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Campus Life Series: Expert Comment

Inspiring social enterprises

Lord Bird MBE, visits Cass Business School to inspire the next generation of social enterprises.

by Matthew Little (Communications Officer)

Lord Bird MBE, founder of the Big Issue, gave a passionate speech about social enterprises to around 80 unsuspecting students during a visit to Cass Business School.

The students were set a task of finding a solution to the problem that almost forced The Big Issue under after its launch in 1992 – where it was losing nearly £30,000 each month.

As part of the learning experience, the students then got to share their ideas and listen to the solution from the baron himself.
Lord Bird said: “Social enterprises in a sense are historical bridges between charities, which are rarely self-sustainable and businesses which aim to make a profit.

“We have to stop the situation where charities collapse as they try to become social businesses rather than charities. Businesses need to support these charities and that can be done with social entrepreneurs.

“These are the people who tell the charities, the schools and the hospitals to get on with their important work while they crunch the numbers and make sure there is enough money, enough time and enough resources. This creates an opportunity to offer a hand up rather than a hand out.”

These sentiments were shared by Cass student Elizabeth Broderick, MBA, who said:

“I am nine months into my time at Cass and I have really enjoyed the events, classes and opportunities to meet new people. I was born and raised in Boston, but have lived in London for 22 years, so I have had quite a lot of time to learn the city.

“I think the majority of companies are moving into a space where they see their corporate sociability as part of their business strategy. Organisations like Big Issue Invest have the funding to support people who can connect the dots between the money and social enterprise.

“There are entrepreneurial communications and legal people working with environmental businesses to help make the eco system collaborate rather than competitive. Supporting these intermediary organisations is pivotal to ensuring social enterprises continue.”

Lord Bird ended the event saying: “I come to universities looking to help young people – whether that be talking to them about my experiences or introducing them to someone I know. I want to hear good ideas and see people who are looking to make a difference.

“I believe that the role of us all is to be here for people who are less fortunate that us, and that highlights the social perspective of what businesses do.”

Lord Bird founded The Big Issue using money donated from Gordon Roddick, founder of The Body Shop in 1991. Only three months into its launch, The Big Issue almost went under losing almost £30,000 a month, despite selling three times the amount of magazines than planned. At the event, Lord Bird revealed that he turned the companies’ fortunes around by doubling content and rewriting a strategy that was not so reliant on advertisement.

The Big Issue today sells approximately 82,000 copies per week and has 2,000 vendors across the UK. Vendors are also assisted with opening a bank account, saving money and given pathways to healthcare and help with addictions.

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