Homeless for seven years, this is Tony — Pictured here in 2017 at London Victoria Station
Not knowing how you’re going to pay for your rent, bills, food and more is the most awful and dejecting experience I’ve ever been through and yet so many others will go through the same hardship today, tomorrow, and the day after that.
Yet it was coming across someone who had it so much worse than me that it became clear when times really get tough, can you depend on the government to lend a helping hand and pick up the pieces? Evidently not.
After finishing my retail shift on a warm summer’s night back in 2017, I met (pictured above) a man called Tony, homeless, I offered to buy him some food and we began a conversation that would change my outlook forever.
He had it all, highly educated, a great career in consulting that took him all over Europe, and a beautiful home. Then, BAM! The great recession hit, the work dried up, and he lost his home, car, and most importantly, his place in society. And yet despite being a taxpayer for many years he talked about the immense difficulties in trying to get re-established and accessing government services in the seven years on the streets. And it was at that moment the welfare enterprise model was born, I had always intended to start a socially conscious business, but to my mind, B-corporations and social enterprises didn't seem to go far enough in the raw support they provide, despite the great work both models accomplish in their respective fields.
Based on the welfare state I believe we ought to have, the welfare enterprise model is all about providing a full and broad suite of welfare provision to families and individuals under our stewardship, aiming to not only complement existing welfare services but to exceed them!
It’s a little radical, it’s a little ambitious, and it’s a little revolutionary. But I’m aiming to build a strong and comprehensive welfare state that ensures no one is left behind that the government will not build for us by tearing up textbooks and throwing out toxic economic philosophy that calls for maximizing shareholder or venture capital value at any cost, and instead measuring growth on the societal impact I can create.
A for-profit company, I redistribute 51% of my welfare enterprises net profits towards my very own social security program, The Wittenhearst Depository. Providing food, clothing, hygiene products, funding for new kitchen appliances, and cash grants, I want to ensure everyone touched by my welfare enterprise has the provisions they need to live a life free of undue hardship by providing life’s daily essentials to those on the outskirts of the economic system that shapes our lives.
Akin to the social reformers of the early 20th century, I aim to be at the forefront of a new social model that helps plug the gap left by public sector cuts at a time when we need them the most, while at the same time demonstrating you can be profitable without the destructive elements all too common with modern-day capitalism. Because adversity can happen to any of us, it can feel so distant, so disconnected, with many of us paying it little attention until it arrives at our door, and when it does, we very quickly find out that all we have is each other.
Funded by creative services, my welfare enterprise Wittenhearst.com is set upon redefining what capitalism can do for society when the aim is social welfare and not the bottom line, by bringing capitalism and social democracy together in ways never thought possible in a world of rising inequality, because capitalism can only thrive in a just society when it works for us all and not just the lucky few.
I’m Stephen-Francis, founder of the world’s first welfare enterprise.