The Joy of Giving

Online social platform BeBonobo aims to spread happiness by linking people who want to donate their unused items with others who need them, promoting friendships and transforming the social networking scene.

BY SASHA GONZALES
PHOTOS BEBONOBO
 

Bartering events like this one, held in Kuala Lumpur in 2016, are held occasionally so users can meet face to face. The team, which currently comprises six members, is working on making items available in Melbourne, Australia, and Singapore in the next 12 months.

D

 o you have unused items lying around? Give them away to others, and make new friends while you’re at it. That’s the goal of BeBonobo, a Malaysia-based online social network. Its co-founder and CEO, Jasur Hasanov, says the platform was designed to help people share, and seed happiness. “It’s inspired by the bonobo, an ape said to be one of the most generous, gregarious animals on earth. They share food to expand their social networks,’’ he says.

The team was one of the six winners of the 2016 Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) programme, organised by the Singapore International Foundation; every year, it awards six social enterprises with up to S$20,000 each. Only 15 teams, headed by young change-makers from various countries, are selected to participate. They undergo several months of mentoring and go on an overseas study trip, before presenting their ideas to a panel of judges.

“Kay Kay, Madyan and I all have jobs, so it was hard for us to focus on BeBonobo at first. The YSE programme helped connect us with mentors and businesses in Malaysia and Singapore, and allowed us to refine our concept and take it to the next level,” Hasanov says.

“ Our long-term vision is to connect strangers and allow them to build friendships, by giving them a platform to gift items to people they donʼt yet know. ”


Jasur Hasanov, co-founder and CEO of BeBonobo

 

BeBonobo was launched in December 2015. The site is accessible globally, but the platform currently only connects users in Malaysia and Azerbaijan. “Groups like Free Market, on Facebook, are popular all over Malaysia. It’s one of the reasons we decided to launch there,” says Hasanov. “People in Malaysia are just more likely to go online to sell their unwanted items, or to look for items they need or want.” The team encountered several challenges getting BeBonobo off the ground. “Similar sites like Craigslist and Freecycle.org made it important for us to stand out. We sought to make our platform more attractive and give it a stronger social element,” he adds. Making the platform user-friendly also took time.

Initially, donors could opt to support a tree-planting fund, but that concept proved too complicated and was scrapped. Another challenge was getting users to embrace the idea of donating items. “There isn’t really a ‘freecycling’ culture in Malaysia and Azerbaijan. We are still working to convince people of the joys of giving things away,” Hasanov shares.

BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER
BeBonobo.com currently lists about 1,000 items from more than 1,000 active users, ranging from books, magazines, and gadgets, to clothes, kitchen appliances, and household products. And while its freecycling concept does put conscious or responsible consumption into practice and helps reduce waste – the site also allows users to post items that are new – these are not BeBonobo’s primary aims.

“If we can help minimise the amount of waste going to landfill, that’s wonderful,” says Hasanov. “But our long-term vision is to connect strangers and allow them to build friendships, by giving them a platform to gift items to people they don’t yet know.”

In time, BeBonobo will allow users to post services, too. If a user wishes to give free guitar lessons, for example, he can use the platform to connect with people who want to pick up this skill. Says Hasanov: “We aim to be the world’s largest sharing community, where strangers can build friendships. If you need something and don’t want to spend money on it, we want to be the first place you visit to find that item and get it for free, and meet new people while you’re at it.”

One of the platform’s users, who goes by the name Putri, says: “BeBonobo makes it easy to look for items we want and give away items we no longer need. It’s good to know that just by doing this on this platform, I’m helping to make the world a better place.”

As Zlad Aladdin, another user, puts it: “BeBonobo is a brilliant idea that brings you face to face with people you’d otherwise meet only virtually – if at all.”


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