Giving in Ukraine
I bought an Airbnb in Ukraine yesterday. The host was so grateful, she began to communicate with me. She is a single mom who has rented out two rooms in her home. In my fantasy, I can support her more in the coming weeks via my friends and associates, and five years from now, she and I will share a meal and talk about these terrible times in which we live.
As I watch the situation in Ukraine unfold, I can’t help but think of my theory on the death of the middleman in our society today.
The middleman. (This is the first time I haven’t wanted to trade the word man for woman.) Historically, in my opinion, the middleman had a place in sales because getting the pitch for a product or service to customers was a difficult journey. The middleman did that job. The seller used the middleman to get the pitch out, and we were willing to pay for it.
Once we were all locked down in 2021, we spent a considerable amount of time going direct. Everything became direct to purchase, from shirts to chocolate, we bought directly from each vendor. The middleman didn’t fare too well, and I, for one, liked having direct contact with the recipient of my money, even when I was buying leggings over and over again.
Influencers have also contributed to the demise of the middleman. They tout products, one at a time, and the click to purchase is for that one product, generally sold by the original manufacturer. Many of these recommended products are made by women entrepreneurs (hooray!), who no longer need to beg Bloomies to carry their products and fret over Bloomies’ net 90 payment policy. And there will be no return of incidents like that experienced by Kwigy-Bo dog carriers, which failed to sell at Kmart after the national chain put them so far on the bottom shelf that no one saw them. It almost did the company in.
In the past, we all donated to organizations that serve communities in crisis, and we still do. But there is a new player emerging, one that I believe over time will replace many of those organizations. As a former vice president of the United Way of Tri-State Inc. in the mid-1970s, I can tell you that this might be a good thing — no, a great thing. I can get my money directly to those I wish to help.
Back to Airbnb. They have waived their fees in Ukraine. You can visit their website to rent a room/house/apartment in Ukraine and send a note to the host that you will not be using the rental space, but simply want them to have the income, and voilà, that person/family will instantly receive payment for the rental. Maybe the host is in Poland or a neighboring country now and can really use the money. Something I think is compelling is that because you can read about the host and how they have done their Airbnb lodging, as well as the comments and recommendations past customers of theirs have written, you can get an idea of whether or not you want to help that particular host.
It’s a win-win situation. It’s a win for Airbnb, who is using their brand for good (at least in this instance), and the goodwill they are generating will help them everywhere. It’s also a win for those wanting to give money to Ukrainians, but who also want to know where exactly their money is going and that 20% of it isn’t going toward administrative costs. Perhaps most importantly, there exists the ability for the giver and the receiver to see each other’s face, which personalizes the transaction.
Companies are now doing more than just donating money. Google shut down their live traffic data feature in Ukraine. Sorry Russian tanks, you will have to find another way to get where you are going. Yelp’s comments section has enabled people to communicate with their friends and family members about their current location, and because there are so many comments to sift through, there is no way Russia can track each comment in real time. MasterCard, VISA, American Express shut down their services as well. God, I love this ingenuity! The president of IBM has a forum in which employees can ask him questions. That forum has been clogged this week, with individual employees demanding an explanation as to why IBM is not halting their sales in Russia, the way Apple did.
The bottom line is that we, on an individual level, can do things today, that we didn’t have the ability to do in the past to participate on a personal level. Oh happy day!