to advance into a healthier and more human lifestyle. It is not only investing on an outcasted group. It is about innovating our society through self-help and mutual help. People are getting close to this marginal homeless people, speaking with them, understanding them. People are thinking on what to do (better) to have a better society. And the best thing is there is always a way.

So, yes. That is exactly thinking inside the box. And we need more people working and living inside the box. Quoting John Bird again: “Watersheds; we need a few more.” [ii]

Read you on the next one.


[i] BIRD, J. “How do we provide a hand up and not a handout? Think inside the box”, read at “The Big Issue”, October 12-18, 2015, No. 1175, p.13

[ii] Ibídem.

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