Franck Martin: How the media can help to cut poverty in the Third World

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The Independent Online

Beauty Chirwa is a 23-year-old street vendor who lives in a poor and densely populated neighbourhood called Msisi in Lusaka, Zambia's capital. Every day she walks two hours to collect a pile of magazines from an office, before selling them from a pitch at the side of the traffic-heavy Great East Road in the city centre.

It's a good spot. She can sell up to 10 magazines in a day, which earns her enough money for an evening meal with a little over to put towards her rent. But many others on the street are selling things: fruit, vegetables, puppies, paintings, toys, sunglasses, newspapers. Chirwa has to find her place in all the chaos and get to work.

She works for the International Network of Street Papers (INSP), a British charity which helps people in the Third World earn a dignified living by selling independently produced newspapers and magazines. The organisation has built on the work of The Big Issue, taking the well established UK model and transplanting it on to the streets of some of the world's poorest cities.

Chirwa's day is not easy; many of her customers do not understand The Big Issue concept, so she has to explain to each reader how buying a magazine is helping her. Only some understand.

For 15 years the INSP has worked to bring The Big Issue poverty model to cities across the globe. From its origins as a scattered collection of European street papers, the Glasgow charity has grown into a thriving global network that reaches millions of readers. It also gives Chirwa and an estimated 250,000 marginalised people the chance to benefit from dignified living.

"From our headquarters in Scotland, INSP supports 103 street papers in 37 countries worldwide, spanning six continents," says Lisa Maclean, INSP executive director. "Our work is based on principles of self help, social enterprise and independent information. Since 2006, INSP has focused on supporting new street papers in the developing world, helping to establish new initiatives in Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and Burundi, supporting hundreds of people living in poverty, and their families, in urban areas."

The recent appointment of David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters News, as the charity's honourary president reflects how INSP is starting to generate interest within established media circles.

The success of the INSP project demonstrates that the media can play a positive socio-economic role when it operates at grassroots, a working example of an effective alternative to traditional corporate media models.