Communication needed before market innovation can work

Editor’s note: This is one of a series of posts by students from Michigan State University in the U.S. and LUANAR University in Malawi who participated in the Frugal Innovations Program of the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation.

By Jodie Zhu

August 16th, 2015 Sunday

Central is the largest market, and my group members are all strongly opinionated.

As I was telling my new LUANAR friend that we should group together if we could. the instructor assigned us to different groups, me to the busiest and largest Central Market at Old Town. Then I turned around and told the new friend that I was worried about my group. It turns out that my worry was valid.

All four of us at Central Market group are strong opinionated. After two days at Central, we talked to the market masters, two vendors, and market chairmen, the four of us could not come to an agreement what issues our group should focus on.

Like the other markets, Central also has it own dream of a perfect market, with full access to electricity, individual water taps, organized waste management, charge free toilets, well maintained roof top etc. None of these have come true. Vendors are questioning how City Council is using the revenue collected from them. Market Masters, the employees of City Council also wish to have more resources to build a better market. According to the City Council, however, the money that they collected from vendors is not enough to pay their employees.

I personally did not like how vendors and Market Masters are asking for money, and wished to hear more about how they have built the market. I doubted using limited resources to build new infrastructure would solve issues at Central. The fact that they have electricity, and power line, but flood lights are not working any more, tells me that electricity and flood lights came to Central at a cost.

However, it was not well maintained, because electricity is not that essential to the market after all. Otherwise, vendors would have made every effort to repair it, would not let every flood lights go off. That proves the reasons why we are there to investigate, to figure out what matters the most to Central Market, the core issues that the insiders (vendors and city council) cannot see.

At this point, I personally think communication between City Council employees and vendors is the key of all these issues. From what we have heard, market chairmen who represent vendors from different sections report issues to Market Masters on a regular basis. Then Market Masters report to Zone Masters, and then to City Council. When we talked to chairmen at the market, however, they have been complaining about revenue collection, lag of infrastructure maintenance the whole time. “ They (City Council) have collected revenue from us, but done nothing” said a chairman. I cannot imagine how conversations between chairmen and city council would look like. Without these dialogues, and cooperation from both sides, adoption of innovative improvements would not help.

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