Tag Archives: hawkers

The Challenge of Building Capacity to Get to Scale in India

Doha      All Saturday and Sunday, the ACORN India team and I kept the conversations going as we continued to make progress.   We debated adding a website.  We dug deep on accessing our community radio access through AM/FM and acornradio.org with commitments made to produce weekly shows on a fixed time, as well as exploring the issuing of noncommercial licenses in India now and where we might find partners.  We scheduled a regular team call-in the first Wednesday of every month.  We updated our WhatsApp group.  We planned our next meeting in Sri Lanka with the 2020 Organizers’ Forum, as we ticked off one box after box.

As we plumbed the depths of one campaign after another, the victory on electricity rates in Delhi, the expansion of our hawkers union in south Asia, our path-breaking on the intersection of climate and housing issues in Dharavi, we couldn’t help circling back again to our huge potential and confronting our capacity issues that were preventing us getting to scale, especially given the size and importance of India.  There was no question that we were doing a lot, but it was with a little, keeping us from converting more of our successes to their full potential.

one of the old pools for bathing, water, and rest

The Hawkers Livelihood Act is one good example.  There are more than 300 cities where the Act has not been fully implemented.  We did some mental white-boarding on just the number of food vendors that were a small subset of this informal vending workforce.  Quickly we had a national number of 2.5 million food vendors.  There was a requirement that each of them be certified in food safety, which we were qualified to provide.  We started fleshing out a pilot program where we could certify and train 10,000, with 1000 vendors each in 10 cities, allowing us to expand through both a servicing and organizing model.  We planned to mobilize the research and see if we could perfect a proposal.  It was exciting and doable, but a cloud hung over the discussion when it came to where we might shop such a proposal to win support to build the capacity.

Organizing vendors on the ground to take advantage of our growing numbers in Delhi, Chennai, Mysore, Bengaluru and elsewhere while we are inundated with organizing invitations was another conundrum.  We sketched out the details on registering the union in other locations and doing so as a national union of informal workers.  Thinking about the local in the United States, the growing effort in France, even our tenants’ unions, we concluded that we would also form and flesh out the structure and governance for a global federation.  Heady stuff.  Realistic plans.  Could we convert the plans to scale?  Once again, we were stumbling around the question of capacity.

It’s the old story of organizing — it was a great meeting, but the real test would be how much of the talk we could convert into action.

kite flying is common…2 eagle kites in the air

Please enjoy The Day Tom Petty Died by Brent James & the Vintage Youth.

Thanks to KABF.

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Hawking Chichen Itza to the Tourists is a Bummer

the horde coming through the ticket book

Cancun  I’ve read about the great Mayan ruins in the Yucatan and Quintana Roo for decades, and Chichen Itza has always been fabled as one of the most extraordinary. When travelers once spoke of the Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza was often on the list. I still cherish my copies of John Lloyd Stephens great two-volume classic, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan illustrated by Frederick Catherwood published in 1841 after his journeys. “Raiders of the Lost Arc” always paled in comparison to their story, and the vivid illustrations that made me feel like I was there, plunging through the jungle undergrowth to see what few non-Mayans had ever seen.

We had spent Christmas Day at the Uxlan ruins in one of the more amazing days in a legendary list for our family. We weren’t alone, but it didn’t matter, the power of the place was incredible. We were prepared for Chichen Itza being a different experience in some ways. The books indicated that the site gets more than a million visitors annually. We knew to be early. Chichen Itza in Mayan means something along the lines of “mouth of the well of the Itza people.” When we finished wending out way up the narrow road into the site, and parked with amazing ease for barely a buck and change, we saw a horde of people near the ticket booths and walked up to them in order to find the end of the line to get ours. It turned out that Chichen Itza now means “mouth at the well of the hawker people.” We walked through one hawker’s stand after another, until reaching the end. The falling expressions on hundreds of faces was shocking, but in a little more than a half-hour we had our tickets in hand and were ready to see the ruins and leave the hawkers behind.

the line snaking through the hawkers’ stalls

Leaders of ACORN’s hawkers’ union in India always asks me if there are hawkers in the United States, and I say, no not many, but they would be impressed at the way all of these tourists were being channeled through the stalls to the booths. I was too, until we passed the ticket booth and found that we were still walking a gauntlet of hawkers and booths. They weren’t selling hats and yelling, “Five dollars, cheaper than Walmart,” once we got into the archeological park, but they were literally everywhere we walked, often heralded by the sound of jaguar cries they were trying to sell. Often we could tell we were on the right path to see the Observatory or the cenote if it was lined by hawkers’ booths on both sides. Wherever there was shade away from the monuments, there were hawkers. It was impressive and amazing in its own right.

Google Chichen Itza and hawkers, and one Trip Advisor report after another from Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand says almost the same thing: Chichen Itza is Awesome, but What’s with the Hawkers!

the Grand Pyramid

If this is supposed to be a community benefit to the local population, it fails there mainly because so few are making any sales. We walked three miles according to my son’s counter. Who would want to lug souvenirs through 90 degree heat? My daughter looked at fans she had priced in Centro Merida and they were 200 pesos or $10 dollars more expensive at Chichen Itza. How does this help the local community?

What is the government thinking? As at Uxmal, the federal and state government both separately collect money for tickets and stamp the tickets as you enter. Is there no coordination or is this an issue of there being no trust between the state and federal government? The government is probably right to believe that people like me and my family would weather any storm to see Chichen Itza in all its majesty, but why not leave millions in wonder and awe, rather with a funny, nagging taste in their mouths after the experience.

the Observatory

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