Empowering homeless women to work their way out of poverty with The Big Issue subscription service
The Big Issue is a not-for-profit social enterprise that develops solutions to help homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged people positively change their lives.
You may already know their iconic magazine, which is sold on the streets by homeless, marginalised or disadvantaged people. The Big Issue was launched in Australia in 1996 – based on the UK’s successful The Big Issue street magazine. The profits from each copy sold go to the individual street vendor, providing them with employment, income and, ultimately, a path out of homelessness.
There are 105,000 homeless people in Australia, about half of whom are female. But did you know that only 15% of The Big Issue street vendors are women?
In 2009, a study by The Big Issue organisation revealed that women are reluctant to sell magazines on the streets. The Big Issue designed a special program to provide women with an alternative way out of extreme poverty – by working in subscription centres.
The call centre is powered by Salesforce and is fast and easy to use for people with little call centre experience. It’s a safe, supportive environment that is helping disadvantaged women get their lives back on track. Call centre employees receive a casual wage to sell subscriptions over the phone to business and corporate customers, and pack magazines ready for sending.
The Women’s Subscription Enterprise has been so successful that new distribution centres have opened in Melbourne and Adelaide.
“It’s a big responsibility and this makes the women feel important and valuable – which is exactly what they are,” says Emma O’Halloran, Head of Marketing at The Big Issue. “Working in a call centre can be a daunting prospect for disadvantaged women. That’s why it’s so great that Salesforce has worked closely with them every step of the way.”
According to O’Halloran, the personal involvement of Salesforce staff has been far more valuable than funding alone might have been. Women receive one-on-one mentoring during their shifts before placing calls to ‘warm contacts’ and offering them a free trial. If the contact doesn’t subscribe within a fortnight, a second call is made by a Salesforce Champion.
“It’s a real team effort,” says O’Halloran. “The women are absolutely loving it! It helps to have familiar faces from Salesforce who can help them gain confidence, as well as valuable skills. The program really is changing lives.”
Cheryl is one of more than 46,000 women living on the streets in Australia. She’s now working at the Melbourne subscription office and turning her life around.
She had previously been sleeping rough and using heroin, but now she’s reconnected with her children – even discovering she has three grandchildren. Her family is extremely proud of everything she’s achieved since starting work for The Big Issue subscriptions business.
“Doing the Women’s Subscription Enterprise is virtually selling the magazine and getting paid for it – but it’s also about the friendship within the group,” says Cheryl. “It’s like sitting down having a coffee with a couple of girlfriends!
“There are quite a few women, so we each get about one shift a fortnight. We’ve got a special little room that’s wholly and solely for Women’s Subscription – a women’s space. We all have different jobs addressing and packing the magazines, ready to send all over Australia and a few internationally.”
As of April 2015, 44% of homeless Australians are women and 39% live in severely overcrowded dwellings. Fifty-five percent of women who access specialist homeless services cite domestic and family violence as the primary reason for their situation.