In September 2015, the city of Vienna was thrust to the fore of the nascent EU migrant crisis as Austria threw open its borders and welcomed a raft of largely Syrian migrants from neighbouring Hungary. Between September and end of the year the city welcomed 300,000 refugees. As the state government procrastinated on how best to cope with the influx, a group of activist citizens set up Train of Hope – a pop-up help centre for the new arrivals based at the city’s main train station, the Hauptbahnhof. Martin Kornberger and colleagues from the WU Wien researched the phenomenon and believes that how they did so can be instructive for businesses looking to harness the power of the sharing economy.
So, Martin – what was special about the Train of Hope?
This was a disparate group of people who came together quickly to help to solve an urgent problem. It was a perfect example of people pulling together in a time of stress and potential crisis. The sheer numbers of people arriving in Vienna meant that the city’s infrastructure would struggle to cope. In a very short space of time, these citizens founded Train of Hope, used their own initiative to make it work and found a solution to this. It was an incredibly effective, well-organised operation that was developed outside of the traditional institutions that are normally responsible for these kinds of events – the government, the armed forces, police, etc…
What did Train of Hope provide?
It provided shelter, healthcare, food, water, translators, you name it. It started small, with individuals arriving at the station with cookies and bottles of water – but then grew to incorporate the elements most needed by the masses arriving.
How did these citizens organise themselves and spread the message?
They utilised social media – and this was the genius of it. They used the approach familiar to us through things such as AirBnB and Uber to find what they needed to make Train of Hope work and it became a platform where 3rd party expertise could get in touch to offer their services. Effectively people were saying ‘I can translate’ or ‘I have a washing machine’ and the Train of Hope worked to bring all these people together to make best use of their skills, expertise or possessions.
Did the Train of Hope work entirely outside the ‘system’ or did they work together with more official actors?
Initially, Train of Hope took over the situation from the authorities, and when the City of Vienna saw how effective Train of Hope was, they worked together with them, the military, Austrian Railways and the Red Cross to govern the situation. And this was one of the key observations from the research – a broader collective of actors can come together to share the governing of a crisis through the tools and mechanisms of the sharing economy. The sharing economy was reframed as the sharing of a moral concern where everyone worked together to organise resources and solve a problem through the use of a social platform.
So what can business learn from the example of Train of Hope?
Train of Hope was an asset-light organization with only a handful of full-time members; its power resided in its ability to mobilize underutilized assets of hundreds of thousands of citizens who shared their know-how, their homes, goods and much more. Train of Hope mediated access to and channelled the flow of resources through its digital platform onto the physical platforms of the railway station where refugees arrived. It developed interfaces, architectures of collaboration and decentralized evaluative infrastructure to manage activities performed by third parties. It represented a strong brand that citizens, politicians, business leaders and most importantly the refugees trusted.
Train of Hope’s efficacy was also related to technology, or more precisely: its clever use of the Internet. Sharing presumes searching for opportunities and matching them; through the Internet sharing and matching became scalable and in this sense sharing could become a mass phenomenon. In all these aspects Train of Hope resembled other sharing platforms.
When you consider all of this, Train of Hope offers a number of lessons for businesses or those looking to harness the power of technology and take advantage of the sharing economy.
Professor of management innovation, I am an undisciplined mind: I received my PhD in Philosophy from the University of Vienna in 2002 and since then, I have held positions in strategy, organization theory, marketing and design at Universities in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, the UK and France. With one foot in the library and the other in the laboratory, my research and teaching focus on discovery of ideas and practices that stretch the imagination of managers and scholars alike. In a previous life, I co-founded the Sydney-based branding agency PLAY which has delivered brand strategies and experiences for well-known companies (PricewaterhouseCoopers, ISS, MINI, Adobe, GlaxoSmithKline, Kellog’s, Subaru, Jaguar…). Today, I apply my research for organizations such as Tetrapak, Deloitte and many others.
- Kornberger, M., Meyer, R.E., Brandtner, C., Höllerer, M.A. (2017). When Bureaucracy Meets the Crowd : Studying “Open Government” in the Vienna City Administration. Organization Studies, 38 (2): 179-200. DOI: 10.1177/0170840616655496.
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