John Bird, co-founder of The Big Issue, urged businesses to get behind our youth, at this year's Bristol Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner, sponsored by South Gloucestershire and Stroud College and Air France KLM.
"If we don't invest in our youth at the right time, then it will cost us ten-fold later on." he said, speaking candidly about his own experiences as a young person.
Bird was born into poverty and taken into care when his parents became homeless at a time when there was little investment in the well-being of young people. During his teens he became a petty criminal, and was in and out of various prison cells and reformatories, experiencing first hand the results of those marginalized in society with no way out of poverty.
At 16, John was given the opportunity to learn to read and write, discovering books and art and learning a bit of culture. It was at this point the trajectory of his life changed, offering him a way out of poverty. He turned a negative mindset around 'realising it was not enough for people to be poor, as they were also expected to think poor.'
John Bird's next venture is the launch of Big Issue Answers on 23rd April, a digital magazine packed full of information on answers to social issues.
"There are answers out there, but they lack oxygen!" He states, adding that he anticipates businesses will use Big Issue Answers as part of their future social corporate responsibility planning.
'I'm a business response to a social crisis.' He continued, referring to the launch of The Big Issue back in 1991, making the point that we need more of that direct from business.
Mr Bird was well-placed to add weight to the key themes for the evening, with the emphasis on how business can help invest in the young, and provide new employment and other opportunities for them.
And, the young themselves were actively involved on the night too; a group of young people from The Station providing a modern performance in front of the 250 business leaders gathered at The Grand. The Station, part of The Creative Youth Network, is a new youth hub in Bristol's city centre providing an informal space for young people to be creative, learn new skills and get support.
In addition, an incredible £1400 was raised during the evening for the Bristol Chamber President's chosen charity, Emmaus Bristol. Emmaus focuses on the homeless, providing the space and support they need to start rebuilding their lives.
"It is key to the overall success of our local community that business owners are able to run successful, growing businesses alongside providing opportunities to those who aren't currently in work, and in particular our young people." said Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative Director, James Durie.