JOSH Littlejohn is a man with great powers of persuasion – and a whole bundle of social ethics.
The Scottish entrepreneur co-founded the Social Bite chain of sandwich shops, which donates 100% of its profits to good causes.
Josh, 30, from Edinburgh, has secured support for the project from famous faces such as George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Hoy and Nicola Sturgeon.
And Josh was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s 2017 New Year’s Honours list.
It’s set to get better too, with a Social Bite homeless village, providing accommodation for 20 homeless people, opening in Edinburgh in September.
Here, Josh shares 10 tips on how we can all help change the world.
1. Have compassion
There was a homeless man Pete who used to sell The Big Issue at the corner of the Edinburgh street our sandwich shop is on.
He came in and we gave him a free sandwich a couple of times and one day he asked for a job – so we gave him one. Now, one in four staff in our shops are formerly homeless.
When you take the time to sit and hear about their stories, you realise they all have a background. Most grew up in care, had parents who were alcoholics or drug addicts.
They are victims of circumstance and most have had a harrowing time. But they’re determined to break that cycle by showing up for work every day. We should be in awe of them finding the determination to get back on their feet.
2. Don’t focus on money
There has always been an idea that, to be successful in business, you have to be making a healthy profit.
Not many people think about a social business and how you can use business to help good causes.
I was inspired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammed Yumus, whose social business model encourages entrepreneurs to help solve social problems rather than profiting personally.
Myself and Social Bite co-founder Alice Thompson visited him in Bangladesh and came back motivated to start our own enterprise.
A year later, Social Bite was born.
3. Plant a seed
Many of us want to change the world, but to get the wheels in motion, we have to start small.
Perhaps focus on helping one person. Our journey started with Pete, and when that worked we employed more homeless people.
It all snowballed from one small change, leading us to develop a relationship with the homeless community. All you need to do is plant the seed – and watch it grow.
4. Be unreasonable
I’m a pretty reasonable person – but sometimes being unreasonable is the best way to encourage change.
For example, when trying to organise auction prizes for the Scottish Business Awards, I asked Nicola Sturgeon to be a guest at the bidder’s dinner party. Her office said she was keen to support the venture, but for security reasons, the best she could do would be to host a private lunch in Parliament.
When Martin Wishart offered to cook a meal in the winner’s own home, I came back to Nicola and asked her to reconsider. In the end, she said she would do it – and bring John Swinney, so we got two politicians rather than one.
Being headstrong on this occasion proved to be an important attribute.
5. Go with your gut
I think I get my drive from my dad Simon. He opened up a restaurant, Littlejohn’s, and it became a chain because he believed in his business.
If I believed all the people who said Social Bite wouldn’t work, we would have never have even got started. And the people who thought we’d never get stars as big as Bill Clinton, George Clooney and Leonardo Di Caprio to visit a wee project in Scotland – let’s just say we proved them wrong.
When George visited and left a big donation, we hit the headlines. He’s an exceptionally nice, funny guy, he had all the staff in stitches. He grabbed someone’s phone and took a group selfie. The next day it was on every newspaper’s front page.
6. Stay idealistic
When I was a teenager, I was full of ideas. I wanted to be like Che Guevara and change the world.
But I went to university to study politics and economics and that idealism was definitely diluted. After I graduated, I could have easily ended up working in a corporate job or gone down a path I wasn’t particularly passionate about.
It’s only when I stumbled across the philosophy of “Social Business” that I rediscovered an idealism I had when I was younger. And I’ve been trying to cling on to that ever since.
If you want to try to make a change in your working life, it’s important to have a vision and not just be sucked in by a money-obsessed society.
7. Work together with everyone
I’ve just been blown away over the last few years by how many people have supported us.
Social Bite would have gone bankrupt at least 100 times over by now, but we’ve had so much assistance from all sectors – politicians, the private sector, celebrities and, most importantly, the Scottish public.
From high-profile people giving up their beds for the night to take part in our Sleep Out fundraiser to people who have donated to help us distribute more than 70,000 meals to the homeless throughout 2017.
We couldn’t be where we are without that support.
8. Treat everyone as an equal
One thing that doesn’t sit right with me is considering yourself at “service” of the “poor”.
If I were to think about it that we were the “helpers” and the people we work with are the “helped”, it stifles the work that needs to be done. I consider them colleagues and friends.
People may think themselves superior to the homeless because they have jobs and roofs over their heads, but when you build up a relationship and hear their stories and backgrounds, you quickly realise that if you were dealt the cards they were, there’s every chance you would find yourself in the same situation.
We need to realise people are all equal and recognising that is one of the first steps to progress.
9. Be ambitious
When Social Bite first started, it was a very small project. But it’s strange the way your brain takes one little idea and automatically dials up your ambition at each stage.
A few years ago, my ambition was just to get a social enterprise running well. But after we’d achieved that, we refused to settle and immediately started to think about how we could make it even bigger. So we started to look at housing for the homeless and that became the next challenge.
The homeless village isn’t even finished yet, but we’re already starting to think ahead about how we broaden out the project after that.
In some ways it’s frustrating the way your brain keeps thinking of the next thing, but it’s human nature – and it is why were are where we are today.
Everyone is fuelled by a constant drive – when you achieve what you set out to achieve, your brain is already one step ahead.
10. Believe in yourself
We don’t necessarily need to buy into doing things the way they’ve always been done or follow the paths that society expects of us. We can be anything we want to be.
If you listen to even half of the people out there who are trying to tell you what to do instead of your own head and heart, you would never get anywhere. So if there’s something you believe in, just go for it!