Monday, January 19, 2009

Higgler Times

This is the first of a three-part series titled 'The Art of Living'which focusses on new approaches for accelerated evolution.

Creative Enterprise
The era of creative enterprise is upon us. Higgler, hustler, entrepreneur or sitting duck - which one are you? Let's break it down. When you size it up, the higgler, hustler and entrepreneur all part of the same package. They are all businesswomen armed with an arsenal of skills requisite for operating in the most demanding business spaces.

We know them well, but how often have we stopped to consider what it is that keeps them in the game? The higglers - female, enterprising, courageous and tenacious - are a firmly entrenched Jamaican trading tradition. Their history in Jamaica speaks of origins in slavery days where rural slaves tended crops to feed their families and the surplus would be sold at high traffic crossroads that became Jamaica's first markets.

Small-time trader
Over the years, the higglers have become a cornerstone of a wealth-creation network that is less prone to recession battering than other so-called 'stable' jobs.
Generally, however, despite their sizeable contribution to Jamaica's economy, the higgler is typically regarded as a small-time trader. Even those who travel overseas to buy and sell wares, named: informal commercial importers are quietly assigned to a lower-calibre level of businesswoman than her suited peer rolling in an SUV.

Not to be outdone, some of our modern-day higglers have evolved their outward appearance and are on level pegging with the SUV crowd but they retain a fiercely independent core. The SUV businesswomen are probably regarded as a different class of entrepreneur because of the business school certificates, access to formal trading sectors and a different approach to doing the business itself. No doubt, those that are successful are also resilient, hard-nosed and intuitive.

So, apart from the obvious infrastructural differences - an office to a market stall, a computer to manual counting system - what sets the higglers apart? Self-reliance.

This side of the world, the higglers find their equals in the 'Mama Benz' a.k.a. the market mammies, who have garnered a reputation for rigorous business acumen and an unmistakable, flamboyant style. Like their sisters in Jamaica, they also run things in their marketplaces through various countries across West Africa, stretching from Senegal to Cameroon, down to the Democratic Republic of Congo and across to Somalia. Southern Africa also has a network of female traders who work on all levels informal, home industry to import and export.

Skilful creativity
In these times of economic instability, they are riding the storm with skilful creativity. The fact is, taking on the challenge of free market trading is a voyage into the unknown, no matter the size of your pocket. The risk of fallout is, of course, the rub.

However, what anchors the higglers/Mama Benzes is an approach which is incisive and calculated and built on a foundation of self-reliance. They have abandoned notions of secure employment or other illusions of security in order to exploit the boundless possibilities available to entrepreneurs who create their own realities.
In these times, in the quest to create economic survival mechanisms, we could learn a thing or two from our beloved higglers.

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