The Big Issue promotes, supports and encourages entrepreneurship so that the micro economy can grow. The monthly magazine provides an employment opportunity to unemployed, homeless and marginalised people through their Vendor Training and Social Support programmes. They offer skills development, training, social support services and counselling to vendors and their families.

Being a successful vendor is a difficult endeavour, but with guidance and perseverance, individuals can make a steady income. We spoke to Derek Carelse, the managing director of The Big Issue, and found out more about the hurdles South Africa faces.

Inequality is at the core of South Africa’s problems.

“The fundamental threat is the level of inequality. Almost everything stems from there; poverty, homelessness, the distorted criminal justice system, the lack of access to capital for poor people, health issues, the tax base of the country, and the incapability of government. Due to economic inequality and social injustices, the system is completely broken.

Fighting and looking for a way to build everything up from scratch, with a new form of leadership, is intimidating. It takes a lot of guts and bravery because it’s currently so broken that we almost need a revolutionary approach.

The word I hate the most in life is ‘challenges’. It’s government-speak, and it’s become a euphemism for anything, and it loses its power in the process. The true challenge is that everything has to get done. It applies to society and particularly what’s happened to our crime which is a threat to personal freedom. If we’re going to approach everything by saying its a challenge when actually it’s an existential threat to civilisation, we’ll get nowhere. We need to see what these threats are – the destruction of society’s ability to share equitably, civilised standards, fair-minded morality and loving thy neighbour like yourself.

I approach every day as a battle, as a war, because so many things have to change: your attitude, ability for labour and capital to share the rewards of production. We need to share the benefits of collective efforts for the social good. We are where we are because of the current power relation of the existing order.”

Countries high on the World Happiness Index are those that are the most equally structured. That’s why we need to uplift those who are living in poverty, to pave the way to a happier community.

“We don’t directly engage in the process of change, but we hold the hands of marginalised, unemployed and homeless people and guide them to being self-sustainable. When you’re working with people at the bottom of the social pyramid, you’ve got to walk with them, step-by-step every day because the world they live in is entirely broken.  You have to fix the human being who’s now broken because of their environment and material conditions. Whatever problem pops up, you have to solve it with them, whether the problem is social, medical, psychological or economical. Whatever it is, you have to tap into your network to help them. The people at the bottom of the pyramid don’t come with an Old Boy’s Network. You’ve got to plug them in; that’s your job. You are the catalyst for them.

When someone has lost hope, I won’t give advice; I would help them instead.”

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