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The Sharing Economy: 400,000 Guests At Home




When we talk about the sharing economy, there are a lot of connotations around it, both positive and negative. The first two companies that come to mind are Airbnb and Uber, with the latter having its fair share of controversies regarding regulation not just in South Africa, but around the world.

Airbnb has been a pioneer of the sharing economy, with currently over 3 million listings spread over 65,000 cities in 191 countries. Since its inception in August 2008, the San Francisco-based company has hosted over 160 million guests globally, and that number continues to grow.

The astronomical rise of Airbnb that has shaken up the hotel industry is now worth over $31 billion (at the time of print), and raised over $1 billion in its latest round of funding (March 2017), bringing its total raised to date at over $3 billion.

It’s crazy to think that the company putting a huge dent in the hotel industry owns no property, at all.

In March 2017, the company shared some interesting insights through a report called Women Hosts and Airbnb: Building a Global Community. It said that while it cannot tear down the obstacles to empowerment women face worldwide, its platform is powered by a growing community of women hosts who are connecting with guests, each other and their local communities.

Airbnb says historically, female hosts have outnumbered their male counterparts around the world; and an estimated over 1 million women host on Airbnb, making up 55% of the global Airbnb host community. Additionally, women host at 120% the rate of men.

The company’s female hosts have been earning a significant income around the world, and in 2016 alone, South Africa came third by most earnings per host at over R25,350 (nearly $2,000), behind the US at $6,600 and Spain at $3,600.

Airbnb estimates that over 50,000 women around the world have used income from its platform to support entrepreneurship for themselves, launching a business, or as direct investment capital for a new business they are starting. The report also stated that globally, 62% of single mother hosts use their Airbnb income to help afford their home.

The South African economy has been boosted by R2.4 billion ($184 million) in 2016, which is an estimated sum of guest spending and host income, said Airbnb in a post in May 2017.

South African hosts saw over 400,000 guest arrivals into their homes last year alone, a massive spike from the 38,000 back in 2014.

The estimated income and guest arrivals in South Africa came from 16,000 Airbnb hosts spread across the country who are ‘regular people’.

“A typical host is 45 years old and 40 percent of them are freelancers, entrepreneurs or self-employed,” said the company.

Lize Hartley, a 28-year-old executive head within the telecommunications industry living in the Cape Town CBD, lets out a property she bought that is five blocks away from her current apartment.

Making the decision to become a host on Airbnb was a ‘no-brainer’ for Hartley, who had been renting out her guest room initially.

“I crunched the numbers, working out what kind of occupation rate and average price per night I needed to cover my bond and other costs; I was lucky enough to put down a higher-than-average – in terms of percentage – deposit, which also helped remove some of the risk,” says Hartley.

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Most of Hartley’s guests are international travelers – she estimates this to be about 85% – and thinks her listing shows up relatively high on the list due to good reviews.

“Once people land on your listing, good reviews are important, as are good photographs, which I had done professionally as soon as the place was ready to be rented.”

Hartley thinks the biggest element of empowerment is that Airbnb is a means for people to own property, who otherwise might not have been able to.

“It is especially important to me as a woman; we know that women don’t own nearly as much property as men do worldwide, without even delving into patriarchal property rights, wage gaps, and other systemic injustices that hinder women from owning property.”

Moreover, there’s no income disparity between Airbnb hosts based on gender, so the platform acts as an equalizer in a world where women have to fight for equality every day, says Hartley.

Buying a property to let out on Airbnb has always been an investment for Hartley, who looks at the long-term focus, rather than a means of increasing her disposable income. “I don’t treat the money I get from this as supplementary income, instead, all of that money goes straight into paying the bond off more quickly.”

Guests that Hartley got to know better, even returning ones from the US, have been interesting, she says.

“From lawyers working in Baltimore alongside the Black Lives Matter movement, to former national cross-country skiers, and art lovers opening galleries on the other side of the world, we really have met some incredible people.”

The Workplace Of The Future – Or Now?

Another already empowered female with a successful career is 43-year-old humanitarian aid Belinda Bowling from De Waterkant, in Cape Town, whose Airbnb hosting has gone on to create a micro-business.

“It’s been fantastically empowering for my housekeeper and business partner, Nozi, who looks after the house on a day-to-day basis, without whom I couldn’t make this venture work successfully,” says Bowling.

Nozi has got an iPhone now, and we are able to communicate on bookings as if in the same room together, through the use of innovative apps that support the Airbnb phenomenon, she says.

