By Shambhavi Saxena:
A little over a decade ago, getting around the city was pretty hard. For families that didn’t own cars, the choice was between cramped and constantly lunging DTC buses, or haggling endlessly with autowallahs. In the newly built Gurgaon, the main mode of transport was cycle-rickshaws. Since then, things have improved a lot. However, even today, while the Metro facilitates interstate travel, it’s last-mile connectivity that’s still a pain. In this scenario, apps like Ola or Jugnoo mean a great deal.
For one, you have an assured ride on a metered fare. But that’s not all. These apps connect people in both the organised and unorganised sectors, thus tapping into the concept of the ‘shared’ or ‘crowd’ economy. While a standard criticism, levied against these very apps, is that millennial-run businesses and a millennial-majority user-base have made the world a lazier place, in so many ways, they have also opened doors.
For instance, the convenience of a GPS-tracked cab service at any hour has encouraged more women to push the boundaries of self-imposed curfews. Today, there’s a shared-economy for food, health, housing, education, finance, travel, and tons more. And with the right pushes and ideas, it might even rewrite some of our social spaces to be more accessible, across the board.
Here are some interesting developments.
Apps like Ola and Uber offer passenger and carpool services (which can help reduce your carbon footprint), but you’ve also got TruckSumo, BlowHorn and Maalgadi, who are making packing-and-moving more convenient. If you’re moving cities with only a few belongings, it may seem like a huge waste to hire one of those big ‘ol trucks, which is why many of these services allow you to choose the size of your transport vehicle – from a small car to a large truck. Oh, and with GPS tracking features, you can avoid the bad experience of your truck not showing up or being super delayed.
Apps like Practo hasten the process of medical appointments, and services like Netmeds deliver healthcare supplies right to your door. Sure ‘delivery’ services may not be all that new, but back in the day they were limited to just groceries. A similar system for medical needs definitely eases the process for a person who may be, temporarily or permanently, unable to leave the house. Also, you avoid the risk of missing a prescription because you couldn’t go out and stock up!
The artifice of highly priced hotels is being upstaged by several contenders like San Francisco based company Airbnb, which launched in India this year. The service matches travelers with homes and families ‘letting out’ rooms for a period. Like transport apps, the company earns a service fee, while homeowners have a source of income. And it’s not just for humans alone. For folks who don’t want to leave their furry family members at kennels, and can’t find dog-sitters while they’re out of town, British grooming and care company Dogtastic arranges boarding for pets with other dog-happy families. So basically, Couchsurfing for dogs! What’s also interesting about this model is that it takes the strain off of land itself – identifying existing spaces in homestays is a far more appealing idea than creating them on new land, or in already congested urban areas.
Coursera, TedEd, Open Yale Courses and OpenCulture, have pretty much revolutionised the way we learn. Users can benefit from e-classes on an ever-expanding range of subjects, taught by some pretty reputed educators, via video and other electronic means. Some of these courses are paid and some free, but all of them enable learners who are unable to sit in a physical classroom, for whatever reason. Peer-to-peer learning is encouraged people around the world. What’s not to love about sharing ideas and research across geopolitical boundaries.
Certain projects are taking investment to a new level, like Rang De. This microcredit non-profit organization allows people to invest in grassroots-level entrepreneurs in underserved communities. It’s a little thing called social investing – all the stuff that usual schemes do for the investor, with the added advantage of contributing to business, health, education and more in a community that can benefit from it.
What’s obvious is that the shared economy model offers a variety of alternatives, and is already influencing our lifestyles in multiples ways. The pressure to have staid status symbols – like the newest car, or a ‘classy’ hotel room – is lessened when affordable and less wasteful alternatives (perceived to be cool, too) are available. Millennials are among its biggest user base, and their concerns – over a company’s social relevance, or their impact on the environment – is also reflected in how these businesses function.
According to this report by EY, the global sharing economy is forecasted to grow from US$3.5 billion in 2012 to US$115 billion by 2016; while there’s already a big market for these services, it is expected to expand and evolve, adding more to the roster. And with an increase in users for every kind of convenience needed and guaranteed, entrepreneurs will certainly benefit from tapping into the crowd economy.