2. “It Is Such An Honor Having The Opportunity To Learn”

Day: Monday, December 1, 2014


After our last meeting with all the vendors we had created a schedule of days to meet both with just the mentor group then with all the vendors. Today was the first meeting with just the mentors after not being with them for a week. We were excited to start teaching them about captioning photos and having them type out the basic information that would be on the top of their vendor page. This included a picture of them, along with their name, pitch, vendor number, and monthly goal.

Cast of Characters

  • Xolani– Big Issue Vendor, co-researcher
  • Fikiswa– New Big Issue Vendor, co-researcher
  • Themba– Big Issue Vendor, co-researcher
  • Chelsea– American volunteer with background in street papers, film, and production


Big Issue South Africa offices conference room


We entered The Big Issue with high hopes and spirits, excited to spend time with the vendor mentor group after being away for a week. Xolani was the first vendor to arrive and he came in with large smiles. It was nice to have him come in and say that he missed us. It truly shows the relationships that we have formed with the vendors during this whole process. After a few minutes Themba came running in like a ball of fire practically knocking over chairs to give us hugs. We were a bit surprised by the amount of enthusiasm he brought with him but we were extremely grateful for it. Fikiswa came in next and offered us hugs as well. Unfortunately Lavista was not able to make the meeting because he was sick, but it ended up being beneficial; if he comes to the mentor meeting on Thursday the other three mentors could try and teach him what they learned before taking it to the bigger group. With all mentors energized and prepared to start, we began our meeting.

We had created powerpoints to help explain the structure of the meeting and to help lay out questions and activities that we would be helping the mentors with. To start we wanted to brainstorm with the vendor mentors on ways they would explain the purpose of the vendor website platform to other vendors. Being a mentor would mean they have to inspire other vendors to continuously update their pages and participate in this website platform. Fikiswa and Xolani both agreed that this platform is a business opportunity that will help other vendors make sales even when they aren’t able to be on their pitch. Fikiswa emphasized that a person cannot be on their pitch 7 days a week; sometimes they get sick or there is something wrong with their family or home and they have to be away. Themba said that this would be an exciting opportunity for customers to see the vendors online and what their life is like outside of selling. Another great point that Fikiswa brought up was that putting the vendor’s profiles online will make them more official and prove that they aren’t beggars. When discussing her going up to car windows to try to sell the magazine she said, “Some people try to hand me two slices of bread. And I’m like, I can buy my own bread, I’m a business person”.

Brainstorming What It Means To Be A Mentor

Brainstorming What It Means To Be A Mentor

All three vendors understood their roles as mentors but we wanted to have an open discussion with them to ensure that we had a shared vision of how the mentor program would work. Fikiswa talked about how their job is to make sure vendors understand everything about the website platform. They will be there every step of the way and answer any questions other vendors may have, whether it’s about sales or what they have to put online. She also said that this position is something great to add to their resumes and that “it is such an honor having an opportunity to learn”. Xolani said that this platform will help the vendors’ business grow and he will help the vendors realize this aspect. He wants other vendors to open their minds to having their own business. He said that “if vendors go on this project, they will be spread everywhere”. Themba said that he will help vendors understand that the website platform will be able to connect them more with their customers. He says it would be cool for a customer to see himself on the website with his vendor.

After brainstorming how the mentors wanted to explain this project to other vendors we switched gears to more technological aspects of the project. We wanted to get a good grasp on some of the skills the vendors would need to be able to put their content online. It was difficult for Themba and Xolani to understand this question. Many of their answers were still concerned with how they would get other vendors to upload content or how they would get the word out about this website platform. Fikiswa was the only one who really understood what we meant but it took her a while to get her words out because Themba was talking forever. She had to tell Themba to stop because she knew his answer was not what we were looking for at that moment. She said, “Themba you drive me nuts sometimes, I don’t think that’s what they’re asking.” Fikiswa then went into saying what she believed vendors would need to be able to put things online. She said that they would need internet and then maybe have the website platform be advertised in a small paper. She also mentioned that written word should be used so that those who are deaf can read and learn about them as well. Xolani had a different idea and talked more about how The Big Issue itself needs to advertise more and explain what the magazine truly is.

To get a bit more insight we helped them on by asking what they would need to take pictures or to write down a paragraph explaining their week or if they would need help with voice recordings, and they all agreed that they would need devices to help with those aspects. Fikiswa was really excited about having pictures because “pictures can tell a story”. However the problem with the writing is that vendors need to learn how to type a bit more. The mentors had experience but a lot of the others may not have that so it would be useful for them to learn, allowing them to advance themselves. The mentors also expressed interest in creating emails for themselves so that they can show their customers and whoever else that they are true business people.

