The sharing economy has the potential to bring huge benefits to resource-strapped nations. In places that may not have many physical assets, sharing services allow people to monetize their time and better utilize their available resources.
Until recently, Cuba has been under complete embargo by the United States and hasn’t had much access to cheap consumer goods. April Rinne, a thought leader and high-profile advisor in the global sharing economy, created an extensive report for the World Economic Forum examining the sharing culture in Cuba that arose out of the U.S. embargo and an overall lack of available capital and foreign investment.
What’s Happening in Cuba?
Unlike the sharing economy in Western countries, the Cuban sharing economy developed without private, digital platforms to facilitate transactions between users. The Cuban sharing culture is embedded in everyday lives – doctors teach classes, engineers drive taxis, and teachers might even farm tobacco. In addition, the Cuban government has programs for managing and investing in the sharing economy.
Casas Particulares are perhaps the most notable and well-known facet of the Cuban sharing economy. Like newer home-sharing platforms, each casa is run by a local person that has opened their home to guests. Casas are marked by a small white logo with a blue symbol to let potential guests know that they’re welcome there. Hosts often provide breakfast and a unique experience that traditional hotels can’t accommodate.
What Challenges does Cuba Face?
Limited internet access remains a huge obstacle to the sharing economy’s development in Cuba. Fewer than 20% of Cuba’s 11 million people own a cell phone and fewer than 5% of residents have internet, which is often expensive and slow. Individuals will use government, library, and other public wifi facilities to browse the web. This poses huge challenges for Western-style sharing platforms that require an App to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions.
In addition, Cuba’s economic contact with the West might provide citizens access to affordable cars. While this would damage Cuba’s informal ride-share system and increase overall congestion, some critics argue that Cuba’s current sharing culture wastes skilled laborers’ time and that such individuals, like engineers, should not be spending part of the workday driving taxis.
Foreign investors and entrepreneurs need to take care when entering the Cuban marketplace. While their intentions to improve quality of life may be genuine, they should work with and listen to local leaders and individuals in order to create programs and services that enhance the daily lives of locals.