“She’s also training up other unemployed women from her community, and sometimes outsources to them during busy times; she’s creating a micro-business, and becoming much more financially independent.”

“I’m enormously grateful for this outcome of this venture,” adds Bowling.

Belinda Bowling (Photo supplied)

Bowling built her house in Betty’s Bay nine years ago, which was more of an emotional investment, rather than a financial one, she says.

“It was a home for me in South Africa that gave me much-desired roots, bearing in mind my then transient and nomadic life working in humanitarian aid and international development.”

Due to her emotional commitment to the house, the decision to rent it out was something she avoided until 18 months ago, when it became a financial necessity.

“Returning home to work in Cape Town, I could no longer afford to maintain a second home that didn’t generate any income.”

Despite being wary of having strangers in her house and personal space, the perceived risks implicit in holiday rentals and the horror stories about nightmare guests, Bowling’s experience has been nothing but a very positive one, with a few lessons learned along the way, she says.

The experience and the income has both exceeded Bowling’s expectations, and some of her guests from Betty’s Bay have come to stay with her at her home in De Waterkant.

“I think Airbnb is a lot like Tinder, it matches people very successfully based on their interests, intentions and tastes. This is what makes it so disruptive and revolutionary – it’s highly personal, despite being a [impersonal] tech platform.”

Airbnb homes are (mainly) just that: (bespoke) homes, says Bowling.

“Not hotels, or mass market villa rentals all crammed with the same furniture. So the chances of the relationship being a positive one is much higher right from the starting point.”

Bowling loves hosting on Airbnb because being a part of ‘special family times’ has been most rewarding, from the ‘glam pad’ for the bride and her bridesmaids to a temporary home for first-time parents wanting to bond with their little one.

“These are intimate experiences that live with guests forever, and it’s an honor to be a part of that.”  – Written by Nafisa Akabor


A Statement On The Skyline



South Africa is on its way to another record with Africa’s tallest building.

A new superstructure is making its mark in Sandton in the heart of Africa’s richest square mile.

The $3 billion project is expected to be completed by the end of 2019 and beat Carlton Centre’s reign as the tallest building in Africa since 1973.

The 223-meter, 50-storey Carlton Centre in Johannesburg has for 46 years stood the test of time as a skyscraper dominating the skyline in South Africa and the continent.

The new building coming up in Sandton will be a 55-storey, 234-meter classical Italian eponym paying homage to Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian artist of the Renaissance era.

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It adds to the luxurious portfolio of hotels by the Legacy Living property group.

As The Leonardo rising from the bedrock and gradually etches its presence on the skyline, Gijs Foden, Director of Retail Management in Legacy Living, says it is a beacon that represents economic growth far beyond the surface.

“From a development perspective, everyone knows about the crisis in construction. There is light at the end of the tunnel, through a tough economy. It is a tough market and we are working our way out of it. We are going up. We are part of the beacon of hope through tough times,” he says.

South Africa has nine out of 20 of the continent’s tallest buildings, amounting to 1,277 meters in total and 5,000 steps up a staircase.

While most of these buildings were erected in the 1900s and early 2000s, records have stayed the same.

Johannesburg’s Ponte City Tower standing as the third tallest building in Africa, coming in after Kenya’s Britam Tower at 200 meters.

The Leonardo was initially set out to be a mixed-use building with 33 floors but has since escalated to dominating the South African skyscraper inventory.

Foden says the development will not only provide investment opportunities for South Africa, but it will celebrate African authenticity.

Set to be completed in the year of Leonardo Da Vinci’s 500th death anniversary, African art will be the center-piece of the tower.

You look out of the window and that is your canvas. Internally, the art in the building is African art.

“We are supporting the African artist, it is what it is. The art defines the building. Keeping the essence of the building and at the same time the warmth and lifestyle will be an attraction, irrespective of the Italian name,” Foden says.

By following due processes in getting the height approved, overtaking Carlton Centre’s record, Foden says: “It [Carlton Centre] is still an icon and no one has been able to beat it. It is different times and it is also different generations. This is our generation which is going to be a timeless building for many years to come. It is an urban flight.”

However, the record by The Leonardo may be short-lived as yet another African skyscraper may overshadow it by the end of 2021.

 The Pinnacle, currently being built in Nairobi’s financial hub, is set to be a 70-storey mixed-use development.

According to a yearly study published by The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), Beijing’s China Zun 528-meter skyscraper was the tallest building completed in 2018, making it the eighth-tallest building in the world.

 The study reports that 16 new buildings entered the 100 tallest lists in 2018; up from 14 in 2017, 76% of these were in Asia.

