Hi Emanuele – I was scheduled to interview you about Fairbnb – you’ve set up a co-operative alternative to Airbnb, which we absolutely support. However, things have taken a bit of a turn since we started talking, and now you’re using your platform to help Ukrainian refugees.
So we’ll talk about Fairbnb another time, but right now I want to ask about what you’re doing for refugees, and how people can get involved.
And I genuinely have no idea what you’re doing, so we can start from scratch.
So you have this platform – fairbnb.coop – and you’ve decided that you’re going to use it to help ukrainian refugees – what’s your aim?
In the last couple of years we’ve developed a booking platform, with ethical, regenerative tourism as the goal. A big problem in the cities we’re operating in is homelessness. We’ve been looking at how we can use our platform to meet demand from people who would like to offer shelter to homeless people. The Ukrainian refugee crisis has made this idea much more important, and we decided that it was time to put the plan into action. It might not be implemented perfectly, but we need to be true to our values.
Our platform is similar to other booking sites like Airbnb, but ours is co-operative, and we reinvest in the places we operate, rather than sucking wealth out of them to pay shareholders. But on the platform, it’s similar – you browse, you contact the host, you book, you go on holiday.
This can also be applied to crisis management – if there are international NGOs looking for accommodation, they can use the platform (we’ll separate properties for holidays and for refugees; we’re just looking to provide a tool to the community).
This platform can be used by people willing and able to give shelter to refugees. We just provide the framework, and tech support, and we’re working with NGOs worldwide, because we’re not experts in this field – the psychological burdens of refugees, care provision. So we’re working with NGOs to check hosts (we don’t want refugees to go from war to an abusive situation), and to help refugees with any bureaucratic hurdles.
Does the host receive payment, or is it entirely voluntary?
Initially, we are launching without a payment system. It’s a free meeting place, and if there are any payments required, these can be organised between the hosts, NGOs and refugees. Later ,we’ll add a payment system, that NGOs can advise us on, and that can allow payments to be made by sponsors if necessary.
What’s your geographical range? Can people in the UK get involved?
Absolutely. It depends on in-country decisions about accepting refugees of course. It’s totally free, and you’re very welcome. Don’t expect your listing to be published immediately – first you’ll be called, vetted, checked etc. We can’t let vulnerable women and children go anywhere without careful checks.
By the way – this will not just be about the Ukrainian situation. The platform will stay, so that we can try to help homeless people and refugees from future crises. We want to provide this service into the future.
People can register here – https://fairbnb.coop/refugees/.
And how are you funded? How are you able to provide this service?
Our funding comes from the co-operative ecosystem. We’ve been seeking impact funds in the co-operative world – ethical banking, co-operative alliances. We’ve been successful. We managed to raise over a million euros during the pandemic.
We have large ambitions, and many of them don’t bring in much revenue, and anyway we’re constantly distributing our revenue – so we’re always looking for help. Everyone who likes our model and wants to be a host, a partner, or to bring value in any other way is very welcome.
So people can just contact you now?
Yes – as well as hosts, we’re looking for ‘local ambassadors’ – who will interact with local administrations / communities. We have a plan for ethical franchises, where we share revenue with a local organisation. At the moment, we’re talking with groups in Scotland, Wales and London
Are you just operating in Europe, or further afield?
At the moment, we’re present in Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, and soon Poland, Turkey, Germany and Austria. We’re also talking with people in Canada. We’re small at the moment – we have 500 hosts on the platform. But we have a lot of interest, and a lot of support for what we do. We’re growing fast.
Can people donate?
When they book, they can donate. We don’t ask for donations, but if people want to donate, sure. They could also help us on social media, communications, press releases – it’s all very welcome.
What barriers are you facing or might you face, and how might we help you remove them or get round them?
We’re not finding hurdles – everyone we talk with is welcoming our initiative. There will always be people who need housing, or to escape from a toxic situation. We want to provide for that.
I think it’s a brilliant initiative. However, there’s some criticism that there are lots of initiatives arising now to help Refugees from Ukraine but in the past there wasn’t this much response to other refugee crises. What is your position on that?
I think it’s true. I share the same concerns. I guess it’s because it’s on Europe’s doorstep, plus there are cultural similarities. We started thinking about this idea before the Ukraine crisis, and we think it’s an opportunity for people to show that they care about refugees, and it’s a way to create a solution that’s here to stay. We also want to help people from Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.
For those people who say ‘Italy first’ or ‘British people first’ – the platform can cater for this attitude as well. We don’t want anyone to live on the street, whether they’re from 10,000 km away for whether they’re from your neighbourhood.
We can provide a tool. We need professionals to help to house people during difficult and delicate times, but we can provide a useful tool.
So this is going to be a permanent platform to help regugees in future, and also homeless people in the home country.
Absolutely, yes. Also children escaping from toxic households, women escaping from violent relationships, divorcees who can’t afford to live in a decent house. Everyone needs to be safe when they go to sleep at night. In 2022, it’s a disgrace that you can find people sleeping on the streets in wealthy countries, and even worse that some people try to prevent this by putting barriers up or removing benches etc.
It’s outrageous in wealthy countries that so many people don’t have a home, yet others have second homes.
I’m not advocating for communism, but it just takes a little to provide for these people. I think it should be a criterion for considering ourselves civilised countries. It’s shameful.
I agree. I wish you well Emanuele. We’ll schedule another interview to talk about the normal operations of Fairbnb.
Thanks Dave, and thanks everyone for listening.
- Our platform is similar to other booking sites like Airbnb, but ours is co-operative, and we reinvest in the places we operate, rather than sucking wealth out of them to pay shareholders.
- This platform can be used by people willing and able to give shelter to refugees. We just provide the framework, and tech support, and we’re working with NGOs worldwide, because we’re not experts in this field – the psychological burdens of refugees, care provision.
- By the way – this will not just be about the Ukrainian situation. The platform will stay, so that we can try to help homeless people and refugees from future crises. We want to provide this service into the future.
- People can register here – https://fairbnb.coop/refugees/.
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