A new accommodation booking platform is supporting small grassroots NGOs around the world by connnecting them with travellers looking for somewhere to stay.
Discovering new places and cultures is easier than ever nowadays, with affordable transportation (not to mention all those insanely cheap flights) meaning more and more of us are venturing further and further from our places of origin both for work and play. Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, and right now it's also responsible for 8 per cent of of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that is set to rise. That's why it's essential to consider sustainability when you travel - not just in terms of environmental impact, but social impact too.
A platform set up by a group of students from Cologne is now providing a new sustainable accommodation option: Socialbnb. Sort of like an Airbnb for NGOs, the platform allows users to reserve a bed or a room in the premises of an NGO, offering the organization an extra source of income and lessening their dependence on grants and donations.
The idea for the project originated two years ago, as the result of an experience that a couple of the founders had while travelling in South East Asia. In Cambodia they met a local man called Mr Thy, who wanted to set up a school that offered English classes to children from the area. But he had difficulties in getting the necessary financing. The Socialbnb team suggested that he rent some of the free rooms that he had in the building next to his house out to travellers. In just three months they were able to welcome about 20 travellers, and with that new source of income, Mr Thy was able to open his school, pay an English teacher for the class, and also invest in computers and books.
They soon realized that Mr Thy wasn't the only person in that kind of situation. After doing some research, they discovered that over 60 per cent of small local NGOs struggle with the same issue: they're highly dependent on donations and simply don't have enough money to realize their projects. Back in Germany, they got together with a group of fellow students to further develop this NGO hosting idea, and in April 2018 the very first version of the Socialbnb website was launched.
The platform currently already collaborates with 21 NGOs around the world - from Morocco to Peru - and that number is increasing every week. For now, most of the destinations, are located in low-income countries of the Global South, where there are a high number of NGOs with some kind of unused facilities. "It's a process that takes a long time but, by the end of the year we hope to have expanded our network to reach 100 NGOs," explains Louisa Hain, a member of the team.
The price of accommodation depends on the country and the offer ranges from simple accommodation, such as just a bed, to more luxury private lodgings. There is also the option to add home cooked meals and to take part in different local tours and experiences, but nothing is compulsory, and travellers are free to decide if they want to get really involved in the NGOs activities, or merely use the space as a place to sleep. Nearly all of the profits go towards financing the NGOs themselves, with only a small fraction going to support Socialbnb: to pay for them to develop an app, improve the website and keep growing. The team behind the project, which currently includes 12 students, currently all work for Socialbnb on a voluntary basis.
Why homestays and not volunteering?
While there are many NGOs that rely on the support of (often international) volunteers to be able to carry out their work, Socialbnb have chosen a different approach, taking a step away from volunteer programs and focussing instead on providing direct financial support for NGOs.
"Volunteers can offer vital support to NGOs, but often they only stay with them for a limited amount of time. That can have negative consequnces too. When it comes to volunteer English teachers, for example, we don't believe that it helps children's learning if they have to get used to new teachers (that might not be professionally trained) every couple of weeks," argues Louisa Hain. "If NGOs can gain additional regular income through the Socialbnb platform, that will help them to gain financial independence and no longer be so reliant on volunteer workers or donations to survive."
To see the full range of different social homestays available and find an NGO to support on your next trip, visit the Socialbnb website.