The Big Issue’s Top 100 Changemakers 2019: Business
Welcome to The Big Issue's Changemakers Top 100: celebrating the thinkers, creators and agitators. Here's our rundown of individuals and organisations in the business sector that are striving for a better world in 2019
Christian Felber, founder of Economy for the Common Good
The idea that gross domestic product (GDP) isn’t the most important way to measure the economy isn’t a new one, but what’s the alternative? Enter Christian Felber. The 46-year-old Austrian economist is here to rock the financial world with his social movement.
GDP includes almost anything that a country produces, as long as it delivers a profit (including drugs and weapons). But Felber’s movement calls for a shift in values.
Founded in 2010, the Economy for the Common Good model moves away from uncontrolled growth and sky-high bonuses. Instead it encourages sustainability, democracy and empathy. The success of a business would therefore rely on things like employee satisfaction, wage equality and social responsibility.
More than 2,000 organisations, mostly in mainland Europe, have now pledged their support for the model. In 2019 we’ll see Felber strive to bring international partners into the movement.
At a studio in Godalming, a group of artists with disabilities or epilepsy create artworks. What makes non-profit organisation Arthouse Unlimited unique is the way the resulting designs, sketches and paintings are assembled into greetings cards, packaging for soap and chocolate bars, cushion covers, wall-hangings, mugs, key-rings and tea towels that are charming, stylish, vibrant and original.
Founder Sheraidah was a freelance artist working with adults with disabilities when she spotted the honesty and openness of the work they were creating. She was determined that they should feel included and accepted, and the idea for Arthouse Unlimited was born.
Now the works can be bought from The Big Issue Shop among other outlets. And art sessions with expert instructors offer the artists a sense of purpose alongside improvements in health and wellbeing, and challenge preconceptions about both art and people living with disabilities.
The simple act of creating has allowed Arthouse makers to form an identity that exists beyond their disability. The thread of social inclusion runs throughout the organisation, says Sheraidah – right down to their volunteer programme they’re determined to create opportunities for people on the margins.
There’s power in a union, and the East End Trades Guild use this power to fight for small businesses and their local community. The guild, launched in November 2012, is a co-operative of 300 small independent businesses and self-employed people in London. By speaking in unity, they are able to amplify the voices of small traders, promoting their importance to both the economy and character of local neighbourhoods. The alliance was among the leaders of the Guardians of the Arches campaign in 2018, which sought to prevent the sell-off of the UK’s railway arches and the subsequent unfair rent increases – instead advocating a solution that recognised these arches as places of community, business development and ingenuity.
Cambridge Big Issue vendor Doe has dreams of opening his own business brewing up in 2019.
The 34-year-old seller spent most of last year fundraising to start Cambridge Coffee, which would see him swap his red tabard for a barista’s uniform to serve up hot beverages from the back of a tricycle.
So far, devoted Jonjo has trademarked the name and purchased his trike after raising almost £7,000 on GoFundMe.
For the last few months the Cambridge vendor, who has sold the magazine in the city for more than four years, has focused on selling The Big Issue while securing a trader’s pitch licence and developing the coffee-brewing facilities.
But Jonjo is pouring all his efforts into making the business a success in 2019.
Financial education is having a bit of a moment. In recent years it has made its way into the national curriculum, while Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis teamed up with other campaigners to launch the first-ever financial education textbook last year.
But MyBnk’s approach is perhaps the most impressive. As well as heading to schools and youth organisations to put on classes, the charity shows kids how to make the numbers add up in their innovative Big Brother-style Money House project.Youngsters live in a real flat for five days in Greenwich or Newham in London to learn all the budgeting skills they need to live independently, bringing the day-to-day money considerations to life. It has been such a success that four London councils have made the course mandatory for any care-leavers applying for social housing to reduce the risk of them becoming homeless.
The numbers certainly add up – participants were three times less likely to slip into rent arrears and there was a 64 per cent drop in evictions for those at risk after completing the course. This spring, MyBnk will open a new flat in Westminster as well as expanding their work into prisons with soon-to-be released young offenders.
Referred through job centres, prisons, homeless shelters and mental health charities, Smart Works harnesses the power of clothes, looking good and feeling confident to help women transform their lives.
The brainchild of Juliet Hughes-Hallett, Smart Works takes clients who have been successful in securing an interview, but are suffering from a lack of confidence. So they receive a personalised styling session, including a complete outfit and accessories to take home. Later, they head for some one-to-one interview preparation and a coaching session with an experienced HR professional – ensuring they leave equipped with everything they need to wow recruiters.
One user was referred to Smart Works last July by her local Jobcentre after being unemployed for almost three years – despite applying for more than 100 jobs. Shortly after her visit, she began a job in a boutique tea shop.
Smart Works aims to dress 3,500 women this year across their seven centres based in London, Reading, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, and they’re planning another centre in Leeds.