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Big Issue Celebrates 20 Years


1 June 2016 at 9:19 am
Ellie Cooper
Steven Persson, CEO of long-standing social enterprise The Big Issue, believes one of the magazine’s greatest achievements is being “completely self-sustaining”, as it celebrates 20 years.

Ellie Cooper | 1 June 2016 at 9:19 am


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Big Issue Celebrates 20 Years
1 June 2016 at 9:19 am

Steven Persson, CEO of long-standing social enterprise The Big Issue, believes one of the magazine’s greatest achievements is being “completely self-sustaining”, as it celebrates 20 years.

Over two decades The Big Issue has empowered 6,500 homeless and disadvantaged Australians to earn $23 million through sales of the street magazine.

The Big Issue was first sold in Melbourne on 16 June 1996. The social enterprise has since spread nationally, with more than 550 vendors who buy copies for $3.50 and sell them for $7, keeping the difference.

Persson told Pro Bono Australia News the financial sustainability of the enterprise was key to its success.

“One of the key achievements is that we’ve been completely self-sustaining without government funding, we’re not donations driven – we’ve been completely self-sustaining in a very challenging market that is hard-copy publishing,” Persson said.

“We compete against the commercial world and we’ve done that for 20 years and assisted vendors by the sweat of their own brow.

“I think our success is really down to the sweat and the endeavour of our vendors, but also the whole of the community recognising this is an absolute unique proposition.

“We do it without the traditional supports that most organisations in the Not for Profit world receive, we do it in a sustainable way and we do it with great pride.”

Of the social enterprise space, Persson said it was still evolving and has “a long way to go”.

“I think there’s a real journey for this space. Philanthropy’s been around for thousands and thousands of years, commercial exercises and enterprises have been around for thousands and thousands of years. I think combining the two is still very young, and I think we’re still understanding what true social enterprises are,” he said.

“We suggest that true social enterprises are without government funding or support, which is a noble thing to do, there’s so many organisations that deliver fantastic work on behalf of the Australian community, and we’re so much richer for those organisations that are funded to deliver their work.

“We’re not donations driven. I think there’s a uniqueness about true social enterprises that can stand up in the market place.

“I think it’s grown, I think it’s still immature – the conversation – but there’s a bunch of really talented people, really interested people who will take society on a real journey of social enterprise.”

big issue 20th anniversary

The future plans for The Big Issue are to grow the magazine, as well as the organisation’s five other programs and social enterprises.

Persson said the other associated enterprises were also completely self-sustaining, and include The Big Issue vendors who speak at schools, reaching 15,000 students a year, a women’s subscription service, and Homes for Homes which addresses homelessness and housing affordability.

“We don’t look at quick fixes, we don’t know any quick fixes, we’re prepared to look at the long-term, sustainable solutions. And that’s what we’ll be doing for the next 20 years,” he said.

The Big Issue will mark the milestone with a release of a special anniversary edition of the magazine on Friday.


Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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