In the low income neighborhoods of Manila, families convert the front doors of their homes into convenience stores.
They don’t sell eggs by the dozen or six-packs of Coca-Cola. They sell single eggs and single cans of Coke. And they compete with three or four identical stores on the same block yet manage to stay in business.
Zachary Crosser, a 22-year-old Berkey resident who graduated from Boston College in May, plans to figure out how they do it. He won a $11,900 Fulbright scholarship to spend nine months in the Philippines this year researching the socioeconomic implications of these stores, known as sari saris.
Mr. Crosser first encountered sari saris, which means “variety” in Tagalog, while studying in the Philippines during the fall of his junior year in college.
Everyday on his way to school, he passed sari saris.
“I saw that there were three to four on the same block all selling the same things,” he said. “It didn’t seem like that business model could succeed.”
Even so, sari saris populate much of the developing world. They seem to appeal most to low-income customers who prefer to buy unit items according to their day-to-day needs because they don’t have enough disposable income to buy goods in bulk.
Mr. Crosser said the stores also hold an intangible value. “It was some place that community members could visit,” he said. “It was a daily thing to go shopping there.”
The economies of developing countries have intrigued Mr. Crosser since high school. A 2009 graduate of St. John’s Jesuit High School and Academy in Toledo, he said a school service trip to Guatemala the summer before his senior year got him interested in international development work.
While pursuing a degree in eeeeeeeebusiness administration and a concentration in economics at Boston College, he made time for theology and ethics courses. He wanted to figure out how to combine an interest in social justice with his business education.
The Fulbright might help him piece that puzzle together. For his project, he will collect data on sari saris.
“I would do a quantitative analysis on whether or not sari saris are a good economic choice for a livelihood,” he said. “Another part would be doing interviews and more qualitative research as to why they have become so popular and look at the economics of them through that.”
This year, Mr. Crosser hopes to gain a better understanding of the Filipino people and learn more about the realities of life in marginalized communities where sari saris are popular
“How do they live day to day? What are their struggles and joys?" he said.
Although his post-Fulbright plans are hazy, he has considered pursuing a master’s degree in international development, staying in the Philippines, or spending a year volunteering domestically.
“I’m really open to being anywhere in the world for the next two years,” he said. “I don’t want to get too set on anything right now.”
But he knows that one day, he wants to use his business education to do good.
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