I recently rediscovered the most valuable asset the Turkish economy has during a trip to China. While stranded in sparsely populated areas of southern China - yes they exist - I found myself in need of help. I speak practically no Mandarin, the local population spoke practically no English and I was miles away from any major roads or public transportation when I remembered something. I had used a ride-sharing app called Uber while traveling in other parts of the world and thought I'd take a shot in the dark and see if it worked in China as well. Had I done my research, I would have known Uber launched in China a year ago and is already wildly popular there.Within minutes of launching the app a private car had picked me up and with no conversation between me and my driver (other than my elementary "Ninhao?"), we were on the way to my hotel. The app had already found and directed the driver to take me there. No cash changed hands and with a polite "Xie-Xie," I was back in my room. This is not the first time I've been stranded in a foreign country far from any public transportation or taxis. I'm actually a fan of going off the beaten path, but generally my feet get beaten up by the time I return to that path. Those days may be over for good.
Uber was founded nearly five years ago and has existed internationally for three years. The ride-sharing app, and its numerous competitors, connect individuals, taxi drivers, limousine services and consumers. Users of the service input credit card information or other online payment methods and drivers are paid directly by the company. But this isn't what Uber really does; Uber allows idle capacity to be used. You've got a car, I need a ride. You have time, I don't have time to wait for a cab to pass by a location it will almost definitely never pass by. The app sends you to me, you give me a ride and get paid. I last used Uber last night traveling from the Asian side of Istanbul to the European side after several taxis refused to make the journey citing the heavy return traffic.
Maybe the epitome of "why didn't I think of that?" ridesharing is a service offered by Uber and many similar competing apps. Other apps allow people to rent out empty rooms in their house or the entire house when they're away. Other apps allow people to invite people to stay in their house for free or ride for free for people going the same way.
Ask any Turkish entrepreneur, industrialist or small business owner "What's your biggest problem?" and the answer is almost always "I can't find anyone to does this job," a mismatch of skills and jobs. This is a complaint I've heard more often in Turkey than I have in any other country. This may be because cooperation between universities and high schools between industry is almost non-existent in Turkey. This is where the second most-often heard complaint comes in to play: Bureaucracy.
Turkey has had a 90-year love-hate relationship with bureaucracy. Although much bureaucracy has been streamlined in Turkey in the past decade, there is still much work to be done. I remember the first time I wanted to setup a corporation in Turkey, nearly 15 years ago, I was told I needed to find four partners to join my company. Not only did I not know four people who wanted to join my business, I had no need for four other partners. When I told the clerk at the registration office that this would surely change, she laughed it off. Fast-forward to today and my dream has become a reality: A corporation in Turkey can be formed without multiple partners just as it can be in the rest of the "developed" world.
So while bureaucracy is waning, a tech-savvy young population is coming into the workforce. Technology will do what many Turks have traditionally expected the government to do: Match their abilities with the demands of industry.
Government is often not good at doing anything because of legacy costs associated with keeping the promises of past governments looking for votes on the eve of elections. The private-sector will have to come up with solutions to match the demands of industry and the supply of the incoming workforce.
Turkey's youth not only has ingenuity and drive, but have embraced technology at a pace far-ahead of many other countries with similar demographics. In the near future, I believe just as technology has made it possible to match idle capacity with people in desperate need of that capacity in the ride-sharing space, it will help Turkey's workforce, especially the youth, find their career paths with companies that share their vision. The only obstacle in the way continues to be a slow-moving bureaucracy. Let the experiences of Greece and its infamous bureaucracy be a lesson to Turkey and our future governments.