John Bird: When you buy, leave a trail of good behind you

Social enterprise is about doing good business – commerce where every pound spent improves someone's life

I came to Brighton to speak at the Spark Social Enterprise innovation conference, a social enterprise beano. The enthusiasm amongst devotees of business with a social purpose is intoxicating. But step outside its narrow circle and you have people looking at you when you mention social enterprise bemused, as if it was an untried novelty.

Brighton is Gordon and Anita Roddick to me. It’s the peppermint foot lotion, marmalade shampoo, carrot body butter revolution to me. It’s their little shop called The Body Shop next door to an undertaker’s – who were understandably miffed at their new neighbour’s name.

Anita and Gordon Roddick powered the social trading movement

And how the Roddicks supported social business, like The Big Issue, with Gordon actually coming up with the concept of a London street paper.

Picture framing for disabled people? Down in Bognor a social business that employs the disabled to make picture frames seemed to be the quintessential thing I am aiming at: to get businesses going and supported where that thing you were going to buy you buy from a business with a social echo.

The day before I was in the House of Lords for the swearing in of the new parliament after the almost regime-changing election. There was May and Corbyn and the Cabinet and Opposition crammed together.

Unfortunately they did not turn to each other and say “probably similar to 1940 we are in a terrible political and geographical pickle, so why not find a way of putting REPAIR UK, or some such term, foremost above sectional interests?”

Of course even though they were scrunched together physically for the parliamentary ceremony they were not going to embrace and create a unity.

And it would be foolish to even suggest that political enemies could ever do such a thing.

Making pictures frames with a social echo – you get what you want while giving somebody in need support

But I sat and looked over and wished there was a dropping of political postures over poverty, with about 70 per cent of both houses’ time spent on it.

But this is not going to happpen fast, and is liquidation of beliefs into a giant ‘smoothie’ of agreement a good thing?

No, but you could get some traction over Prevention. And The Big Issue and our campaign in parliament got all the political leaders to agree post-election to find ways of putting Prevention at the very centre of their thinking.

How for instance can we stop the £19bn bill for Type 2 diabetes occurring when it is largely lifestyle – sugar and exercise issues – that cause it?

How can we support parents to support their children into full lives and not being defeated by consumerism and gadgetry?

How can we end the 35 per cent of children who fail at school and are then condemned to an eternity of poor jobs and poor living?

How can we stop government from exacerbating poverty rather than exiting people out of it?


Our vendors buy every copy of the magazine from us for £1.25 and sell it on to you for £2.50. Which is why we ask you to ALWAYS take your copy of the magazine. We believe in trade not aid.

When are we going to convert social security into social opportunity, a trampoline and springboard to an improving life?

Making pictures frames with a social echo – you get what you want while giving somebody in need support – is as I said quintessentially what my work is about.

Create a trail of good behind you.

Anita alas is not with us any more but the work of social echoing has only just begun. The thing she kickstarted is gathering momentum as more and more people want to buy with a social echo.

As usual Brighton was full of sun and fun, but also the wretched who in droves seem to be returning to the streets. There are big issues around dismantling poverty. But we need to fight to make them small.

Find out more about picture framing with a social echo at