How Airbnb’s collaborative economy connects the disconnected

Profile picture for user Gail Moody-Byrd By Gail Moody-Byrd August 5, 2015
Gail Moody offers an alternative view of how the collaborative economy can bring wealth to the disconnected.


It’s interesting to try all the offerings of the Collaborative Economy – Task Rabbit, Uber, Lyft – and now, for me, my first Airbnb experience. The logic of “You need a thing? I’ve got that thing. Let’s connect.” – be it a task/skill, a ride/car, or a room/house – is brilliant.

Beyond the utility and logic of these transactions, there is a human drama unfolding that begs to be told. Collaborative Economy based businesses are a masterful way to monetize underutilized resources and bring wealth to the disconnected. A bigger question from the perspective of large enterprises (outside of the new behemoths like Airbnb) is “How do we participate in this sea change in the balance of power in our economy, which is redistributing revenue, redefining value and challenging the notion of an employee?” Having witnessed how this shift can work, I'm sharing an alternative view.

Airbnb’s platform enabled a transaction that brought a remarkable vacation experience to me (the buyer) and created a wage-earning opportunity for a family in a remote part of Guatemala (the sellers). Through Airbnb, we rented Precioso Casa in Rio Dulce, Guatemala from Alejandro, a tech-savvy Guatemalan with a tropical vacation home. The rental package included the services of Neto and his family who support the house. Netso's family have been living adjacent to Precioso Casa for 18 years. They provide transportation, food, home-cooked meals and guided access to the local attractions for Alejandro’s Airbnb guests.

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Neto and family (five to left)

 Alejandro says he went from finding occasional renters from Guatemala City, mainly during holidays, to year-round bookings with Airbnb from Australia, the United States and Chile. He says,

“The existence of Airbnb has allowed me to connect my remote tropical home with travelers seeking to live like a local. I’ve gone from five rentals per year to five rentals in the first three months offering my house in Airbnb. Right now I have seven months using Airbnb and have received ten visitors. Prior to using Airbnb, Neto´s salary was only for taking care of my house. Now, Neto not only receives his salary, he and his wife also receive a percentage of the income from the rentals. Most of our visitors also give them a tip for the excellent service he and his family provides.”

Meanwhile, we first-world types are having intellectual debates about “collaborative models in capitalist frameworks”. What’s the gist of the argument?

“…The Financial Times reflected on what it means to be running “a collaborative business model within a capitalist framework. Are the two even compatible? Or is there a fundamental conflict at the heart of an industry that preaches collaboration but, due to being radically commercialised by venture capital money from Silicon Valley,..”

Anyway, back to Rio Dulce – and the opportunity created by enlisting ALL of the resources on the planet for economic gain. We had a great vacation - living in a little slice of paradise - watching spider monkeys outside our windows, swimming in the river, dining on fish caught by Neto and cooked by his wife, shopping at local markets guided by Neto and cruising on the river with Neto to castles, beaches and villages in one of two boats that came with the house. We had an epic vacation.

But what of this new found level of access for Neto? He can now connect with and profit from travelers with disposable income who were previously beyond his reach – travelers who would otherwise be in a Hyatt or Marriott where Neto would not be employed. That businesses like Airbnb can connect the disconnected – THIS is the untold story of the Collaborative Ecomomy.

Enterprises are waking up to this redistribution of power and finding ways to participate. Jeremiah Owyang, founder of Crowd Companies Council, shows the growth in and nature of corporate participation in the Collaborative Economy:

“…Large corporations, are also adopting, many in the last two years. Towards the end of 2014 we saw a significant increase in adoption in part from Uber’s API which led several partnerships, and Lyft’s aggressive partnerships in early 2015.

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What corporations are doing… they’re deploying what we call as “Brand as a Service” which include on-demand models, such as Whole Foods partnering with Instacart, rental models like BMW’s DriveNow program. Corporations are also launching their own marketplaces, such as Cisco’s used networking marketplace, Patagonia’s used apparel store, andIkea’s marketplace of used goods, or sponsoring the startups with advertising, or co-marketing such as Lyft and MasterCard for “Priceless Rides”, or KLM partnering with Airbnb to offer a unique airline apartments for rent. *

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While pundits in the first world will continue debating whether the Collaborative Economy is a net good, there’s much about which to be optimistic. There is potential for many sectors of the global economy and the humans tied to them, to benefit in ways we can only imagine today. Much remains to be hashed out with Collaborative Economy companies, their business models and relationships to their communities and competitors. But let’s give credit to them for the economic expansion they’re driving in places where the disconnected are enjoying wealth that would otherwise be beyond them.

* Source, Crowd Companies, Jeremiah Owyang