The Big Issue : Edition 513
20 YEARS OF THE BIG ISSUE 3 – 16 JUNE 2016 57 ENGAGING YOUNG PEOPLE IN SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES IS NOT ALWAYS EASY, BUT THE BIG ISSUE HAS MANAGED TO DEVELOP TWO PROGRAMS THAT HAVE BROUGHT THEM ON BOARD. IT’S STILL NOT ALWAYS EASY, BUT IT DOES WORK. ANYONE WHO’S HAD anything to do with teenagers will surely know one thing: it is virtually impossible to get them to sit still and listen to you. But multiple times throughout the week, in an office in a basement, hundreds of school students sit down, shut up and pay attention. They’re not listening to their teachers, oh no. Nor to anyone who might be deemed an authority figure. They’re listening to a marginalised person. They sit engrossed as someone who has experienced homelessness or disadvantage recounts the tale of their life. They listen; really listen. Why? Because this is authentic. Not an “expert” but somebody with firsthand experience of disadvantage telling their own story, in all the beautiful and not- so-beautiful detail. The students ask questions (in true teenagerly fashion, they’re not always very appropriate), and leave with a copy of the magazine, supporting materials and plenty to talk about later, both at home or school. The speakers leave with payment for their time, and the self-confidence that comes from having people listen with respect to what you have to say. The Big Issue Classroom program has been running since 2009, educating primary and secondary students about what life can really be like out there. Held both in Melbourne and Sydney and also made accessible through “eClassrooms”, approximately 80,000 students have participated in the program since its inception. These young people are not only likely to buy a magazine in the future, but they will, perhaps, also be some of those who come up with new and sustainable social enterprises. The Big Idea is a program that The Young and the Selfless also involves young people, although these kids have mostly passed the awkwardness of adolescence and made their way into university. The program is more hands-on, encouraging students to develop a concept and business plan for something that just might become the next Big Issue. Through a combination of lectures, workshops and webinars with people willing to share their expertise in industry and the social sector, the students learn about Australian social enterprises. Ultimately, it is a competition for the best social idea and business plan. Since it began in 2012, the ideas that have burst from the students’ brains have always been interesting, such as 2014’s winner ‘The Shelter Project’ – a plan from CQUniversity for unique temporary housing shelters for disaster victims, made by reusing industrial pallets. Disadvantaged Australians would be employed in the construction stages of the project. One of the finalists from that team ended up working as an intern for The Big Issue Classroom, and produced a new workshop that was just officially launched. In time, ideas like these may even become the next big thing. To find out more about the Classroom program, go to thebigissue.org.au. To see how you can get involved in The Big Idea, visit thebigidea.org.au. FORMER VENDOR AND CLASSROOM CONTRIBUTOR ANDREW WITH THE BIG ISSUE CLASSROOM’S COORDINATOR DANYA STERLING.