An encounter with a Cambodian tuk-tuk driver touched Cologne students so much that they founded “Socialbnb”: An innovative platform that connects travelers with local social and ecological projects and social enterprises around the world.
It was on a trip through Cambodia in 2016 that Cologne students met a very special person who was to turn everyone’s lives upside down from then on. It was the encounter with the kind-hearted Seng Thy – a local tuk-tuk driver with a great vision who wanted to provide fair education for all. Well aware of the importance of good English skills in today’s globalized world, he wanted to build a school in his village of Pang Na that would provide free English lessons to local children.
A Cambodian tuk-tuk driver with a great vision
Unfortunately, however, the vision could not be realized financially. The project was simply too small to generate enough attention for donations. But what Mr. Thy lacked in money, he, in turn, did not lack in space: there were many unused rooms in his house, and so the students came up with an idea to help Mr. Thy realize his goal. The unused rooms could be repurposed as lodging for travelers. With the income, in turn, Mr. Thy could then perhaps realize his project financially after all.
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The idea was a complete success: in just three months, 20 travelers came to Pang Na. With this money, Mr. Thy was able to pay for an English teacher and even invest in computers and books to enhance the learning experience as such. The students realized that Mr. Thy could not be the only one to have this experience. They were right: after extensive research, they found that over 60 percent of small, local NGOs have the same problem and rely heavily on donations, which in turn could usually not be realized due to the size of the organization.
The Socialbnb platform connects travelers with local organizations worldwide
Without further ado, the Cologne students developed the online platform “Socialbnb” in 2018, which connects travelers with exactly such organizations, and started an extensive test phase. Through the income from overnight stays, the local partners become a bit less dependent on traditional donations and can thus advance and realize their projects. On the other hand, the travelers benefit from a local and authentic travel experience that they will not soon forget.
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«We believe in tourism that can benefit every individual in our society.» Socialbnb
The platform now offers a total of 180 places to stay in 45 countries around the world. In contrast to Airbnb, the young social enterprise operates as a lean startup, which means they work with extremely low costs so that as much money as possible flows to the local partners. To finance the next phase, the young company recently secured an Exist startup grant. In addition, Socialbnb (just like Gexsi) was among the very first Impact Factory Fellows and the dedicated team was awarded the Enactus National Cup in 2020.
And then came Covid-19…
Speaking of 2020, this year, in addition to all the successes, at the same time presented the young social enterprise with a completely new and unprecedented challenge. Due to the Covid19 pandemic, tourism came to a standstill all over the world. Many countries in the global south and regions that live predominantly from tourism are still suffering greatly from the global health crisis today, which continues to make travel to distant countries impossible. In many places, one searches in vain for comparable government aid to that which has been available here in Germany in recent months. And while in the debate here the desire for a reorientation of tourism in the direction of sustainability became large, many small tourism offerers in the global south do not know whether they can exist at all. Yet it is so important that they, too, can position themselves more sustainably in the future.
Launch of a new platform
Under the motto “Ready for Change”, the new Socialbnb platform was launched on July 19. With this, the startup wants to advocate for using the new start of tourism to bring more sustainability to the entire industry. Interested parties can now already start researching suitable projects on the platform and plan their next trip sustainably in a simple way. There are also many projects from Europe that can be visited this summer.
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Via social media, travelers can share their ideas on how travel can be made more sustainable in the future. The new platform also includes a donation function that makes it easy to support all projects financially if travel is not yet possible. And as soon as traveling to distant countries becomes possible again, you can see for yourself on site – for example, during an overnight stay in Pang Na with Mr. Thy and his school.
Dr. Andreas Renner, Co-Founder Gexsi: firstname.lastname@example.org
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