Activism

The Big Issue Changemakers of 2024: Education, mentorship and business

These inspirational Changemakers are doing their bit to help the next generation and create a fairer UK

Greg McKenzie (right) with InsideOut participants Cristian and Lawrence

At a time when the wealth gap is widening and inequality seems unbridgeable, these Changemakers are finding inventive ways to bring opportunity to all.

Young Changemaker Kevin Osei, 25 – Bridging Barriers

Kevin Osei started the mentoring charity Bridging Barriers in 2020 to help young people aged 18-25 from black and minority ethnic backgrounds kick-start their careers in Newham, London. It’s fair to say he’s wasted no time in making an impact. He received the most Changemaker nominations on this list by far, with a stonking 190 votes from a dedicated fanbase of young people he’s helped. He told us he has bigger plans for 2024.  

What was your proudest moment in 2023?  

“This is a tough question! There were so many proud moments. If I had to pick one, I’d say being invited as a guest on national television [Good Morning Britain] and being watched by millions of people around the world. That was pretty cool!”  

What are you hoping to achieve in 2024?  

“I am hoping to have a much bigger impact than I did last year in the lives of the young people that I serve through my charity Bridging Barriers. This year, we plan to do that by providing young people with more employment opportunities. We are also looking to host more in-person events, helping young people to network with like-minded individuals and build their social capital.”  

Ethex

Led by CEO Lisa Ashford, Ethex is one of the leading organisations in the social investment sector, recognised for its advocacy for ethical investment. Over the past 10 years, it has raised £100 million from 20,000 investors to support 200 businesses, many of which would have been unable to raise the finance they need in any other way. Their nominator wrote: “All the businesses Ethex works with contribute to at least one of its priorities: fighting climate change, building resilient communities and creating a fairer society. Climate change is an existential threat to all of us. At a time when we’re seeing fractured communities and a growing distance between rich and poor, helping people to invest in businesses that aim to heal the damage done by how our economy and society is structured couldn’t be more relevant.” 

Find the rest of the Changemakers series on the links below and pick up the magazine from your local Big Issue vendor

Everything D&I Ltd / I Accelerator CIC

In modern Britain, talent is everywhere but opportunity is not, so Everything D&I aims to ensure that opportunities are accessible to all. The CIC, with ties with Big Issue Recruit, a specialist recruitment service helping people who face barriers to employment, launched five years ago out of frustration that the pathways to gaining work experience were not equitable. Their nominator wrote: “In the cost of living crisis it is even more evident that if you do not empower underrepresented groups and those from lower socioeconomic groups the outcomes will never change. Everything D&I opens doors to not only access work experience with leading organisations including Microsoft, Rolls-Royce and Ford, but also create job opportunities for undergraduates and 16- to 18-year-olds.” 

Joe Seddon – Zero Gravity

Image: Zero Gravity

Coming from a single-parent household, Seddon has first-hand experience of the challenges faced by students from low-opportunity backgrounds. After securing a place at the University of Oxford he set up Zero Gravity with £200 of his student loan. Since its launch, the platform has supported 8,000+ students getting into selective universities, including 800+ into Oxbridge. At just 26, Seddon has positioned himself as a role model within the tech industry, having been named in Forbes 30 Under 30 and honoured in King Charles’s Birthday Honours List. His nominator wrote: “Joe’s relentless pursuit of Zero Gravity’s mission is reshaping the social mobility landscape through technology, transforming the lives of thousands of students and creating a lasting legacy of opportunity.” 

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Peer Power Youth

Peer Power Youth works to change the lives of young people who have experienced adversity and trauma. It supports individual change by providing pastoral support, life skills, training and a listening ear, as well as system change by ensuring that young people with lived experience have a seat at the table in the commissioning and design of services that affect them. Some examples of services the charity has worked with are the NHS, Ministry of Justice, UK Trauma Council, Young Offenders Institutes, Secure Children’s Homes and many others. Peer Power is unique in that the charity believes in leading with empathy, and works towards building more empathy in services to improve outcomes for young people. The organisation also strongly believes in co-production with young people and practices what it preaches – in the charity itself, young people are a core part of all aspects including the branding, messaging and strategic objectives each year. 

