Growing up in Wellington, New Zealand, it wasn’t until the age of twelve on a trip to America that I saw homeless people for the very first time. I moved to London, then Edinburgh in the late 90s. Seeing rough sleepers lined up in negative temperatures, the injustice hit me as I became acutely aware of the vast scale of the problem, although at that time I didn’t understand any the structural and societal causes.
In a society that believes in justice, compassion, and human rights, how could it be that so many were seemingly locked out of society? That is the question I asked myself and is the reason I do what I do today.
At the time I was pursuing a career in brand communications and campaigns. I had no idea that years later I would end up at the helm of a charity set up to fight homelessness and poverty by harnessing the influence and powerful voices of business.
Today, I am Chief Executive of CEO Sleepout, a national charity, which was officially launched in December 2013 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Andy Preston.
So let me tell you more about what we do and, most importantly, why.
CEO Sleepout is a national movement that holds events in stadia and high-profile venues throughout the UK. We invite business owners and leaders to make a stand against homelessness and poverty by sleeping outside for one night and raising or donating money. Our charity beneficiaries are often local and grassroots charities at the front line, providing outreach to rough sleepers, as well as advocating for the bricks and mortar of wellbeing: stable and affordable housing, access to counselling and other supports for mental health.
So far, more than 3,000 executives have raised £2.7million to fight poverty and homelessness in the UK.
CEO Sleepout events work on several levels. They give business leaders an insight into the structural causes of homelessness and poverty, unlocking empathy and allow them to gain an understanding of what it is like not to have a roof over your head. They also provide an opportunity to rub shoulders and network with other like-minded executives and to raise money that we put to work fighting homelessness and poverty.
In our society, we believe in showing compassion towards others and making sure that everyone can live with dignity. Yet right now, hundreds of thousands of people in our country are homeless — forced to sleep on friends’ sofas and floors, live in crowded or unsafe places, sleep on buses or in cars or even stay out on the streets. And many more are at risk of becoming homeless. Caring for one another means making sure that all people in our country have safe, stable housing. To make sure that our society shows decency towards all people, we need to address the economic conditions that place people at risk of homelessness. When people are already in poverty or are struggling to pay for housing, all it takes is a single event, like losing a job, a relationship breakdown or a health crisis, for them to fall into homelessness.
Business leaders who’ve worked hard absolutely deserve the success and results of their labour. We’re inviting them show their compassion and solidarity with people who are not as fortunate by raising money, making a stand and making a noise. Because we believe that the powerful voice of business is one that policymakers will listen to, and can help lead to the structural changes that we are advocating for.
I also know that businesses have the potential to create a fairer and more equitable society by leading with purpose; doing what they can to ensure that staff, families thereof, the business ecosystem, the local community, the environment and wider society are positively impacted as a result of business practice and baked-in policies.
We all believe in a fair and just society, and can embrace our responsibility to do what we can within our own spheres of influence to ensure everybody has equal access to opportunities to learn and earn, a roof over their head, and food in their belly.
There has never been such a pressing need for leaders with purpose. Homelessness has risen by 160 percent since 2010, there are 245,000 children registered as homeless and the overhaul of the benefits system, with the introduction of Universal Credit, and the pressures of lockdown as a result of the pandemic has pushed those already feeling the pressure of poverty, into destitution and even homelessness.
You can make a real difference by joining one of our CEO Sleepout events which are held throughout the year in locations all across the UK. When we stand up and lead with purpose, things can change.
With thanks to Frameworks Institute UK for language and framing guidance.