Daily Diaries The MBA Diary

Helping the homeless


I was at the center Jimbocho, walking back to school after having lunch at Bagel & Bagel. Before I reached the pedestrian crossing, I passed by a man selling The Big Issue. I stopped for a while, went a few steps back and told him that I wanted one copy.


I handed him coins and he handed me the magazine.

“Arigatou gozaimasu!”

I thanked him and walked away. As I reached the pedestrian crossing, I looked back and saw him storing the money inside a container.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the school held a week long class that made us reflect about a lot of things in life, beyond studies and career and one of the sessions covered discussed the unemployment, homelessness and poverty to make us aware of the implications of business decisions to other people’s lives. We were reminded that some people who are in such conditions may not necessarily make bad decisions in life, but shit happens.

I thought of the time when I walked near the major stations in Tokyo late at night, many years ago. I was so shocked to see people setting up cardboard homes and sleeping inside them, wondering why there still so many homeless people in such a seemingly perfect city. Well, the cardboard houses looked orderly, so there’s still some essence of Tokyo there, I suppose.

So. The guest speaker at the session was a woman from The Big Issue, a magazine publisher. The Big Issue isn’t your ordinary magazine, it’s a social business built to help the homeless — the content is professionally written and edited, but the magazine is sold by the homeless. How it work is, the homeless registers themselves with The Big Issue and The Big Issue then gives them some copies of the magazine to sell. Once they’ve earned some money from the initial sale, they can use their earnings to purchase the next issue, sell it and earn close to 50% commission on the sale. They can continue doing this until they don’t need to.

“A hand up, not hand out.”

It reminded me of the saying, “Give a man a fish, he will be full for a day; teach him how to fish, he’ll be full for a lifetime”.

The average Japanese becomes homeless after a crisis — unemployment, injuries etc. If they lose their home, getting another job, the thing that they need to do in order to survive, becomes impossible, because to have a job they have to have a proper address. The Big Issue helps them deal with this by letting them work by selling the magazines, until they’ve saved enough money to afford to stay somewhere with an address. Instead of receiving handouts, they get the chance to be learn some skills and be financially independent — since its commencement, hundred of the homeless graduated from the program and now have stable jobs and their own place to stay.

They shared a clip of these men selling them magazines on the street. Interviewed some who shared their positive experience. I’m not entirely optimistic, but seems like it works for some.

Knowing that someone puts an effort to change his life makes me feel good, I can’t help but to root for him. That’s why I bought The Big Issue with Leo DiCaprio on the cover, in the language I can barely read.

It makes me wonder whether this model could work in Malaysia.

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