The Shared Economy: An Interview with Mike Orgill, Director of Public Policy, Asia Pacific, Airbnb

At the 2017 Corporate Affairs Forum, delegates debated the changes wrought by disruptive technologies and the changing labour market. Mike Orgill, Director of Public Policy, APAC, at Airbnb talks about the cutting-edge issues the sector presents to government relations professionals

Having previously work with Google public policy on a range of issues from data protection and security to freedom of expression and cross-border data flows, Mike shares his perspectives on the sharing economy, public-private partnerships, and the future hot-button policy topics.

PublicAffairsAsia: The sharing economy seems to be in the midst of a crackdown in many countries. What factors do you think have caused the policy changes, and how can a company respond to public challenges to its core business model?

Mike: There is a vibrant debate regarding the impact of companies operating in the sharing economy, but there certainly isn’t a crackdown. Services offered by these companies are not necessarily new, but the extent to which consumers now use these services – in our case at a peak of two million guests arriving at an Airbnb on a single night – has caused policymakers to think differently about the effectiveness of existing regulations. ‘

As the sharing economy has become more mainstream, governments have moved to put in place new rules and regulatory frameworks. But these new developments take time to figure out. We’ve always made clear our commitment to work with policymakers to get this right, rather than rush to regulate in the context of outdated rules that were put in place years before the arrival of the Internet.

PublicAffairsAsia: How can companies effectively partner with governments to help inform regulatory priorities and strategies?

Mike: Fundamentally, it is about understanding a government’s priorities and finding common ground where it becomes possible to put meaningful policy options on the table that reflect a country or community’s unique needs.

Since our founding, we’ve collaborated with hundreds of governments across the world, and we’ve learnt the importance of treating every city personally. Each city and country is economically, geographically and demographically unique. Rules that work in Sydney may not make sense for Tokyo, yet by presenting clear policy options that reflect local needs, we’ve enabled home sharing to thrive to the immediate and long-term benefit of the communities in which we operate.

PublicAffairsAsia: What are some of the up-and-coming conversation topics for policymakers where tech companies can contribute?

Mike: Around the world, policymakers are increasingly concerned about the impact of automation. Some studies suggest that up to 47% of jobs in the US could be lost to automation in the next 20 years. By contributing to economic activity, enabling new economic opportunities for citizens and directly creating jobs, tech companies are well placed to help inform regulatory priorities and outcomes.

Companies can also use the products or skills at their disposal to tackle broader societal issues. For example, we’ve recently announced an extension of our refugee housing assistance program, with the new goal of providing short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people who are displaced.

PublicAffairsAsia: To what extent do you see public fears of technological change and the sharing economy impacting regulatory priorities and outcomes? What strategies can companies employ to get people to embrace technological progress?

Mike: As fears around automation and its impact on employment rise, companies that can demonstrate that they are creating jobs and economic opportunities will have more success engaging with policymakers than those advancing technologies that replace human labour.

And it’s not just employment. Companies also need to demonstrate genuine impact to a city or community’s economic and social progress. In our case at Airbnb, we can clearly point to increased footfall to local businesses, boosts in tourism to lesser known places, and crucial additional income for everyday citizens.

PublicAffairsAsia: In what ways do you see new technologies impacting the future of the government relations profession, from the GR role itself to engagement strategies?

Mike: Digital tools are making it easier for constituents to engage directly with policymakers than ever before. Policy makers now care as much (or more) about what their constituents are saying online as they care about what pundits or media have to say.

We know that hosts within our community are our most powerful advocates, and enabling citizens to raise concerns to their elected officials in a public forum has become an incredibly important tool.

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