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Mobile Enterprise

Back here in New Zealand I’ve just been taking my kitchen cupboards apart trying to find a small fitting that seems to have dislodged itself from my pressure cooker – rendering it redundant. Has left me pining for the roving repair-men of India whom I know could sort out my conundrum in a flash.
Come to think of it I’d also like it if these guys graced my neighbourhood with their presence sometime soon as I have an imminent guest so would like an extra pillow and my vaccum cleaner’s been playing up so I just need a cheap broom to get me through to when I manage to have it fixed.
And the gas bottle needs changing soon so would be good if I could SMS this pair to drop by and sort things out. Plus with all the great tomatoes in season I need my knives sharpened so would be timely if the other dude rolled up round now as well.
India’s micro-entrepreneurs contribute to a culture of distribution which is liberated from fixed locations playing a vital role in conveniently providing items of regular consumption at relatively affordable prices. Not limited to informal enterprise, such delivery networks are also utilised by corporates from utility providers to Coca Cola – encompassing both motorised and non-motorised options to service challenging locations from densely populated urban neighbourhoods to rural villages.

Mumbai entrepreneur Deepa Krishnan (who oriented me for my recent Dharavi ethnographic research) comments:

“… Indian consumers are probably the most demanding in the world. We want – no, we insist – on superior service, tailored to our needs, at little or no cost. This of course, is a daunting prospect for anyone supplying anything to the Indian market. But sellers who can understand this mindset and who can tailor their products and services to it, are the ones who will succeed and thrive.”

My buddies over at Box Design + Research in Delhi partnered with John Thackara a while back to compile a rich-media archive of bicycle dependent commerce: Velowala – for the Biennial of International Design at Saint Etienne. [Illustration by Tenzing Dakpa] Alongside a diverse collection of examples they comment:

“The interesting thing about being on a bicycle is that it immediately frees you as an entrepreneur from the shackles of immovable real estate. Velocommerce is all about the mobility of property, and it challenges notions of ownership and private capital.
It is special because it exists at the intersection of entrepreneurship, mobility, sustainability, grassroots innovation, cultures, local economies and decentralized,
last-mile service delivery.”

In the not-for-profit realm Worldbike highlight how bikes can transform lives – connecting the poor to markets, schools and clinics via their Mobility for Good mantra. Of particular interest is their project at the Kibera slum in Nairobi to develop bike-based technologies and business models that empower local entrepreneurs to earn a living while simultaneously helping address the local garbage problem. Partnering with UN Habitat and local support groups they are devising a system to collect and transport waste from individual dwellings to central deposit sites, where it can be sorted for recycling and disposal. Elsewhere ColaLife proposes that Coca Cola open their distribution channels to transport compact ‘aidpods’ containing items like water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts. Through piggy-backing on Coke’s extensive mobile networks in less affluent countries, ColaLife would aim to contribute to a reduction in infant mortality, improve maternal health and combat prevalent disease. [Images via Worldbike + ColaLife]
But of course there are ways of impacting issues of poverty via commercial endeavors too. Indian industrial heavyweights Godrej look set to use mobile enterprise networks to reach their customers at the base of the pyramid with their affordable, compact refrigerator. Others entering this space of for-profit solutions aimed at meeting needs of the economically challenged are Tata with their Swach water filter and the French multi-national Schneider with its domestic lighting systems under the In-Diya brand. Given that these companies will need to consider the entire product ecosystem in ensuring access to goods, fittings and service of their offerings – one would imagine they will all be including mobile enterprise in their supply chains to reach customers in both dense and dispersed locations. [Image credit: Outlook – India’s New Retailers]
You can check out more images on my Mobile Enterprise set on Flickr. Meanwhile back at home… I’m looking for a new craft project that gets me off the computer – maybe a visit from this guy could help?

Related articles:
Mobile Enterprise + Mobile Phone
Mumbai’s Pavement Purveyors (CNN)

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Adam Shelton November 10, 2010, 8:30 PM

    Hey there Meena, randomly stumbled on your site via LinkedIn. These mobile enterprise photos are cool! Have been to India a couple of times and was always blown away by the way public society worked, and loved to watch people like these guys going about their daily business in ways that western societies could not even begin to contemplate — locked in as we largely are to tied-down corporate structures and models.

  • Larry December 8, 2010, 7:28 AM

    Hi Meena, I got to this site through OpenIDEO and your Flickr photoset. These are very inspirational. I cant help of thinking of these as dimsum but with goods and services. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Nurhayathxcy J February 17, 2012, 2:59 AM

    Hi Meena! I discovered your photo of the mobile yarn seller through Pinterest which led me to your Flickr photo stream and then on to this wonderful article. As a crocheter, I never thought of yarns being sold on bikes. The idea is very liberating. Thank you, you just helped me challenging my views on what yarn shop really means. On an entirely different note, could I borrow the picture of the yarn seller for my blog?

  • Meena Kadri February 17, 2012, 6:36 AM

    Sure thing. It’s licensed Creative Commons so as long as you have a link back to the original on Flickr & are non-commercial you’re good to go!

  • Nurhayathxcy J April 8, 2012, 7:28 PM

    Thanks heaps Meena :)

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