Shaper: John Bird

One of the limitations of poverty is that it sometimes throws up prejudice.

It wasn’t a particularly auspicious beginning and looking back it’s no great surprise I went off the rails, became a drinker and drug user and got into crime and anti-social behaviour.

Life changed when I was hiding from the police in Paris of all places. I left after six months and ever since then I have been anti-racist. I have been anti-all kinds of phobias that people have.

I lived in Sheffield and discovered a totally new class of people. They were industrial workers and they were incredible – great solidarity, looking out for each other.

I trained myself as a printer and over the next ten years I became a highly successful small printer publisher. I became almost obsessed with business and the social impact of business.

In 1987 I saw a big nosed Scotsman on television that I used to know twenty years before when I was on the run from the police in Edinburgh. He was Gordon Roddick and his wife was Anita Roddick, founders of The Bodyshop. I re-met him and became the co-founder of The Big Issue.

Whenever I had honest ways of making money, I much preferred it to stealing and begging, so I modelled the whole thing on my life.

Virtually every member of the public became a social worker, became a psychologist and became a listener. I stand in wonder and watch Big Issue vendors encountering the public.

Everyone in sales sometimes has to pretend they’re happier and more fulfilled than they really are when they’re trying to sell you a television set, because if they don’t you won’t buy it.

Prevention is the biggest cure you can ever have, so I want to make prevention. I want an intellectual revolution around how we encounter poverty and how we encounter illness. I want us all to be healthy and I was us all to think positively about the world.

John Bird

John Bird is the founder and editor of the Big Issue magazine.  A man with a fascinating story who has made a successful enterprise against all the odds.

He was born into poverty, brought up in care, and has lived through a lot. His life’s journey has included spells as a thief, prison inmate, artist and poet. Now an established iconoclast, activist and publisher, John Bird is the force behind The Big Issue, the world’s most successful street magazine. He is an inspirational business leader with an outstanding record of using business as a tool for social change.

At a time when Corporate Social Responsibility is preoccupying business leaders and consumers alike, John Bird offers an authoritative, fresh approach, and some original perspectives on the interaction of business and society. His diverse experience, combined with his exuberant personality, erudition and often trenchant views make him a compelling and entertaining speaker.

Bird on Bird
“I speak clearly and powerfully and my message is simple: It’s about motivation, leadership, drive, learning from your mistakes, and turning rejection into something positive. I have been homeless, an offender, and an addict. Yet I’ve achieved more than many who started life with more advantages than me. I am now ready to help other people to realize their goals.”

Transcript of the Show