Dear Airbnb, Kudos on your acknowledgment of the racial bias that has bubbled up in the Airbnb ether. Automatically blocking calendar dates when a guest is rejected on the basis of availability is a clever step towards accountability. And it’s a neat example of how morality can be built into technology. A bigger challenge and opportunity awaits. A PR coup of unparalleled proportions. One that would demonstrate that you, gatekeepers of the sharing economy, disrupters of the status quo, connectors of the unconnected, are willing to look beyond market share and profit margins for the sake of the greater good. Call it and own it. Airbnb—Version Refugee.
4.6 million human beings have fled Syria’s bloody five year civil war. 7 million are internally displaced. The truth is that each of us would, in the face of such unimaginable violence, do exactly the same—seek refuge. Walls can be raised. But that will not stop the flow. People will continue to flee unbearable circumstances. What choice do they have? The only appropriate response is one rooted in morality. We must rally to help our fellow human beings despite the disruption to our way of life. Sadly, this crisis in involuntary migration has triggered the worst in us. Hostility stemming from deep seeded insecurities. Xenophobic hate fanned by politicians wanting to cash in on a competitive edge sharpened with the politics of fear.
What doesn’t get as much coverage is that it has also brought out the best in us. Thousands of volunteers are doing what they can to help despite the overwhelming scale of the crisis . We know from past failures that successful integration mitigates future tensions. Shelter is a huge and primary problem. This is where Airbnb—Version Refugee steps in to do what it can do best. Connect those in need with those ready to step up to the plate and free up that extra room or clean out that attic space. What better way to begin real integration than by bringing people into our homes. Focus on families with young children. UNICEF targets the most vulnerable because this provides the biggest return on investment. Count on kids, who will have the easiest time with the language, to bridge the divide. Prepare this generation to become productive, integrated members of society. Families brought into the fold with the backing of an existing member of the community will have a better shot at success. Dare to imagine the friendships, the understanding, the dissipating of fear.
Is Airbnb going to solve the refugee problem? Of course not. But small wins with positive outcomes add up. This small win approach is key to the world’s big challenges, like climate change. Why wait for lethargic, monolithic, vanilla government responses when we, who have seen the writing on the wall, can take matters into our own hands. It’s why firms are innovating to increase energy efficiency or avoid waste. Not because it’s mandated, but because their future demands it. Our government has, given its complicity in the instability that has fueled this crisis, failed abysmally in its responsibility to take on its fair share of the burden. Airbnb could facilitate a means showing we actually do care. If Airbnb needs a boardroom friendly rationale, cast this in terms of an investment in future business. Airbnb relies on tourism, and stability is key to travel. If you need a rationale to get on board, follow the cue of Toni Robinson and the rest of the self-help gurus who agree on one thing. The key to happiness is taking care of others.