Mel Young has been a tireless campaigner for social justice and giving people their lives back. He’s called a social entrepreneur, though he’s probably happy just seeing a smile back on the faces of those he has helped regain their self-esteem and sense of worth.
He is co-founder and president of the Big Issue and the Homeless World Cup, a tournament he has been taking to big cities around the world, using football as the great healer.
The Homeless World Cup, held annually since 2003, has been a worldwide success. “Cities that are trying to get rid of homelessness are also keen to welcome the homeless to take part,” he jokes during an address to an Edinburgh conference, noting that the tournament has also brought nations together. A slide presented during his speech shows the moment last year when Afghanistan lifted the trophy after beating Russia, which led to incredible celebrations by a large crowd in Melbourne.
“This really works and governments listen,” he says, declaring that he wants to see the annual event broadcast around the global.
Speaking at a conference on wellbeing in Edinburgh he urges politicians and companies to help put his organisation “out of business” by seeing the wider benefits of getting people off the streets.
The Homeless World Cup has impacted on 1.2 million individuals, helping many rebuild their lives, and also making a positive difference to the economy.
He tells a story about getting on a bus in Edinburgh and the driver told him he had been homeless. Another homeless man in Brazil had got a job washing dishes and was now one of the country’s top chefs.
“Getting people off the streets can significantly impact on GDP. They go from net taker to net contributor. Think about that bus driver and chef and multiply that by 1.2 million and you see benefits running into billions.”
But he told the conference on wellbeing organised by employment specialists Navigator Law that the problem will not go away without global action and a change of priorities.
Mr Young, a former member of the World Economic Forum Sports Agenda Council and former non-executive director of Glasgow Life, believes sport can be a great cure for mental , physical and financial problems and says companies can play their part, not just helping individuals but helping themselves.
“Getting people involved in some activity will be good for your organisation,” says Mr Young, who is also chairman of SportScotland.
“Politicians need to put homelessness further up of their agenda. We do not hear much about it.
“To be fair, the Scottish Government is trying hard. It has set up a consultative task force to look at this and come up with solutions.
“But we have to look at this as a strategic global problem. The system is causing the problem. It means changing the way private and public sectors and civil society interact.”
The Edinburgh workshop focused on physical, mental and financial wellbeing, with other speakers addressing issues including managing cancer in the workplace, occupational health, debt and stress.
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