As chief executive she is responsible for steering a network of 103 street papers across six continents, not only helping create employment for individuals affected by poverty and homelessness, but providing a voice for those who would otherwise not be heard.

In recent years, Ms Maclean has had an integral role in establishing four African street paper projects in Kenya, Zambia, Burundi and Malawi. The latest addition to the worldwide portfolio is Uli ne Svjetiljke (Street Lamps) in Croatia, which joined the network in October.

“We provide help in terms of technical expertise and sourcing international funding to help get them off the ground,” she said. “As a small organisation, a lack of resources can be difficult for street papers. Although many have paid staff, some are run by volunteers.

“That is why the International Network of Street Papers is so valuable for them.

“A small paper in Brazil, for example, can be working in challenging situations but know that through the INSP they can connect with a whole family of like-minded colleagues who can offer support and expertise.”

This week has seen the INSP board meet in Glasgow, to strengthen links and set out a vision for the organisation in the coming years.

Among the board members is Trudy Vlok, editor of The Big Issue South Africa, based in Cape Town. Since it was set up 13 years ago, the magazine has proved an astounding success.

Currently it has 390 regular vendors working across the city, selling 12,000 copies every three weeks. It also employs the highest percentage of female vendors of any street paper in the world.

“When we started it was mostly men who were vendors,” said Ms Vlok. “There was a cultural barrier we had to overcome. Women needed to be empowered to go out and make a living.

“Through having a specialised skills programme for women, starting women’s groups and providing childcare facilities we have managed to get our female vendor base to 42% – the highest in the world.”

The INSP has assisted more than 250,000 poor and vulnerable people since 1994, with a particular focus on the developing world. Working locally with NGOs and other bodies, INSP works effectively within its own niche as an umbrella organisation.

The global network of street papers has a remarkable combined readership of 100 million.

The premise of the street paper scheme – familiar to many of us through the Big Issue Scotland – is straightforward: a vendor buys a copy of the magazine or newspaper for 50% or less of the cover price then sells it to the public, keeping the profits for themselves.

“It’s not about charity handout, it’s about helping people to help themselves,” said Ms Maclean.

The INSP also provides a forum for street papers to exchange editorial content and photographs.

“We run an independent news service from our offices here in Glasgow for exchange of content between papers,” said Ms Maclean. “For example, The Big Issue In Scotland may submit something to us and it could then be re-published in The Big Issue in Malawi or one of our Argentinian street papers.”

Serge Lareault, editor of Montreal-based L’Itineraire and chairperson of INSO, was also in Glasgow this week. Homelessness is a huge issue in the Canadian city with an estimated 25,000 of the three million population living on the streets.

The paper started with 10 vendors in 1994 and now has 150 working across Montreal. The organisation has also opened a restaurant called Cafe on the Street which, not only feeds up to 2000 homeless people each year, but provides part-time paid employment for 50 people.

“Selling the papers is just the beginning,” said Mr Lareault. “We want people to do it for a couple of months and then try a part-time job. From there the aim is to get them into more permanent employment. When someone has been on the streets for a while, it takes an average of three years for us to work with them and, for example, resolve any drug addiction or psychological problems they may have.

“Some people may not be able to do anything else long-term, but afterwards do start to feel they have a place in society and a community to which they belong. That brings a real sense of achievement.”

For more information on the International Network of Street Papers, visit