Share and Care: Revive the Kampung Spirit Through Shared Economy

Growing up, the communal spirit was alive and well in the small communities we called kampungs. You recognized the folks down the street, people were friendly and everyone would play, work and share the occasional meal together. We remember a time when neighbours would come over to borrow salt, oil or eggs then bring over cakes, fried rice, or rendang at dinnertime. The concept of wastage was horrifying and the best way to eliminate waste was to give back to the community i.e. the kampung spirit.

As kampungs began making way for those new-fangled, spacious (remember those?) Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats in the 70s, the concept of communal living was slowly but surely being eroded. Fast forward to present day, most of us now live in sterile apartments demarcated by fences, security checks and soundproof walls. Neighbours fight over parking spaces, noise levels, even potted plants. Somewhere along the way, communal living has morphed from “what’s mine is ours” to “what’s mine is mine, get off my lawn”.

(Featured Image: ‘Kampong Spirit by Josephine Chia’ via Marcus Chan)

Share Economy – Kampung Spirit Ver. 2.0

While the traditional kampung spirit is all but a distant memory today, it has taken on (perhaps unintentionally) a new modified form that is the shared economy, one born from the entrepreneurial spirit. If you have a house, a car, or a specific skillset, you can monetize your assets while championing an eco-friendly message of resource optimization.

Airbnb and Uber are two prominent sharing economy examples with the sustainability angle that news agencies like to cite. With Airbnb, property owners open their houses so tourists get a taste of what’s it like to live like a local instead of a visiting passerby. And Uber (as well as Grab in Southeast Asia) provides a plethora of services from food delivery, couriering, taxi and carpooling services provided by an army of freelance drivers.

How It Works

How the shared economy works is best explained by Rachel Botsman, author of The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.  Using the electric drill, Ms Botsman explained it would see a total usage of between 12 and 15 minutes in its lifetime. What people needed was not the drill, but the hole. “Why don’t you rent the drill? Or rent out your own drill to other people and make some money from it,” asked Ms Botsman.


Rachel Botsman, author of The Rise of Collaborative Consumption
(Image by Dan-Taylor via 3Plus International)

So how do owners share assets? In the United States, you could rent a bike on Liquid (formerly Spinlister), get a cake or have your iPhone repaired on Zaarly, and even get loans from the Lending Club (only in America). In Singapore, you can easily get an Uber or Grabcar, hire part-time helpers through Afteryou or share everyday stuff from stools to rechargeable floodlights through Rent Tycoons.

Theoretically, sharing economy businesses can help the environment by optimising energy use and reducing wastes. Yet in an article by last year, Uber was taken to task for increasing the number of cars on the roads instead of reducing it. In Singapore, the Straits Times (ST) also said Uber had contributed to rising COE costs due to aggressive bids.

That said, The Sharing Economy report by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers said 76 per cent of US adults familiar with the sharing economy still agreed it’s better for the environment. Eight-six per cent said it makes life more affordable while 78 per cent concluded it builds a stronger community. A strange dichotomy indeed.

Why Has It Failed To Gain Traction

For all the optimism reported by PwC and the glowing reports by the media, the reality on ground was vastly disproportionate. In a Fast Company report, Adam Berk, founder of Neighborrow, said: “Everything made sense except that nobody gives a shit. They go buy [a drill]. Or they just bang a screwdriver through the wall.”

As Mr Berk had rightly noted, not all services can leverage on the shared economy revenue model. If the “shared asset” is relatively cheap and you have space to house it, people would not want the inconvenience of “renting” it from a stranger – not to mention having to pick it up and return it after. For a business expecting to jump on the share economy bandwagon, the service they provide must be of a higher value than if people were to buy it themselves.

For example, cleaning services provide part time cleaning to small households without bogging them down with a maid levy. With enough households sharing the maid’s services, families pay less while the maid earns more. Everybody wins. The sharing company, matching the maids with the households, provides assurance of the cleaners’ integrity – much like how Uber guarantees their drivers are not reckless, racecar dropouts looking to earn some side cash between watching reruns of Tokyo Drift.

Part time cleaners could even double as day care providers for elderly, or even pets. Students on vacation may also look into providing such services to earn some spare cash, as well as learn empathy and responsibility. Share economy works; but the businesses that use this platform should seriously consider if it is the best one for their product.


(Image Credit: The Real Singapore)

Why The Share Economy Should Be Big in Singapore?

Lucky or not, the share economy has found the equilibrium of value versus revenue in our island state. A car costs upwards of S$100,000. To have it sit idle in a carpark (of which rates are also rising) is a huge waste.

The hospitality sector is another prime industry for share economy. According to statistics by the Singapore Tourism Board, hotels netted S$13 million in paid bookings last year, and S$7 million in the first half of this year. That’s a sizable chunk of return on multi-million dollar condominiums for owners of properties listed on Airbnb, Pandabed and Roomarama.

However, private and public residential properties prohibit short-term leases of less than six months, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Housing And Development Board (HDB). Penalties for HDB home-owners flouting this rule may result in a fine or even the repossession of the property.

Even though URA called for a public consultation in January 2015, it has not yet provided conclusive findings, according to ChannelNewsAsia. However, a quick check on Airbnb, Roomarama and Pandabed revealed more than 300 listings on each platform currently – surely a testament to the popularity of such services.

The rule of thumb for renting out your property in Singapore? Don’t get caught. That means checking your tenants strictly for behavioural problems that might lead to your neighbours complaining, or buying your own land and building your own hotel.

In a Straits Times op-ed, the writer lays down how the share economy can have a bigger role here, and in Asia. If fears of regulation violation, loss of taxes from service providers, increased competition for traditional jobs from the shared economy are real, then face it head on, opined the writer. Even government agencies such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and URA should look into ways to regulate this business model, rather than blanket ban it.

In landscarce, resource-poor Singapore, smarter ways of doing businesses can prove the difference between life and death for a business. If malls open units for rent by day rather than on yearly contracts, small retailers can launch products at pop up shops at in-demand malls. The malls, on the other hand, get a monthly (or quarterly) injection of new ideas and shopping experiences – making it fresher than their competitors. If malls do it right, they can even “overhaul” the shopping experience to rise above online shopping.

Rising costs of living in Singapore has driven many people to bulk buy from across the causeway – which you can then share with your neighbours (void deck sale, anyone?). Airfrov offers consumers the chance to buy items such as branded bags from the countries of origin through travellers. Retirees can offer to babysit neighbours for a nominal fee and build social relations like the ones we’d experience growing up.

If we play our cards right, the shared economy can bring financial relief as well as alleviate some of our care burdens. And, the best part is it might even bring back some semblance of the kampung spirit – even if you have to put a price on it.

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