John Bird

Social Entrepreneur, Founder of The Big Issue

John Bird MBE is the founder of the Big Issue, probably the biggest social business in the world. His life’s extraordinary journey has included spells as a thief, prison inmate, artist and road sweeper.

John was born into poverty to a London-Irish family in the slums of Paddington, just after the Second World War. His family broke up when he was seven and he was brought up in care. Aged eighteen he had already experienced homelessness, committed crime and spent time in prison. He attended Chelsea School of Art, drifted in and out of trouble, spent time in Paris and got involved in revolutionary politics prior to reinventing himself as a businessman in the 1980s.

John launched The Big Issue in 1991 with the help of Gordon Roddick, in response to the growing number of rough sleepers on the streets of London. They believed that the key to solving the problem of homelessness lay in helping people to help themselves, and were therefore determined to offer a legitimate alternative to begging. In the course of 20 years the Big Issue has sold 50 million copies and given 15000 people the tools to help themselves. It has inspired hundreds of imitation enterprises across the world.

John was awarded his MBE in 1995 for service to the homeless.

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