Sharing isn't just caring, it's good business

While the sharing economy is nothing new to SA, culturally and economically, we're the perfect fit for sharing platforms.

Lee Naik
By Lee Naik, CEO of TransUnion Africa.
Johannesburg, 30 May 2018
TransUnion Africa CEO Lee Naik.
TransUnion Africa CEO Lee Naik.

Photoshop. Google. Uber.

You know your brand has fundamentally changed the way people behave when it becomes a verb. In just nine years, Uber has become so ubiquitous that it's hard to remember a time before it ever existed. Remember when ride-sharing was an exciting innovation and not a standard part of any night out?

Today, Uber is used as shorthand for any on-demand platform that connects a service or skill to someone in need of it, which is why you're assaulted daily with headlines proclaiming this or that service to be the Uber of X. It's the public face of the sharing economy, the disruptive ecosystem of collaborative, peer-to-peer, as-a-service business models that focus on the shared utilisation of existing assets rather than the ownership of new ones.

While Travis and co might get all the spotlight, shared value platforms are becoming the norm for everything from enterprise infrastructure to workspaces and cleaning services.

If you are not using your holiday home 49 weeks of the year, why shouldn't someone else stay there for a fee? What's the point of building and running your own data centre when we can just rent a bit of someone else's and access it through the cloud? If my organisation needs a specific skill for a single project, why do I need to go through a convoluted HR process to get the talent I need?

It's not rocket science: the reason that shared value models are gaining so much traction is because they just make sense. It's stupid to pay for something you don't use. And it's this basic, self-evident truth that's changing the way we consume and provide services.

Ubuntu by any other name

Don't tell the economists and self-styled disruptors, but the sharing economy is nothing new to South Africa. We've been embracing shared value models for a long time. Think stokvels and funeral societies. And with many people unable to own assets, an informal sharing market is already in place.

Culturally and economically, we're the perfect fit for sharing platforms. The Airbnb community has generated an estimated R5 billion's worth of economic activity in the Western Cape alone, while Uber SA boasts over a million active riders despite violence and privacy concerns.

These businesses haven't quite been welcomed with open arms, however, due to fears that they are negatively impacting small business by undercutting the local market. Is the sharing economy all it's cracked up to be? How do we make sure it's sustainable and inclusive, ultimately driving socio-economic growth?

In other words, do we create our own Ubuntu Economy?

The sharing economy grows up

Adapting to an economy that emphasises sharing over ownership is something everyone, from governments to corporations, to the guy who sells beaded animals on the side of the road, will have to grapple with in the next few years. The sharing economy market is expected to reach $335 billion globally by 2025. Protests, regulation and even bans are not going to prevent the inevitable.

It's not rocket science: the reason that shared value models are gaining so much traction is because they just make sense.

Thankfully, shared value models are in the teething phase right now, which means there's plenty of room for maturation. Already, we're seeing existing platforms working more closely with local communities to upskill potential users in relevant business skills. As the platform ecosystem grows, it will create opportunities for smaller providers to offer third-party services to the major players.

Meanwhile, those major players will be forced to find new ways to create and share value as they face insurgents reading from the same disruptive playbook they've used. Already, competitors are springing up within the on-demand mobility industry, seeking to fill gaps that Uber doesn't cover. Daimler and BMW are teaming up to offer a broader suite of services that includes ride-hailing, parking and car-sharing. Here at home, companies like Green Scooter hope to stand up to Uber and Taxify by strategically improving on their existing models.

Because the sharing economy is by its nature more accessible to ordinary people than resource-intensive ownership models, the benefits of peer-to-peer platforms will naturally democratise over time.

As mobile penetration increases, and more people gain access to digital tools, those who have been traditionally excluded from formal business models will be able to scale and sell their services. Some even speculate it's the micro-entrepreneurs who have traditionally lacked access to owned assets who will leapfrog competitors in more developed nations when it comes to embracing the shared economy.

It's not about what you know, it's about who knows what you know

Thriving in the sharing economy all comes down to one guiding principle: a problem shared is a problem halved. At its heart, it's about matching problem to solution: you have a thing and I need to use that thing for a while. Bringing the two together is about data and opportunity. It's about the right information at the right time in the right place.

A true sharing economy runs on the free-flow of data; whether it's knowing where to find what you need to solve your problem, or what you as a service provider need to know to offer working solutions. To build our Ubuntu Economy, we're going to need plenty of facilitators and information brokers: those who understand exactly what information needs to be brought together, and those who can create frictionless and accessible platforms that link it.

Once you realise that a sharing economy is as much about relevant information as it is about on-demand solutions, the possibilities really start to emerge. What if we had an app store for skills and services, where you could find exactly what you were looking for in seconds? A Wikipedia for strategic consulting? A freelancing platform that allowed you to tap into the brainpower of engineers or nuclear physicists for a few hours?

Forget the rideshares and spare rooms. In the sharing economy, anything can be a collective resource. Look beyond the rooms and rides, and opportunities abound to adapt shared value models to African issues: skills and job platforms, education, financial technology, logistics, healthcare, remittances, venture capital and more.

Do you believe the shared economy can take root in South Africa? Where has your organisation seen benefits from tapping into peer-to-peer or matchmaking platforms?