After all the brainstorming was completed we moved on to a photo captioning activity so the vendor mentors could start thinking creatively about how to show what a picture was saying (Our photo captioning activity can be found here). They were a bit confused about what we meant when we said captioning. We explained that we wanted to know what was going on the picture, who was there, why they took the picture, and what it expresses to them. Fikiswa finally understood and said that this was like a photo analysis. This was the feedback we were looking for to add to our how-to-guide because we understand words in one way, but that may not be the same for the vendors.

Photo Analysis Activity

Photo Analysis Activity

The activity went well and it helped for the vendors to have examples of what a caption was as well. After this activity we wanted to help the mentors with technological skills so we began teaching them how to update a blog post on their own. Gianna worked with Fikiswa, Ari worked with Xolani, and Nadjia worked with Themba. Through this activity a lot of truths were discovered. It was very difficult for Themba and Xolani to use the computer and understand moving the mouse and clicking to select. We were not expecting this when we first started and it worried us. However, Fikiswa understood very well and was able to teach back what she had learned to Gianna. Xolani and Themba struggled with the relaying back of information.

The activity was to have the vendor’s type out their name, vendor number, pitch, and monthly goal. It took a while for Xolani and Themba to type and we could tell that they were getting a bit frustrated, because it was not coming easy for them. To relieve some stress the vendors took pictures of one another to be use as their profile pictures which relaxed them a bit. Fikiswa wanted to learn how to upload the pictures so we let her as Xolani and Themba watched how the process worked. They each then added their picture to their personal page; this was able to be performed with a lot more ease than the beginning. Xolani, Themba, and Fikiswa left with smiles and excited to see us again on Thursday to learn more. However, our team was a bit discouraged at how challenging the day had been. But after discussions with Scott and Steve as well as Trudy we realized that many of the vendors would need much more extensive technological training than what we can provide for them; allowing our team to focus more on PhotoVoice and truly instilling a great vendor mentor program before we leave.

Uploading Their Profile Pictures To The Blog

Uploading Their Profile Pictures To The Blog


Ari: I was very hopeful walking into the Big Issue. The plans we had were fairly simple, and nothing was too out of the ordinary. As the vendors walked in we found out that Lavista was sick, and that was very unfortunate. I had expected that the vendor mentors were going to have difficulties with working on computers and was fully prepared to have to teach relatively simple skills to them in the process of completing their blog posts. However I was not prepared for the level of illiteracy that there was. I worked with Xolani and had to teach him to how to use the trackpad, how to click using the cursor and how to find letters on the keyboard. Working with him was very eye opening. It gave me insight into how the project will work after we are no longer at The Big Issue. Unfortunately it seems like Big Issue staff will have to upload the content in order to make it sustainable.

Gianna:Today was a very eye-opening day for me. I was aware that the vendors computer literacy skills were lacking, but I was surprised to the extent they were lacking. This makes me reconsider the idea of implementing a weekly update post on the website profile. I don’t think it is impossible for the vendors to learn how to use a computer, but the learning curve will be greater than I expected. This makes me reconsider the role of the mentor group. Ideally, I would love the platform to be as vernder run as possible. The technology aspect of that is currently hindering making the website platform completely vendor maintained. So what we are going to have to do now is play to our vendor mentor’s strengths and get them involved with as much of the process as possible. Just because they are struggling uploading the content to the computer, doesn’t mean they can’t be involved in gathering content. It also doesn’t mean that they cannot do certain aspects of the uploading as well. I think as we spend more time with the vendors and hear about their strengths and weaknesses and what they want to be involved in, it will become more evident what their emerging roles will be when we leave.

Nadjia: Today went a bit differently than I had anticipated. I worked with Themba on the computer and it was a challenge. He had previous experience with computers so slightly knew how to use it. However he would forget to do simple things so I would have to reiterate them many times. Such as moving the cursor to where you want the words to go and then clicking to actually put it there. He did well however with knowing when he did something wrong, although he go frustrated when he did not get something right on the first try. I tried to be patient and reassure him that he could start over and try again and he was appreciative of that. When we finished and asked what went well and what didn’t, Themba said that as a mentor you have to be patient and that I did a great job with doing that when working with him. It was good to see that we both had learned mutually from each other even in ways I hadn’t thought would happen before. Themba said he wanted to implement many of the ways I talked with him and kept his spirits high when he worked with other vendors.

Continue to Scene 3: Taking it to the Streets