Megaphone Magazine: Vancouver's Street Paper

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Megaphone Magazine: Vancouver's Street Paper

Vancouver, CanadaVancouver, Canada
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Megaphone provides a low-thresold and empowering economic opportunity to homeless and low-income people, giving marginalized people a job and a voice.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The 2011 Metro Vancouver homeless count found 2,623 people sleeping in shelters and on the street, up from 1,121 in 2002. In the Downtown Eastside, only 38% of the population participates in the labour market, less than half of the national average. Due to complex social and health issues and negative stereotypes, many homeless and low-income people have difficulty getting employment: 95% of our vendors are Homeless or Vulnerably housed, 97% have Addiction issues or Mental illness, and 33% have a Criminal record. Sources of income for this marginalized population are often limited to bottle binning, panhandling, or illegal activities. There is great need for provision of consistent, legitimate, meaningful, and low-barrier employment for marginalized people in Vancouver.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Megaphone gives a voice and an economic opportunity to homeless and low-income people. Megaphone’s primary project is Megaphone Magazine, which is sold on the streets of Vancouver by homeless and low-income vendors—a population that has difficulty entering the labour market. Vendors buy each issue for 75 cents and sell them for a suggested donation of $2. By selling the magazine, vendors are able to gain stability, a sense of pride, and financial self-sufficiency. Megaphone meets vendors at their capacity level and enables them to become entrepreneurs, taking agency and creating a meaningful job for themselves on their own terms. Selling Megaphone is an accessible way for people to achieve gainful employment, increase their income and help put their life back on track. Vancouver’s high poverty rates and lack of legitimate, low-threshold employment opportunities for the city’s large marginalized population means that Megaphone is filling a previously ignored service gap.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Before selling Megaphone, vendors undergo a one-hour training session, facilitated by a Megaphone vendor coordinator, in order to learn best practices, ground rules and sales tips. They then sign a City of Vancouver-approved Code of Conduct and are given a photo identification badge, a copy of Megaphone’s City of Vancouver business license and 10 free starter copies. In addition to enhancing individual financial capacity through sales, vendors build employable skills like customer relations and sales experience that can help them move onto other types of employment or improve their magazine sales. Vendors who show that they consistently go out and sell the magazine are allocated designated turf. By having protected turf, vendors are rewarded for their work and have the assurance that the area and customers they have worked hard to nurture will be secured. At various sales and participation milestones, vendors are given Megaphone hats, T-shirts, bags, and free copies. Marginalized people with barriers to employment transform into entrepreneurs, with agency over when, where, and how often they sell. They gain confidence and social interaction skills, and become active, recognized members of their communities. Vendors attend monthly meetings where they provide feedback & ideas on the program, & are given the opportunity to make administrative decisions & feel empowered through participation. Megaphone runs specialized training sessions with outside experts focusing on body language, sales strategies, conflict resolution & financial literacy.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Hope in Shadows is a similar program: homeless & low-income Vendors buy calendars for $10 & sell them for $20, keeping the profits. 200+ Vendors distributed 14,500 calendars in 2011. Megaphone works closely with Hope in Shadows. The success of the calendar shows there is a market & capacity for a product sold on the streets by homeless and low-income vendors. However, the calendar is a seasonal product and its success shows a need for a consistent year-round product, & source of low-barrier employment for homeless and low-income vendors. Embers Staffing Solutions requires "extensive screening and assessment process to ensure candidates are job-ready and have a network of supports in place" - many marginalized people are unable to meet these criteria, and need low-barrier opportunities.

Founding Story

Between 2002 and 2008 Vancouver’s homeless population had more than doubled and unemployment in the Downtown Eastside was more than double the municipal average. Something needed to be done to help marginalized people get jobs. The founders of Megaphone recognized that since many of the Downtown Eastside’s residents suffer from numerous health problems, there needed to be employment opportunities that are low-barrier and flexible. With more than 130 street papers around the world helping provide income and a voice to homeless and low-income people, it was time Vancouver got a strong street paper again. Out of the ashes of former street papers in Vancouver, Megaphone was born in 2008 and has since helped provide an income, a sense of purpose and a voice to more than 150 marginalized residents of Vancouver every year.
About You
Megaphone Magazine
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Megaphone Magazine

Organization Country

, BC, Vancouver

Country where this solution is creating social impact

, BC, Vancouver

Region in BC where your solution creates social impact


How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Which of the following best describes the barrier(s) your solution addresses? Choose up to two

Access, Equity.

Social Impact
Please describe the goal of your initiative; outline what you are trying to achieve

Megaphone’s mission is to provide accessible economic opportunities and a voice to homeless and low-income people while building grassroots support to end poverty.
Our three primary goals:
1. Provide homeless and low-income people with sustainable, low-barrier opportunities for self-employment.

2. Provide opportunities homeless and low-income people to express their views, opinions & creative ideas through writing.