Dan Ebanks – Match My Project

Public services are under enormous pressure as a result of rising demand and less funding and resources. Ebanks, founder of Match My Project knew he could use tech for good and created a digital platform matching business and community organisations across England. Although local organisations often have the most in-depth understanding of issues in their areas, the community sector has been undervalued for decades. They are often best placed to deliver the kind of low-level, localised interventions that keep people leading independent lives for as long as possible. These are the challenges Match My Project was designed to address. Since 2021, the platform has been used by 900 public, private and community organisations, but under Ebanks’ leadership is developing plans to roll out a national platform for Wales. 

The Inside Out Project

Nominated by Ncuti Gatwa, actor and star of Doctor Who

The Inside Out Project is the UK’s first clothing brand created, designed and hand-produced by young ex-offenders. Having first launched in 2022, their mission is to generate job prospects for young people leaving the justice system by creating opportunities in business through fashion and design and offering them training and mentoring. The project was founded by Greg McKenzie, a news correspondent and TV presenter after he learned that only 17% of people who get released from the prison system find work within the first year. Clothing created by the ex-offenders is sold online via their website, but the project has also hosted pop-up stores in major retail districts such as Westfield Stratford City. All of the money raised from clothing sales goes back into funding future projects and helping ex-offenders get the training they need to find employment.  

David Graham – Changing Ideas

David Graham, pictured in Mozambique with a rat that’s trained to detect landmines

A man of many trades, ‘philanthropist’ is the word David Graham’s nominator landed on. From being a qualified accountant to working across technology, consultancy and property (and not to mention holding a royal warrant as shoemaker to the Queen) he has devoted his life to a wide range of innovative organisations aimed at improving society. Graham founded Changing Ideas in 2007, supporting scalable ideas that address social injustice and human rights, and more recently in 2022 formed Law for Change with Stephen Kinsella and Charles Keidan, which supports legal action for public good. His nominator wrote: “So much that we ought to be able to rely on the state to provide is increasingly having to be taken up by individuals and civil society. We need creative and joined-up approaches of the type that David promotes. He does not know I am nominating him. He doesn’t normally seek the limelight.”

The Talent Tap

Today in the UK, you are still 60% more likely to be in a professional job if you were from a privileged background rather than a working-class background. By offering an ongoing programme to introduce students to relevant professions, The Talent Tap works with Big Issue Recruit to help enable them to secure placements and future employment. They provide work experience, networking opportunities and workplace knowledge with one goal: to unlock their full potential. Their nominator wrote: “This is a small team with a big mission. They have worked tirelessly over last year travelling from one end of the country to the other, inspiring and giving confidence to young people most marginalised by geography and socio-economic disadvantage to apply to their programme and access life-changing employment opportunities.”

Gareth Evans – Cash Perks

Gareth Evans

In today’s Britain, the challenges posed first by the pandemic and now the rising cost of living have emphasised the critical need for swift financial assistance to millions of households grappling with financial hardships. Evans is committed to tackling poverty, especially in the areas of financial exclusion and local welfare provision, and has become a respected voice and activist in the field. His latest initiative, Cash Perks allows charities, social landlords and councils to send funds by SMS to people in poverty allowing them to instantly withdraw cash from ATMs without bank accounts or debit cards. This innovative use of technology addresses a pressing social issue of getting hardship funding straight to those who need it most. Evans’s nominator wrote: “I’ve known Gareth for over 20 years, and since then, he has remained deeply committed to tackling poverty through his work, especially in the areas of financial exclusion and local welfare provision, becoming a respected voice and activist in the field.” 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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