Picture the scene, it is 10am on a chilly but sunny Friday morning in late July. The entire Adrenalin team is standing outside on Little Eveleigh Street in Redfern listening to someone playing Fleur de Lise on a piano while around 30 jolly members of the local homeless community are gathered to chat, eat hot sausage rolls and drink coffee.
Not our usual Friday morning. We were in fact at the Big Issue headquarters where the bi-weekly unveiling of the new magazine occurs. The Big Issue is a not-for-profit which is dedicated to supporting and creating job opportunities for homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged people.
“The Big Issue helps people help themselves”
One of the many arms of the organisation consists of the production of a magazine which vendors buy for $3.50 and sell on the streets for $7. We got involved in the Big Issue Challenge which enables corporate companies to split into small teams and join vendors out on the streets helping to sell as many magazines as possible with all proceeds going straight to the vendors themselves.
It was a lucky coincidence that the new edition of the magazine was being released on the same day as our challenge because it meant that when we arrived we were able to meet a lot more vendors of the magazine who came to collect the new issue.
We started the day with an introduction from Chris Campbell who heads up operations in NSW. Chris was very warm and welcoming and gave us a good introduction to what the Big Issue is. Although some of the team knew about the organisation, many of us had no idea about how the Big Issue operates and the various initiatives it runs.
What really hit home was when Chris explained that vendors are likely to make on average $35 on a good day selling the magazine when a beggar standing next to them can earn around $300. The vendors choose to work instead of beg as it brings them dignity and a sense of achievement. This was very humbling for us to learn.
After Chris had given us a great introduction he then handed over to Rachel who has been selling the Big Issue for the past year. She told us her unimaginable story of how she had started off in a 'normal' middle class family but been faced with various difficulties along the way that ultimately lead to her becoming homeless. She described her experience of first arriving at the Big Issue and how selling the magazine has turned her life around and changed it from being “one long day” to “lots of different days”. She had us captivated as she spoke so eloquently and honestly before us all.
Rachel welcomed our questions, and explained that
“it makes [her] day when someone smiles and says hello, even if they don’t buy a magazine”
Next we split into six small teams and brainstormed our sales tactics. We decorated canvases and came up with strategic selling methods. Then we were introduced to our vendors and took to the streets to help them sell as many magazines as we could.
We were surprised by just how hard it was to sell the magazines and we found it very interesting to experience the unexpected challenges faced by the vendors on a daily basis.
One of our team explained: “What I found hard was the constant effort of having to say ‘The Big Issue magazine, helps the disadvantaged and homeless’ to a new crowd every few seconds and people mostly just walking past.”
We all tried our own tactics, a few leveraging the latest craze of Pokémon to grab people’s attention, others going for a more traditional hawking approach.
After 90 minutes of pounding the streets we reconvened back at the offices (our vendors continued as normal with their day of selling on the streets). Back at HQ Chris held a de-briefing as the magazine sales were counted. The team shared their feelings on their experience. Here are some of their thoughts:
“It was eye-opening to listen to the vendor’s story, and then being in their shoes selling the magazine and feeling their challenges.”
“It’s a horrible feeling when people just ignore you or avoid you”
“Most of the time people are just too busy, have their own agenda.”
“I enjoyed the fact we got to be out and about and do something that benefits the community.”
“It was a great insight into what the vendors go through every day.”
“It was a humbling experience – I’m definitely going to make an effort to make eye contact and smile at vendors in the future”
“A simple pause, listening to someone, smiling and talking is all you need to make you human, being social and caring for others.”
“I wish I could share this experience with others so that they could experience what we experienced.”
As a company we wanted to give back to our local community and also give everyone the chance to be involved in some volunteering as part of our wider employee wellness programme. If you have been inspired by our experience you can get in touch with the Big Issue and sign your company up for the Big Issue Challenge – we highly recommend it!