The (R)Evolution of Work
Over the past 3 to 4 years, the “sharing-economy” has captured the attention of the broader public, politicians, workers, unions and the press. Those of us who are part of this technological revolution believe that it is much more than a capitalist tool, but echoes the idea that many of us hold dear. It is an idea of a connected society in which communal sharing and exchange come to the fore. Marcel Mauss, elegantly expresses this in his short book titled; “Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaïques” or “An essay on the gift: the form and reason of exchange in archaic societies”.
The sharing economy is in many ways an extension of what Mauss termed, nearly a century ago the as the “gifting economy”. This is a philosophy that essentially encourages us to reject the status quo, to live beyond the boundaries that have been established by systems and government. It is the extension of a forgotten social order that encourages individuals and communities to share their possessions and experiences. The philosophy has elements of Emma Goldman’s approach to anarchism, which she documented in a book titled; “Anarchism and other Essays”. In it she defines it as being, “…a philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made laws; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary.”
In the 21st century, the sharing economy empowers people by giving them the opportunity to monetize their spare skills, homes, cars and capital. There have been concerns about the socio-economic impact that is brought in by this digital revolution. This has led to major disruption in the broader service sector. Companies like Uber and Airbnb have produced products that have challenged existing industries and laws. The disruption has extended as far as the labour market. Many driver “partners”, in Uber’s case use the platform to supplement their incomes. This is partly due to the fact that more people have spare time on their hands post 2008, due to retrenchments and slowed economic growth. In the case of Airbnb, people are opening up their homes to travellers to share experiences and in so doing, aide them in their journey.
As of 2016, many on-demand marketplaces have come through, across a wide range of verticals. The majority of them face a tense, regulatory and political climate that could potentially destroy marketplace startups. What is becoming increasingly clear though, is that Uber and Airbnb, have collectively raised Billions of dollars in capital, not only for global expansion purposes, but to also to mount legal and regulatory challenges that relate to claims that its drivers are wrongly classified as contractors, not employees, as well as the laws governing its activities. In Airbnb’s case, the issues are slightly more complex. The “war-chest” raised by the company is largely to challenge local zoning bylaws and the behemoth that is the hotel industry.
I’m in no way an advocate for corporate greed and exploitation, nor am I in support of the allegations that Uber is undercutting partners and providing them with no support, that is contrary to what this revolution is about. There are ways to build profitable and sustainable companies that do not exploit either side of the “peer-to-peer” market. As I’ve stated above, some of us believe in the true ideals governing this sharing economy. There are examples however, where companies have gone too far in the interest of gaining marketshare and outrageous profits. Homejoy, a now defunct US based on-demand home cleaning startup, similar to SweepSouth (I’m a fan by the way), shut down in July 2015. Chief among the reasons cited were, “many unresolved challenges in the home services space.” In lay-man terms, the startup grossly underpaid the cleaning staff that they had on the platform. Cleaners were essentially classified as contractors which gave the company room to undercut wages. These actions resulted in the startup being the subject of many lawsuits that dealt with the classification and treatment of its contractors in the US, by the way, Uber and many others are currently facing the same problem.
What we’ve also seen of late is that a number of marketplaces are leveraging the community of buyers and sellers to create a unique experience and differentiator. In these instances I cannot fault the building of digital communities and ecosystems. I’m a user of Uber, Airbnb and our startup, Spaanie (which is a service marketplace that enables you to outsource any task that you want done to local service provider) and a number of other platforms. However, I’ve also come to understand the role that they play in destabilising the system, which if I’m honest, I partly relish. On our side we do not take a transaction fee, nor do we force interactions on the platform, we actually encourage people to build relationships on our site and take hose offline.
Before I get carried away, it is important that we consider the environment that allows for our startups to exist. Many of these companies create opportunities and access that is unparralled. In the past couple of years, many emerging market economies have felt the pain from a slow global economy, largely driven by slowing cyclical Chinese and US data. This coupled with the uncertainty in the global commodity markets, has created new opportunities. The new generation of consumers, employees, service providers, small businesses, freelancers and temps are moving closer each day towards sharing and collaboration. As you now know, I’m a firm advocate of a self-determined society. In so far as the “world of work” is concerned, a number of tools have been created in the last decade that have forever changed the way we work and consider opportunities. This has become more evident with the rise of sharing economy, which for me is the best thing since the Internet, if done right.
At Spaanie, we’re seeing some interesting trends. It’s clear to us that many millennials seek a life that is fundamentally different from that of their parents. This has resulted in us working tirelessly to build a platform that removes the blockages that come from unnecessary and strenuous labour activity. We know that:
- If given the opportunity, more people are inclined to work for themselves or from home.
- A balanced life has become the priority for many.
- The days of 30 year service watches and commemoratory speeches are done.
- More people are either freelancing, or supplementing their incomes by using their skill sets.
- Office work is on its way out.
- Small businesses and consumers struggle to connect on platforms that were built prior to the web 2.0 revolution.
At Spaanie, we see ourselves as mavericks on a mission to democratize local commerce across the African continent. Software that is built for ordinary people enables lives to change in a meaningful way. The power is no longer constrained to a hand full of labour brokers, recruitment rackets (in our case) and in the case of Airbnb and Uber, the large cartel like hotel and metered taxi industries.
The African continent is full of untapped potential. We believe in the all-important power that technology has to connect, empower and uplift. In this journey we hope that our community will guide us in achieving our mission.
Ours, along with many other startups is pure – We see a revolution, prepare for; “…it’s coming”.
Goitse Konopi, Co-Founder & CEO of Spaanie.com (A location-based job discovery platform that enables you to find quality talent and local service providers).