Co-Arc Director, Francois Pienaar, says the influx of skyscrapers in Africa is a way for property investors and developers to exploit the options of sites.

“Sites can become very valuable. There are a lot of things to do with money – [for] better returns for the investment of the land, and that is why people go up. It takes quite a lot of courage, to go 55 floors.

You need to have a client who is inspired to do it. Especially, with the volatility of Africa,” Pienaar says. 

Despite the competition for a piece of the sky, none of the 2019 projected top 30 tallest buildings will supersede the world’s tallest building in Dubai at a towering 829.8 meters with 163 floors above the ground.

The Burj Khalifa has boasted this record since its completion in 2010.

According to Pienaar, the opportunity to build a structure of this magnitude does not come by every day in Africa.

Breaking his 30-storey skyscraping record, Pienaar, who is currently working on The Leonardo, adds:  “It takes a lot more when it comes to delivering services and the kinds of aesthetics that take place.

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“The building has a skin outside which is imported from Spain. It is a new invention from Spain that reduces the heat load on the glass. We have produced a building that is responsible for the climate. We are trying to keep the building energy-efficient,” he says.

As the global economic outlook develops, there is fierce competition for a piece of the sky.

The taller the building, the more money it pulls in.

As the South African economy picks itself up, the lingering shadow of the Leonardo will represent a symbol of growth and a new dawn.

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Lab-grown Diamonds: Never Mined, It’s Man-Made



Turns out there is literally no difference between lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds, well, apart from the price.

Ever wondered what the difference between lab-produced diamonds and natural diamonds was? Well, nothing. They are exactly the same.

As with most things of value, a great deal of information has been produced over the years about the price of diamonds. In short, many believe the real price of diamonds is far lower than what ‘big business’ would have us believe and that it is driven up by our insatiable hunger and the social importance we place on the stones.

In line with this, there is a widely-held belief that they are not rare and the market is being deliberately controlled to create the façade that they are difficult to produce. Therefore, their price is dictated by the fact that they symbolize the most enduring of all human emotions – love.

 With that out of the way, in recent times, society has developed a pragmatic relationship with diamonds, rather than a romantic one that has long sustained the industry.

It might be that we live in the era of instant gratification or that we have stopped romanticising the idea of waiting millions of years for the precious stone, but more people have embraced the idea of purchasing lab-grown diamonds.

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Unlike an imitation gem like cubic zirconia, it has the same physical characteristics and chemical components as a natural diamond but production time is much shorter, enabling producers to create it in a matter of weeks.

Lab-grown diamonds producer Ross Reid offers FORBES AFRICA a very sobering perspective with the following analogy to describe man-made diamonds.

“If a couple can’t fall pregnant using conventional methods, they do IVF where the baby’s origin of life is manmade. Is that not a real baby when it’s born?”

The room falls silent as all contemplate this question.

“So by that logic, it is a real diamond,” Reid states emphatically.

Reid is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Inception Diamonds, One of South Africa’s first Diamond companies to offer lab-grown diamonds and fine jewelry.

The world’s leading diamond producer, De Beers, however, has a different perspective.

“We view natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds as very different products as they have completely different production processes. Natural diamonds are created in the earth, under intense heat and pressure over billions of years. Each diamond is rare, finite and unique,” says Bianca Ruakere, a De Beers Group spokesperson.

De Beers Lightbox range. Picture: De Beers

Reid says he recognizes the market potential for global growth in being able to offer conflict-free, environmentally-friendly lab-grown diamonds, especially to the millennial market.

“With the creation of laboratory-grown diamonds, it allows you to offer the consumer the same thing optically, physically, and chemically at a big discount. So you can have the same beauty, the same hardness, the same look and the same feel for less money,” Reid says.

Large diamond producers have also recognized the same potential.

De Beers Group has been producing synthetic diamonds for industrial purposes for more than 50 years. “Last year, we launched Lightbox in the United States to market a range of fun, fashion jewelry using lab-grown diamonds. They are accessibly priced, and a distinct product offering compared with natural diamonds,” Ruakere says.

 Price is not the only reason that encourages the market to opt for lab-grown diamonds. They are also other ethical factors such as having a guarantee that the rock on your finger is conflict-free.

 Shogan Naidoo, who proposed to his fiancé, Preba Iyavoo, on Valentine’s Day at the popular independent cinema house, The Bioscope, did so with a healthy bank balance and clean conscience.

They were traditionally engaged in July last year, so by the time the ring engagement happened, Iyavoo was caught completely off-guard and was pleasantly surprised.