3. Achieve a self-sustaining economic model for the magazine & provide opportunities for growth.

Through Megaphone, marginalized people gain stability, a sense of pride, and financial self-sufficiency. Over the next 3 years, Megaphone plans to grow to 60 vendors and 6,000 copies per issue, providing vendors with a combined yearly income of $195,000 per year.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

Street papers are the largest social enterprise in the world. Megaphone provides support and assistance to homeless and low-income people in Vancouver and helps raise awareness about the reasons people live in poverty. It acts as a bridge between communities and can literally change people’s lives: both the vendor and the customer’s. Megaphone currently has between 30-35 vendors and a bi-weekly distribution of 2,500 copies per issue, putting nearly $70,000 in the pockets of those previously excluded from the labour market. Megaphone has provided sales training workshops to over 250 marginalized people. Megaphone provides the opportunity and support for vendors to stabilize their lives. Through Megaphone, vendors cite improved self-esteem, confidence in social situations, and a feeling of connection to society, as well as the opportunity to find adequate housing, address addiction and mental health issues, and find the confidence to reconnect with family and friends.

What is your projected impact over the next five years?

Having already grown to a circulation of 5,000 a month with 35 vendors, Megaphone projects it will follow in the footsteps of other street papers around the world and see its reach and impact grow. The street paper in Seattle, WA (Real Change), for example, has a weekly distribution of 20,000 copies and more than 300 vendors.

Over the next five years, Megaphone envisions its monthly circulation will hit 15,000 with more than 150 vendors. This will help put roughly $225,000 into the pockets of marginalized people a year.

By having an opportunity to earn an income, Megaphone expects to consistently help over 100 more homeless and low-income people raise their standard of living and be able to either move off the streets, away from addiction or simply stabilize their lives.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

One barrier to the project could be a lack of public awareness about the program. This makes it difficult for people on the street to understand what vendors are selling and why they should support them, and thus hindering Vendor sales.

Megaphone plans to address this barrier with a comprehensive communications strategy that includes a guerrilla marketing campaign (started in 2011 and called 'I Work Here'); by increasing Megaphone's profile in the media (ex: this past August a Megaphone vendor received extensive media attention for throwing out the first pitch at a Vancouver Canadians game); and by hiring a vendor coordinator to help vendors improve their sales techniques and increase their presence on the streets (Megaphone has begun to start that process).

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Increase the number of vendors to 40 to 45 and circulation to 6,000 a month (3,000 per issue).

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Hire Vendor Coordinator to recruit and work directly with vendors.

Task 2

Conduct three Megaphone orientation sessions for new Hope in Shadows vendors during the calendar sales season.

Task 3

Develop community partnerships (shelters/SRO/social agencies) to outreach to potential vendors: offer 6-8 orientation sessions

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Increase the number of consistent vendors to 45 and circulation to 8,000 a month (4,000 per issue).

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Increase demand for product: hire a part-time editor to improve quality&make Megaphone more attractive for readers & advertisers

Task 2

Deliver 4-6 special Vendor training workshops focused on sales & interpersonal communication to help improve sales & confidence

Task 3

Acquire new database to track vendor sales, improve data quality & position vendors in more strategic locations to improve sales

Tell us about your partnerships

Megaphone works closely with Pivot Legal Society’s Hope in Shadows to coordinate vendor programs & service provision. Megaphone also provides writing workshops to PHS Community Services Society clients, with classes at their treatment centres, social housing, and community centres. Last year Megaphone began a contracted citizen journalism class with SFU Woodward's for marginalized writers to learn basic journalism skills. Megaphone has been awarded grants from Building Opportunities with Businesses, Enterprising Non-profits, the City of Vancouver, BC Arts Council and Vancity, among others.

Are you currently targeting other specific populations, locations, or markets for your solution? If so, where and why?

Megaphone is seeking to expand its vendor base and provide accessible economic opportunities for individuals living in poverty all over Vancouver and increasingly, North Vancouver. Megaphone aims to increase services to North Vancouver to address a similar lack of low-barrier legitimate employment to marginalized people living there, and access a population that is currently underserved in this regard.

Megaphone is also planning to build on partnerships and expand its Vendor training to outside of the Downtown Eastside and to community centres and resource locations across Vancouver.

What type of operating environment and internal organizational factors make your innovation successful?

Megaphone benefits from a talented and dedicated team of staff and volunteers. We have more than 30 volunteers who recruit and work with vendors, facilitate writing workshops, write, photograph, edit, and design.
Megaphone values and prioritizes transparency and strong connections to and consulation with our target community through Vendor meetings, an elected Vendor Advisory Board, and two Vendors sitting on the Megaphone Board of Directors.
Megaphone is an active member of both the International Network of Street Papers (more than 122 members with combined monthly sales of 1.5 million) and the North American Network of Street Papers (Exec Director Sean Condon is Co-Chair of the Board of Directors), & is able to learn from shared knowledge & experience to improve product & services.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list