Almost 20 years ago I met some Americans who wanted to start a bottled water company where the profits went to water projects in Africa and Asia. The one thing that struck me was that they talked too much. They did not necessarily let the clarity of the idea swim to the surface, drowning it in explanation. In fact, when they were presenting to me outside a cafe in Marylebone, they wanted to give a two-hour presentation. I told them I truly wanted 10 minutes.
And after 10 minutes they had convinced me. Big Issue Invest got on with putting the money together to launch Belu water, which after an early rocky beginning has now blossomed. And it inspired a whole slew of other water companies, who also put their monies made into water projects so that the poorest did not have to suffer a lack of fresh aqua.
I was particularly drawn to water because of my own inability to get my hands on the stuff until I was a
seven-year-old in an orphanage. I loved water but there was none of it fresh in our slums. And people did not drink water, except in Ireland when we went there one summer.
So the water project flourished, and now you can get Belu water all over the place, in every meeting room in Parliament even. Indian restaurants now sell it, and as an avid consumer of Indian food I am pleased to encounter a little bit of evidence that Big Issue is a true increaser of our general wellbeing.
Some years ago FCB Inferno, a strangely titled but inspiring communications business, approached Big Issue to help start a coffee cart company. The idea was that baristas would be trained up to help
people who’d had a rough and challenging beginning. We found a roaster from South London and we brokered a kind of trio, with Big Issue providing much of the public awareness.
Out of this grew what is now called Change Please, a sizeable charity that is growing in importance. Recently the company bought the then-closed AMT Coffee company that has coffee shops in almost every main station. All of this has grown out of the magic that Big Issue grows around it as it makes opportunities for others to intervene in need and poverty.