“Shogan is the most endearing person, but he’s not romantic in the slightest,” says a giddy Iyavoo, who recalls the proposal that happened in a filled theater, with a movie Naidoo had created just for her.

The couple are besotted with their lab-grown diamond. Naidoo says after doing exhaustive research to find the perfect ring to propose with, all conventional options had failed him.

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 He says his final ring choice far exceeded his expectations in price and design. Naidoo explains that Iyavoo has a very specific preference and that he was not willing to compromise in getting her the perfect ring but the one he initially wanted was in the range of R80,000 ($5,500).

  “We were planning a wedding and we’d just bought a house,” he says. The exorbitant cost of retail rings led him to search out of the box, and eventually the box returned with the perfect gem.

 The couple who lead a very environmentally-conscious lifestyle, say they are especially proud to be the custodians of this ring because they are guaranteed it’s conflict-free and no miners were exploited.

 Reid says he has to grapple with a great deal of scepticism because many are not ready to fully embrace the idea of lab-grown diamonds despite their advantages.

“The Federal Trade Commission has changed the definition of a diamond. It does not need to come from the ground.

“We have opened up the market for people to be able to afford beautiful pieces without compromising on quality,” Reid says.

Change is inevitable and with that, there will always be those resistant to it. But one thing is for sure, society’s relationship with diamonds are changing.

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A New Language Doesn’t Hamper Kids Learning. Other Things Do




South Africa is a linguistically and culturally diverse country. There are 11 official languages and several other minority languages. But English continues to be preferred as the language of learning and teaching.

Many South African children are still in the process of learning English by the time they first start going to school. In a single English-medium classroom, one can find children with various levels of English proficiency; from children with English as their mother tongue to children who have never learnt English before.

This situation poses a range of challenges for both the teacher and the children. One of the biggest challenges is that a certain level of proficiency in English is required for the children to be able to perform well academically in an English-medium school. It’s a widely known factthat academic success is very much dependent on language competence and proficiency.

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This means that there’s a great need to understand how language develops in children’s early school careers. It is also important to understand the cognitive mechanisms that underlie language learning. To further explore how this happens in the early years of schooling I did a study involving pre-primary children in an English-medium school in Cape Town.

The group consisted of children who were still learning English as well as children whose mother tongue was English. The children were very diverse – there was a total of nine different home languages in the group of children who were still learning English.

The findings showed that the ability of children to develop their language skills didn’t depend on whether they were proficient when they started out. Their ability to learn and advance – or not – was in fact dependent on a range of other factors, none of which had to do with English language proficiency.

The findings

The research aimed to understand the link between language and working memory development. I did this by tracking how working memory developed for the children chosen to take part in the study.

Working memory is the ability to store and use information in the short-term and is important for our everyday lives. For example, we use working memory when we need to remember an address that we just heard while we are looking for a pen to write it down. Working memory also underlies many important academic competencies, like reading and mathematics.

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The children were broken into two groups: those with English as their primary language, and those still learning English. They were given the same tasks; these were an English language assessment and working memory tasks. They were assessed three times over the course of the year – at the beginning, middle and end.

The results showed that both groups improved over the year on the assessment of English language abilities. The results also revealed that great improvements were made in language development during the first year of formal schooling.

Results from the working memory tasks indicated that children who were still learning English, as well as the children who have English as their mother tongue, performed the same on these tasks and achieved comparable scores. Children in both groups saw their language abilities and working memory abilities improve over the year.

The most interesting finding is that the route, or trajectory, the children’s cognitive and language development followed was the same for both groups, regardless of the English abilities they had at the beginning.

Importantly, the result that working memory scores between groups were comparable also indicated that the amount of knowledge of English that a child had didn’t affect their working memory abilities.

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What this points to is that, if a child’s working memory scores are low and the trajectory of the development is not the same as their peers, there may be cause for concern. In this case, the children should be referred to an occupational or speech therapist for further assessment. Our research shows the fact that they’re struggling can’t simply be explained away as a “symptom” of the child not knowing English well enough.

Falling through the cracks

Studies like these are important for giving professionals better ways of seeing if a child has a disorder or is only struggling because they have not acquired a sufficient level of English yet.

In the context of a classroom with various languages and proficiencies of English, it is easy for a child with a disorder to be overlooked.

Along with the under-resourced schools and over-burdened teachers, heterogeneity among learners results in them not receiving the support that they need, be it academic or linguistic. Those whose primary language is English as well as those learning English suffer alike. The upshot is clearly seen in the worsening educational crisis in South Africa.

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