The future of South Africa’s sharing economy will lie in the hands of strong leaders and a tech savvy next generation.
The rise of ride-sharing services, peer-to-peer marketplaces, and other sharing economy businesses over the last decade has changed the way we view the economy as a whole. Today, people are almost as likely to hire their neighbors over the internet as they are to seek out help from a professional. This is carving out new opportunities for people who want to make some extra cash on the side or those who need more flexibility in their working lives.
This trend is gaining steam all over the world. Uber and Airbnb might be big names in the sharing economy in the United States, but other countries are carving out their own sharing economies and embracing the biggest platforms. South Africa is no exception. Here’s how the sharing economy is taking off in South Africa – and what the future is likely to hold.
South Africa’s sharing economy is making big moves
For several years, South Africans have embraced the benefits of the online sharing economy. One example of this is the enthusiastic adoption of the FON network, which allows users to share their unused bandwidth with others and tap into a large global market of excess bandwidth. This sharing system has led to more South Africans getting internet access, which has opened up many opportunities for the sharing economy in the country.
Sharing economy success requires widespread adoption and buy-in. Without a large network and infrastructure, sharing economies simply don’t work. Introducing FON to South Africa, along with powerhouses AirBnB and Uber, built up public familiarity and trust in the modern, technology-driven sharing economy, which has allowed these networks to flourish.
What could be next?
Community sharing has long been an important tradition in many African countries. In fact, Lyft’s CEO was inspired to start his first ride-sharing company after seeing car-sharing systems flourishing in Zimbabwe. Decentralizing the economy and sharing resources and services are not new concepts, but the internet has made it easier than ever to trade among individuals.
So what does the rise of the modern sharing economy mean for South Africa? As more goods and services become decentralized once again, social cooperation is likely to increase. This may lead to less waste and less inequality, as resources are shared and distributed based on community bonds.
The advanced technology that drives the modern sharing economy could actually shift South Africa’s culture more sharply toward traditional economic and social models. Unlike in the United States, South Africa’s culture is more heavily based on trust between people, which will ultimately allow the sharing economy to grow and expand. With young South Africans’ knowledge of technology, we can expect to see lots of innovation in the sharing economy.
How public policy will shape the sharing economy
Community sharing in the past has occurred between individuals, with no middleman. Today, things are a bit different. Tech companies that are now facilitating these sharing transactions must be regulated in order to protect those providing and receiving services.
There has been a lot of debate about the role of public policy in the sharing economy. Too much regulation will stifle growth and innovation, while not enough opens the door to exploitation and potential danger for users and service providers. For the sharing economy to continue growing in South Africa, policymakers will have to decide where to draw the lines and regulate these kinds of businesses.
Will all of society be open to change?
Huge shifts in the economy might signal larger changes in the future for South Africa. As countries address waste, inequality, corruption and lack of trust for centralized governments, we may see a reorganization of the systems of government in the next few decades.
Societal shifts are challenging, but leaders who are trustworthy and have their citizens’ best interests at heart can help to create positive change. Young people in South Africa may begin to see the sharing economy model as a way forward for the country.
South African leaders will need to continue lighting the way towards the future
Leaders all over the world are grappling with social, economic and environmental problems. South Africa will need strong leaders who are able to build trust and empower their citizens as the country builds a strong sharing economy.
To light the way for the future, South African leaders will need to consider the implications of the sharing economy and how it might affect society as a whole. That’s a tall order, but the next generation of tech-savvy South Africans will expect leaders who understand technology and can help to carve out its role in modern society.
Ryan Ayers is a researcher and consultant within multiple industries including information technology, blockchain and business development. Always up for a challenge, Ayers enjoys working with startups as well as Fortune 500 companies in the US and around the world. He is based in Los Angeles, CA.