Africa: The era of collaborative consumption has arrived

   

A new wave is sweeping across developed countries and can make a big impact in Africa. For those who thought group buying was the last big goldmine in ecommerce, collaborative consumption has triggered a new and sustainable rush. In a world struggling to recover from a rough economic patch and more importantly with waste and global warming; collaborative consumption has come to the rescue.

According to the (almost) ever trusted knowledge bank we know as Wikipedia:

The term collaborative consumption is used to describe an economic model based on sharing, swapping, bartering , trading or renting access to products as opposed to ownership.

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This model presents consumers with an opportunity to expand their ability to partake in previously limited areas of consumption, while owners of goods, skills or property can derive more value from them. An example of this win-win scenario would be Rentstuff, a website that lets anyone rent various types of goods out for a fee. If you urgently require an electric drill at a not too commercial cost, a site like rentstuff could enable you to access it for a defined period of time. The owner of the electric drill will in turn earn an extra income by digging it out of the storeroom. Accordingly, the world could benefit from one less electric drill manufactured as it would have only been required for a limited time. The indirect effect of this would touch on decreasing waste.

Airbnb (Air bed and breakfast) is taking the world by storm as it provides property owners with an opportunity to rent out their properties to verified travellers. Instead of booking oneself into an expensive hotel, a traveller can find a ‘decent place to crash’ at favourable terms. The average rental fee on the website is $50 per day, with property owners from as far afield as Johannesburg and Rio De Janeiro. It has risen to command upwards of $1 billion as a valuation and a Hollywood hotshot like Ashton Kutcher as one of its investors. Competitors like Wimdu are following in hot pursuit.

This model has evolved so rapidly that people can even rent out their time. In a developing world context such as is the case with Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa, unemployment is rife. Many tertiary educated graduates emerge into a marketplace that cannot absorb them and thus fail to apply their skills and sustain themselves. In America, task rabbit is providing people with opportunities by letting them rent out their time. A teacher can extend his/her language skills by helping a startup with its copywriting needs. Seemingly small, project based work like this has the power to make people’s lives better.

The collaborative model can work in Zimbabwe due to the existence of a small, tightly knit population. In many cases friends, family and friends of friends could extend their social networks by taking part in this sharing economy. For a country battling to find its economic feet, a great deal of opportunities can be unlocked in the process. On the other hand, experience has shown that without trust the model is useless. For local entrepreneurs keen to roll out a collaborative consumption platform, understanding local laws and putting in place safety or insurance measures is important. It’s one thing to earn a tidy commission when a projector is rented out, however there needs to be a clear due diligence and dispute resolution policy to smoothen the process.


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