How many people in the room has purchased something from a street vendor-street food, street market? Almost all of you. How many of you know how powerful that action was? A few of you. Well, I’m hear to tell you. First,
lets go back to 2010, the year the earthquake took the lives of 250k people of Haiti. A question I receive often when it comes to communicating the influence of street vendors is how do I know so much about them. Why do I understand how naturally instinctive it is for this woman like this -in the face of adversity, get on top of the rubble and street vend and maintain her dignity as opposed to waiting and begging for help .
Well- No one knows her truth more deeply
than someone like me.. who street vended in the streets of haiti and nyc as a kid
Who is the descendent of 3 generation of street vendors
And who has traveled to over 30+ countries tracking the stories of street vendors. You see, Throughout my life, I've become obsessed with the art of street vending and what that means for society. In the next 15 minutes im going to share why your engagement with offline street markets can transform economies, people and cities.
First, lets begin with travel. Question- by a show of hands, how many of you traveled abroad. Almost all of you-in fact you represent a small percentage of 1 billion + people who do it ever year. And One of the most notable thing you do when you travel abroad is--- shopping. And everyone usually has the best intentions to buy a unique item from that country.
So why do half of you end up here-in front a generic tourist shop buying t shirts and key chains that you might as well have printed while you were at home. So its embarassing to end up here
You want to be here- immersing yourself into the local culture eating local dishes and buying notable products that tell a story of your experience abroad. The problem is that people
Well There are more than 160 notable players who aim to bring the products of marginalized groups online. Whether its via corporate/startup ecommerce sites or via digital campaign events or online magazine features-All of them aim to highlight the stories and plight of street vendors to the masses. To do this many of these players, buy items wholesale from local street vendors and sell them online- spending millions in online marketing to get your attention and millions more to train street vendors to eventually upload images of their products directly to their site.
We all know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results….. we’ve taken this approach for over 2 decades and still, have yet to see a market leader drastically enhance the income/exposure of street vendors. Maybe ecommerce isnt the answer. But im constantly rebuttled- the future of commerce is online….everyone wants to buy products online bc its convenient... Etc. well contrary to what you’ve heard, even though
1.3 trillion dollars circulate online via e commerce platforms….you might be shocked to find that
10 trillion dollars circulate offline. In 2008, Robert weir was the first to document this reality…and many institutions thought with the increase in mobile and digital inclusion, that this would change. Again, everyone believes that the future of commerce is online.
But im here to say that the future of commerce will be completely offline because with every innovation there is an equally opporsite force to rebel and keep the traditions of humanity. Don’t believe me?
Well, while experts boasted the increase in ecommerce expansion- 9% year over year hitting $291.9 billion in the US market alone, with over 100 million Americans- 1/3 of the US population…
They overlook the fact that offline markets are also growing at an exponential rate. For example, as of 2014, in the US alone, farmers markets rose to 8,284 in number- up from 3000 in 2004.
Because the majority of this reality is undocumented activity, no one believes that its actually happening. So to prove it, we asked travelers around the world to upload stories and photos of their experiences with street vendors to get a sense of real time activity around street markets. Within 48 hours we received 334 uploads across 40+ countries.
But then critics turn and say well there might be an increase but its only happening in developing nations. As we bring billions of people online, this trend will disappear. That’s funny, bc every developed nation in the world is experiencing the same trend. London gets 100 thousand visitors a day at the London Camden market. The USA has over 1500+ notable flea markets that serves over 150 million customers a year.
So there you have it…a global trend. And your participation at street markets is spuring economic activity in ways you cant even imagine. for every city that does not have the capacity to fully employ its citizens, entrepreneurship via street vending emerges at a alarming rate- which provides economic sustance for millions of families. Which inturn reduces the probablity of crime rates. Street markets gives a window into the economic stability of a country. The price difference whats sold in the streets vs on official channels tells you wants a high commodity and whats not. And what that means for supply and demand systems Though many of your purchases at street markets is undocumented and untaxed…the reluctance of street vendors to sell officially tells you about the regulation climate of the country....as we centralize information of street vendors- we can drasticllay improve the GDP figures of many nations whocurrently do not qunatifiy the economic activity of street markets within their figures.
In the end. About 2 billion people make a living selling food, products and services in the streets today and will always be this way for one simple reason….
And they wil;l remain offline-for one simple reason….
Bc its been like that since the dawn of civilization. We have been through wars, through peace and everything in between….but street markets will always be embedded into the human experience.
So next time you travel and see this- embrace it….bc shopping here not only empowers a whole sector of society economically, but more importantly, it keeps alive a true experience that will live on forever- even in the face of digitzation.