Sport bringing people together

CEOs sleep outdoors to raise money for homeless

Lord’s Cricket Ground in London needs no introduction among cricket fans. Set to host the final of next year’s Cricket World Cup, it is home to cricket history and a popular venue for cricket lovers.

But last month was slightly different at Lord’s. Wrapping up October with its annual “Sleepout,” which brought together CEOs and senior level executives to highlight the plight of the homeless. Big-hearted businessmen swapped the comfort of their beds to help those without them. Braving the elements, they slept outdoors and raised more than £90,000 to fight homelessness and poverty in London.

STAYKEEPER’s CEO, Ivo Gospodinov, couldn’t miss it. Not only because he knows that more than 1.6 billion people around the world lack proper shelter, or that the number of people sleeping rough in London is rising,(in 2012-13 the number soared by 75%). For him – it was personal.

“The fundraiser at the Home of Cricket was great. I know very well the struggles that homeless people go through and I wanted to contribute with whatever I can,” he said.

A CEO knowing the pains of those living in the streets sounds like an oxymoron. However, homelessness has always struck a chord with Ivo.

Definitions of homelessness vary from country to country, but when Ivo and his brother - founders of STAYKEEPERS -came to the UK 10 years ago, they felt they fit right into whatever the definition was: Sleeping in a rickety Mitsubishi; sharing a cup of tea to warm up; printing job ads in the nearest library; sharing a Big Mac for supper; and having €200 until who-knows-when, did not make the future look bright.

They were determined, and they succeeded.

“This was one of the most humbling moments in our lives. Truly a turning point for us. We looked at each other and said: ‘Are we giving up or are we going to solve this problem?’”

Solve it they did.

It took a few months and oodles of job rejections until they finally started finding their way. At first, they worked in the hospitality industry, and later as private security guards for VIPs. Be that as it may, they weren’t in it only for the money, they wanted to make a difference and give back to the world.

As Ivo puts it, they had to choose to either do charity or build something of their own. It was unclear then that their desires and ambitions would manifest into STAYKEEPERS, but they were convinced that whatever they built, it had to be more than a company. It had to be a place that believes in people.

Nonetheless, actions speak louder than words.

Years later, recruiting for their newly founded company, they saw a picture on Facebook of a homeless man looking for a job. He lived under a bridge and his clothes looked a bit scruffy, but he spoke four languages and loved playing chess. His name was Thomas, from Lithuania. Thomas didn’t smoke or drink, he only wanted to work and get off the streets. A flashback to their homeless days, they decided to find him and give him a chance.

As employee number six, from maintenance to managing building ambassadors for Ivo, Thomas now owns a small cleaning company.

“Ivo believed in me and has stood by me ever since. Nothing is impossible for him and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity.”

Now, make sure you don’t miss next year’s event at the Home of the Cricket.