Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Each day an enormous number of products, goods and pieces of equipment still in usable condition end up in garbage dumps around the world. This massive quantity of products, whether electric appliances, car parts, clothing and even books, are no longer needed, but do not find their way to those who need them. This group of items, also referred to as the “the third market,” represent a market left untapped, resulting in wasteful disposal and accrual of landfills.
There are a number of ways that people currently dispose of or sell items they no longer need. Some of these items are sold in second-hand markets. In the last century, newspapers, bulletin boards, and the Internet have also created a market for second-hand goods. Despite these ad hoc solutions, the majority of people throw items that are no longer needed into the garbage. This is the case for items with very little value, yet also for items with value that the owner does not want to be bothered with the nuisance of selling. The “third market” has not been fully adopted for the exchange of goods because it lacks a platform for exchange and a means of contact through which these products can find new homes. This has to do with the small to non-existent profit margin: it is just easier to throw an old television set in the garbage than to start looking for someone who might be interested in it. With the growing wealth disparities in Israeli society (more than 1.7 million people in Israel alone living in poverty), the lack of functionality of the third market prevents thousands of people in Israel alone from the possibility of bettering their social and economic situations.
The solutions for giving away items for reuse have been very limited until recently. Prior to Agora, giving away items lacked a system people could plug into. This process required asking neighbors or friends within one’s social network if there was interest in the items, leaving them nearby a trash bin in the hope that someone find a good use for them, or contacting a local welfare organization in order to bring the equipment to their centers. These distribution centers are usually limited in hours of operation and in the services they offer. Reuse of clothing, for example, is very common in Israel through the work of Wizo, a large women's volunteering organization. Giving away old books, toys, electrical appliances and kitchenware is difficult because existing NGO or donation structures lack integration. As a result, giving away goods relies on the motivation of the individual to find new homes for his/her old goods.
In addition, addressing the underutilized “third market” and the lack of an integrated structure for the donation of old goods, Tsur’s idea provides a solution that transforms our individualistic society into one that is more empathetic and conscientious of the other. As computers and Internet technology become increasingly central for human interaction, people rely less on face-to-face interaction, resulting in reduced solidarity and social growth. In the summer of 2011, mass demonstrations in Israel called for social justice, lower costs of living, and more mutual care, illustrating how great the need is in Israel. Israel’s need is only a microcosm of a similar situation in many other parts of the world.
By using several of the technological advancements of our time – the internet, social networks, and smartphone applications – Agora is rebuilding personal connections in communities based on the natural and human impulse to give, empathize, and respond to need. Tsur is creating new links and opportunities for collaboration in society and also creating a solution to unnecessary landfill waste and the untapped “third market” for the exchange of goods.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Tsur is the founder of Agora (the Israeli Cent), which uses a simple web-based infrastructure to enable the sharing, giving and receiving of goods and products. This web-based platform is the first of its kind, dedicated to the free exchange of products and goods. It has a simple user interface that generates listings of items for users based on their needs, and is not limited by geography or target population. Agora incentivizes giving: it provides citizens with the mechanism to give equipment, goods or products that they no longer need, while also enabling others to find and receive items they are looking for but cannot otherwise buy or obtain. Agora is free of charge to all users, and since its beginning has been reshaping the face of donations and community building across the country, making giving simpler, direct, and more personal.
This idea is systems changing in the way it facilitates how donations can be made, and the scale of giving that is possible. It is eliminating the need for a third party or middleman between those in need and those who are willing to give. It also eliminates the need for disposal of goods or products into landfills, in addition to the costs that come with garbage collection, storage and the shipping of goods. In Agora’s model, goods that would otherwise be thrown out are fulfilling community members’ needs. In this process, people become givers and receivers simultaneously and a new system of exchange is created. After five years, more than 200,000 users have exchanged over 216,000 items. Agora has taken on a wide range of uses across Israel: from its widespread adoption by welfare workers dealing with poverty to students renovating new apartments.
Tsur not only wants to use his platform to prevent the disposal of older but still useful goods, but he plans to continue strengthening citizens’ confidence and trust in their communities by changing the way donations can be made and the reasons giving can transpire. He is addressing the disparities between social classes and the separation between ethnic or social groups by providing a simple mechanism and incentive for the exchange of goods. Other countries have expressed interest in adopting Agora’s approach, and Tsur is taking the steps in planning what implementation can look like In India, Europe and the U.S.