Big Issue lanches Womens’ Subscription Enterprise

| March 31, 2010

There are 110 000 homeless people in Australia every night. 46,000 of them are women, many of whom have children.

I began working with The Big Issue in 2008, initially leading the Marketing and Communications Team on the Homeless World Cup before becoming the Head of Corporate Affairs for the organisation.

One thing that became quite apparent early on for me was that while the Street Magazine Enterprise (whereby vendors sell The Big Issue magazine on the streets of Australia’s capital cities) showed remarkable outcomes for homeless and marginalised vendors, it predominantly worked well for men.

With women making up nearly 40% of Australia’s homeless population there certainly was a need to establish a viable and sustainable social enterprise that worked for them also.

The Big Issue has been operating in Australia since 1996 and has successfully worked in helping thousands of homeless and disadvantaged Australians to help themselves.

It was almost three years ago, under the direction of CEO Steven Persson, that the idea for the Women’s Subscriptions Enterprise came about. Since that time Steven has lead a team bringing this initiative to fruition.

Firstly we were fortunate to be funded by the Minister for Housing and Minister for the Status of Women, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, to conduct an extensive feasibility study reviewing what work opportunities best met the needs of homeless and disadvantaged women.

Both Steven and I have since worked with a team of highly skilled professionals to put together a business model for the enterprise, and finally we were successful in gaining the support of the Australian Government who last week granted us $1.2 million to launch the initiative.

But how will it work you ask? Well the answer is simple.

The Women’s Subscriptions Enterprise will initially employ 90 disadvantaged women and six professional staff through a model selling subscriptions to The Big Issue magazine.

Subscription sales will be achieved through professional telemarketing so there is no pressure on the women to sell and the program will be supported by The Big Issue’s existing governance, management, marketing and administration resources.

Disadvantaged women will be employed to work as Dispatch Assistants and collate, sort and insert the magazines every fortnight.

One thing we found through our research is that the largest single cause of homelessness in Australia is domestic and family violence, which overwhelmingly affects women and children.

The establishment of the Women’s Subscriptions Enterprise will allow these women to earn an income in a safe and secure environment. A large part of the program will also focus on training and pathway opportunities for the women; giving them ongoing employment options and long term financial independence.

Not only will the program work to help 90 disadvantaged women across Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide in phase 1 (until July 2011) but after that will be totally self-sustainable, through ongoing subscription sales. As subscriptions are sold, revenue is directed straight into the pockets of disadvantaged women, through provision of wages, training, mentoring and support.

I am personally honoured to be working on this program and while the statistics show that Australia has a long way to go in addressing the issue of womens' homelessness it is wonderful to be part of this ground breaking program that is tackling the issue and giving Australia’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable women hope for a brighter future.

As the focus of this initiative is to sell subscriptions to libraries, schools, public agencies and corporations, not so much to individuals (which is the primary market for our longstanding vendors) I am most interested to hear from anyone that would like to be involved in championing the sale of subscriptions through their networks.

For further information or to discuss ways you can help us I can be contacted at


Natalie Susman comes from a background that is both commercial and not-for-profit, holding a number of senior management roles within the not-for-profit sector. With a degree in Psychology, and post-graduate qualifications in Human Resource Management and Marketing, her areas of expertise include marketing and strategic communications, sponsorship, brand management, media management and PR, stakeholder relations, strategy development, project and event management.




One Comment

  1. DillanF

    April 7, 2010 at 5:28 am

    It is a better action taken if all will be coordinating in solving the problem of homelessness especially for the women and children. How could they even receive mail service if they do not have their own address? Banks and the postal service don’t shut down on Good Friday – it’s recognized as a Stock Market holiday, however it isn’t among the official holidays that is recognized by the government, or your average personal loan company or banks for that matter. The USPS will (perhaps – mail delivery sucks where I live) be delivering mail on Good Friday. The holidays the government recognizes are Christmas, Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Washington’s birthday (or President’s Day), Martin Luther King Day, and New Years’ Day – 10 in total. If it isn’t on that list, banks and the USPS are open for business.