Is the Arab World ready for a collaborative economy? This Syrian student says yes.

by Aline Mayard, May 14, 2013

Would you be ready to carpool? Lend your house or your hammer to someone you don’t know? Give a few hours of your time to teach someone? Chip in someone’s project? If yes, then you’re in for a treat, as the collaborative economy is coming to the Middle East!

Wamda's contributors have been torn about whether the Middle East is ready for a sharing economy- Ahmad Majid said that there are endless possibilities for sharing in Saudi Arabia, while Gulay Ozkan noted that sharing startups in the Middle East will have to innovate to mesh with local culture.

Yet if you believe that a sharing economy is still just a Western boho’s dream, have a look at what Ahmad Sufian Bayram and his friends in Syria have to say. They recently set up the first MENA branch of OuiShare, a global group dedicated to supporting the collaborative economy.

They may be in the midst of a civil war, but they're ready to launch a new type of revolution in the Arab world.

What is the collaborative economy, exactly?  

In a collaborative economy, people share their expertise, time, space and goods, both online or offline, in order to save money, maximize their use of resources, and connect.

Over the last 10 years, the movement has gotten traction globally, with the rise of open source, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, collaborative consumption, and maker and hacker communities. 

A year ago, a few French activists created OuiShare, to support the collaborative economy, first in Paris, then in London, Brussels, Barcelona, Rome, Madrid, Munich, Berlin and more. Bayram joined the open network earlier this year.

“Arab countries are no different than other countries.”

This is what Bayram keeps repeating. A 22 years-old student in business administration, he believes this "shift in paradigm" is happening in the Arab world as well, as people increasingly care about maximizing benefits rather than maximizing profits.

Bayram believes that the Middle East is ready for a sharing economy movement. “We have a technology revolution here in the Middle East, we have communities, we trust each other, and we have the ability to share, but also we have a huge recession and a lack of money,” he says. “We have the abilities and we have the need.”

What's more, people are already collaborating without realizing it. “In Beirut, people share taxis to reduce costs, find taxis faster and reduce the traffic.”

In Syria, people share electricity generators, and more than 38,000 people joined a Facebook group to sell their used items. In Morocco, Avito.ma, a classified ads website have become the second most-visited website. Hackerspaces and coworking spaces are on the rise. In Egypt, Palestine, and Lebanon people are using crowdsourcing to get informed about traffic through services like Wasselni or Ma2too3a.

It's still early days, however. Swaphood encouraged people to swap their items locally, but only nine items have been listed in the first quarter of 2013. Arabrooms.com wanted to let people rent each others' apartments, but seems to have pivoted into a traditional hotel booking service.

Beyram believes it’s just a matter of time. "Once people see the benefits, they make it happen." 

Evangelizing in the Arab World

In the meantime, he's turned into a one-man evangelist for the collaborative economy, blogging and posting videos in English and Arabic to explain the concept. 

Last week, on May 11th, he organized the first OuiShare event (shown below) in the Arab world, in Damascus, with the help of Wikilogia

Following this event, Bayram created a Facebook group to foster debates and discussion.



“People have to start, then the government will give it more power.”

Bayram isn't stopping with Syria; he's now creating vanguard teams in major Arab cities to establish the vision and spread community values.

His country might be in the midst of a civil war, but the Syrian student believes that governments throughout the region could one day play a role in supporting collaborative consumption, by giving legal incentives.

Now, he's planning future events in Beirut, Cairo and Amman, and hopefully in the Maghreb or Gulf, once he finds sponsors- or crowdfunders.

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Aline is French Editor at Wamda. After having worked as the Online Marketing and Community Manager at French startup Buzzcar, she moved to the Middle East. She writes about traveling and culture in the Middle East on her blog Yallabye.euYou can follow her on Twitter  @aline_mydand @yallah_bye, connect with her on LinkedIn, or reach her at aline[at]wamda[dot]com.