NAIROBI — The sharing economy is not a new concept for Kenya. What is referred to today as a “side hustle” has always been a way of life for some — renting out spare rooms, sharing cars, or having a second job. In the past few years, however, the growth of new technology platforms has brought a new avenue of wealth to the 46 million people of Kenya and the sharing economy. New technology formalizes the side hustle and turns it into a legitimate business opportunity for some and empowerment for others.
Two of the biggest players in this market are Airbnb and Uber. Airbnb allows homeowners to rent out their real estate, or just rooms in their house, to tourists or locals looking for an easy and culturally immersive vacation spot. Uber enables drivers to use their own cars as taxis summoned via smartphone.
Airbnb’s initial push into Africa in 2008, while small, upended the tourist market. Whereas travelers used to simply patronize large hotels and their services — marked up souvenirs, restaurants, etc. — they suddenly had the ability to participate in the local culture and economy by renting out houses or rooms from local homeowners. Airbnb currently offers more than 4,000 homes for rent in Kenya alone — a number that doubled from 2015.
“What makes the sharing economy so powerful,” Nicola D’Elia, the managing director for Airbnb in the Middle East and Africa, explained in an interview with African Business Magazine, “is the opportunity to monetize assets or skills you already have. Airbnb is a technology platform that’s generating wealth for millions of people around the world. Now anyone can have a way to earn a little extra money.”
Godwin Ndosi, a Tanzanian resident, thinks he is proof of their success. Goats and Soda, a National Public Broadcast blog focusing on global health and development, wrote about how Ndosi has achieved super hot status and a five-star rating through renting out his four-bedroom bungalow with Airbnb. When all of the rooms in his bungalow are rented, he sleeps outside in a tent.
Uber, the other major player on the scene, has benefited both car owners and those for whom car ownership is simply not feasible. After its initial launch in 2012, Uber has recently begun moving into Kenyan territory after establishing a presence in Johannesburg and Nigeria. By letting owners monetize their assets by working for Uber, citizens without reliable transportation are now able to move more freely about the city when they need to. Both of these benefits empower the people of Kenya and boost their economic system — allowing people to find new avenues of work. Uber’s goal is to improve the transportation ecosystem by empowering drivers.
The theme of empowerment seems to be a common one for not only Uber and Airbnb, but also for any other competition looking to break into the digital sharing economy developing in Kenya. For families teetering on the edge of poverty, the ability to utilize their existing assets in a new way can boost their opportunities and prosperity.
– Tammy Hineline