Free Mobile Shop is here to build community barter
ASMALL table sits empty out on the path near the north-west entrance to Mahabandoola Park. Around the table are some young people milling about and chatting. They’re dressed in a punk fashion but everything else about the meeting seems pretty relaxed. Under a warm afternoon sun they begin placing what appear to be random household items onto the table-top; books, cooking wares and electrical devices. Once all the items are neatly piled the group waits for the clock to strike 3pm, at which time the shop is declared open to the public. The surprise, however, is that no one is going to pay for the items, just barter something they have brought with them.
In less than ten minutes, all of the day’s items have been traded out to thankful gatherers. The idea behind the shop is simple; there are plenty enough people in Yangon who struggle to afford the items they need and can’t always get access to simple luxurious, and there are people who have something to trade but no one to trade it with. Free Mobile Shop is here to bridge the gap. Ko Kyaw Kyaw, a fiery red haired punk, is the brain behind the store and it thrills him to see people enjoying a shared sense of community.
“It was amazing! It only took seven minutes to get rid of everything,” Ko Kyaw Kyaw says, congratulating his team on their success. It’s the first time Free Mobile Shop has put out wares, but everything went exactly to plan. As a social enterprise movement with a community-oriented heart, Free Mobile Shop operates at 0 profit. Everyone who comes to help is volunteering, and the items they are trading might not be brand new, but hold a lot of value for the people who come with what they can gather.
“In every house, in every family, there will be at least some items that could be traded. It’s better not to keep things we have no use for, we should find the people who want to barter and trade up. It’s about compassion and sharing,” Ko Kyaw Kyaw explained.
The team members, nine of them, have backgrounds in children’s development and philanthropy that they’re bringing to the project. So far it’s only been an experiment, but there is experience in the team which they hope will lead them somewhere where they can affect the wider community. Common items the team puts up for barter include clothing irons, men and woman’s clothing, power banks, used books, sporting goods and kitchen wares. Clothes, it emerged, were the hot item.
The team explained that needy people who came did not actually possess anything to barter. The team allowed those people to leave with a single low value item, but requested people to try to bring something to trade to keep the marketplace running smoothly.
The barter system is novel and did attract some odd looks from people in the park. One person taking part in the trading at the table said, “They tell me it’s about trading, but no one is making any money. It seems strange”. The team was also told by people that their model will not be sustainable. The idea of a bartering market might seems odd at first, the team reasons, but there were definitely people who came away from the event pleased with what they had managed to trade. With time and familiarity, it might grow to be bigger.
The Free Mobile Shop team intend to open shop twice a month from now on around Yangon, using Facebook to get the message out about dates and times. If they find success in Yangon, the team intends to go national, setting up trading tables in different states and regions around Myanmar.
“We hope the team can reduce the sense of greed and commodification in society. The whole project is about giving opportunity and access to more vulnerable people,” Ko Kyaw Kyaw said.
Ko Kyaw Kyaw at the Free Mobile Shop on Mahabandoola Park, Yangon on November 15, 2018.