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Street vending at the touch of an app

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Anything can be made available to us with just a push of a button on our favorite smart devices.

Now, even grandma is technologically savvy and as we continue to advance, it only makes sense to utilize these advancements for something a bit more meaningful than the usual selfie.

First generation Haitian American, Christine Souffrant, is utilizing the convenience of an app to revolutionize the lives of more than 2.5 billion street vendors globally. Stemming from her own personal experiences, Souffrant’s new Vendedy app is etched in her own lineage including her mother, grandmother and great grandmother working in Haiti as street vendors. “I did see myself doing something along the lines of Vendedy because I grew up around it and it was something that motivated me to figure out how to alleviate the situation,” Souffrant said.

Souffrant’s parents made the move to New York City just before she was born with suitcases of Haitian artwork. It was this artwork from their homeland that sustained the family’s income for the next 20 years — first through vending on Columbus Circle then eventually into a store.

“When she first came to the states, she couldn’t find a job so she was selling in the streets,” Souffrant said. “Selling at Columbus Circle, selling at flea markets and her family was embarrassed by her, friend’s disowned her and literally her own friends would cross the street to pretend like they didn’t know her because they thought that she was crazy.”

Like her mother, Souffrant would face adversity for her choices to pursue what would ultimately become her app.

While studying at Dartmouth, Souffrant visited 11 countries during a term at sea as a Gates Millennium scholar where she conducted her own study of street vendors worldwide. This groundwork would ultimately set the foundation for more research to come to create Vendedy.

Like most entrepreneurs, Souffrant did not always view herself as such. Working comfortably in banking with a background in English, the Brooklyn native could have chosen to remain in her lucrative career but something within her called for more.

“In the beginning, my mother was a little concerned because I quit banking to do this. I was already in my third promotion in, I was doing very well and I finally said ‘you know what I’m going to quit and move over to Dubai.’ There was no rationale to just stop what I’m doing and move away to figure out this business model that ended up being Vendedy,” she said.

Leaving the comforts of steady and reliable paychecks, Souffrant packed up her life and moved to Dubai to pursue a masters in international business and social entrepreneurship at Hult International Business School.

Despite many bewildered and confused friends, Souffrant made the move with the unwavering support of her mother. “When she saw that I was going through that same experience of ridicule from my friends and my peers and my advisors. She saw my conviction and she backed me. It’s easy for someone to jump on board when they see progress. It’s not easy for someone to jump on board to believe in you,” she said.

After intense market research and a pilot beta study, Souffrant and her team are working tirelessly to launch the full app this fall. Utilizing photos to connect travellers with street vendors, Vendedy allows for vendors and consumers to communicate directly.

“For the first time, street vendors can upload photos of their products online via mobile so that a traveling consumer can search, purchase, and pay via SMS. The innovation lies in the use of our global cross border mobile SMS cloud platform for mobile commerce exchange in third world markets — streamlining product, payment and delivery that connects street vendors to traveling consumers,” according to the Vendedy website.

Getting street vendors to see Souffrant’s mission is the easiest part of the process that comes with some guidelines in terms of what photos will be selected and uploaded to the server’s catalog. “We have albums where anyone can take photos of products and vendors in the streets whether that be a traveller taking pictures at a bazaar and is like ‘hey check out this item I loved it,’ a local who knows the area really well and all the cool spots, or the vendors themselves if they have access to a smart phone. It’s literally a funnel of different photos being uploaded to the network and once we can confirm,” she explained.

Since the completion of the pilot program successfully tested in Haiti, Souffrant and her team are hoping to reframe what it means to be a street vendor whether abroad or domestically.

“It frustrates the hell out of me when I talk to investors or those who are so ignorant to how savvy these people are around the world,” Souffrant said. “They ask very mundane questions like ‘do they know how to use a phone?’ People around the world who are in these markets, you are talking about people who are creating unique items from scrap. Someone like that is not someone to be condescending about or overlook.”

Souffrant and her Vendedy team are sparing no time this summer to finalize the app and re-launch it to be used in the Caribbean and introduced to Latin America.

Christine Souffrant is a game changer, leading the technology sector to help alleviate poverty and most importantly reorient the conversations surrounding street vendors in impoverished countries. To learn more about Vendedy, visit www.vendedy.com.

Reach reporter Alley Olivier at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at aolivier@cnglocal.com. Follow Alley on Twitter @All3Y_B.

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