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In Bogota, Colombia
In Bogota, Colombia
Rafael Orduz

BOGOTA — The significance of Uber goes well beyond its specific function, which is to connect willing drivers with people who need to move around in a safe, comfortable and punctual manner. The deeper message of the controversial digital application — and others like it — is in the changing way labor and service markets are organized by providing new means of satisfying the needs of consumers who are better informed than we could have ever imagined in the past.

I won't dwell here on the legal arguments for or against Uber, or the fact that reactive lobbying has won for now in Spain and the Netherlands. The application remains active in more than 50 countries and its turnover in 2014 was over $1 billion. It already has emulators in California, such as Lyft and Sidecar.

What I do want to point out is that the Uber model is effectively applicable to any field. With mobile platforms, people can post information on a range of needs, anywhere and at any time and be connected with others who are able and ready to satisfy those needs.

A typical organizational prototype is this: A small firm identifies a range of home services that households might need at any time (plumbing, electricity, cleaning). The firm then "recruits" thousands of suitable people and offers through the digital platform and makes the information available to customers who can then purchase the services at a price that suits them.

Another website, Airbnb, provides more than half a million rooms and lodgings at varied prices, worldwide. Its model is simple: Homes with unused rooms register with this platform and customers, including here in Colombia, access what they need in a safe and easy manner. As with Uber, hotel associations in various countries want Airbnb blocked.

Services provided online this way include those of programmers, home-visit doctors, accountants, cooks or hairdressers. In the U.S., some firms are even following this model to pay for temporary CEOs to resolve specific problems.

Seven years after the 2008 financial crisis, joblessness is rampant around the world. In Colombia, the youth unemployment rate is double the national average, and if you consider underemployment as well, the situation is downright scary.

It is quite probable that in the coming years, hundreds of thousands of Colombians, especially the young, will offer their talents and services through platforms without seeking the permission of traditional business owners. It is economy dictacted by demand. Those who would wish it away are simply being shortsighted.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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