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Where's the Sharing in the Sharing Economy?

Renting a room from a peer, paying to take a ride with someone who is driving to the same destination, buying a ticket for a grub club… is this really sharing? It’s a question I’m often asked and it’s about the most commonly misunderstood aspect of the Sharing Economy. So, once and for all, I’ve decided to put the record straight.

The definition of a Sharing Economy is a socio-economic system built around the sharing of human and physical resources[1]. This new booming market is growing faster than Facebook, Google and Yahoo combined[2], with a predicted value of over $335 billion by 2025[3], with the potential to boost the EU’s GDP by £125 billion[4] (but we won’t benefit from that!). With over a third of the global adult population participating, the Sharing Economy has been cited as the biggest societal shift since the Industrial Revolution.

But rather than being one simple, single, concept -- it’s a broad church and refers to a whole new socio-economic eco-system, approach and mindset. Value isn’t just defined in economic terms because in a Sharing Economy social and environmental value matters too. The key reason that the Sharing Economy is experiencing such growth is precisely because it is driven by people who buy into this tri-part value. We know from the data, that consumers, users, workers, participants, communities and sharers are coming to this for more than just financial benefit. People want experiences, they want to connect with others, increasing their social value. They want to have meaning in their lives and be part of a wider community.

For the record, the Sharing Economy includes a variety of terms and concepts that are often bandied around but all come under the umbrella of the Sharing Economy: swapping, exchanging, collective purchasing, collaboration, collaborative consumption, shared ownership, shared value, co-operatives, co-creation, recycling, upcycling, re-distribution, trading used goods, renting, borrowing, lending, subscription based models, peer-to-peer, collaborative economy, circular economy, gift economy, gig economy, crowd economy, pay-as-you-use economy, wikinomics, peer-to-peer lending, micro financing, micro-entrepreneurship, social media, social enterprise, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, cradle-to-cradle, open source, open data, user generated content (UGC) and public (shared) services.

The word ‘sharing’ therefore, when used in connection with the Sharing Economy refers to this whole spectrum of different types of sharing. Think of a rainbow, with giving on one end of the spectrum and renting on the other. It’s a hybrid economy where there are different kinds of value exchange some involve money, some don’t. In the case of renting goods and services, the ‘sharing’ refers to accessing shared resources, not that the resource itself is free; in the case of crowdfunding, the raising of finance is shared amongst the crowd; in the case of a clothes swap, or a time bank, a resource is exchanged / shared and a value exchange takes place but it is not monetary. When we give to a food bank, we are sharing resources and helping someone else, what we may get in return is a sense of contributing, making a difference, doing good, that ‘feel good factor’ – or simply getting rid of something we don’t need. When we co-create, collaborate, use a co-working space for an office – we are sharing.

The ‘sharing’ then is different depending on the context. All of these ‘shades of sharing’ make up the eco-system that is the Sharing Economy and help to build a more sustainable, fairer economy that puts people and planet centre stage.

Born out of the global recession in 2008, it isn’t surprising that this disruptive force, still nascent, has some growing pains. Systemic change doesn’t happen easily. Ownership is becoming redundant, we can access what we need, swap, borrow, rent, lend; rather than operating in silos, isolated, we can collaborate and share, institutions, corporations are being disintermediated. As traditional systems are broken down, the Sharing Economy is being devised, created, understood; the impact of the disruption on the world of work, the advent of gig work and what that means for worker’s rights, labour; how the shift away from ownership will impact production, manufacturing; what happens to those who don’t want to share? How can we ensure that this new system is fair and equitable and that benefit doesn’t just lie in the hands of a few Silicon Valley, VC-backed behemoths? These and other questions need to be and are being answered, considered, devised. Remember, ‘the revolution will not be televised’ because what we are witnessing is a massive cultural shift and changing minds though not easy, is exactly what is happening today.

The idea for business that now people can trade directly peer-to-peer and aren’t reliant on corporations for their products and services, is a game-changer. 90% of consumers say they want brands to ‘share’, yet only 10% are seen as doing this well[5]. Brands and businesses that don’t find a way to involve the crowd, to be part of the Sharing Economy in some way, to secure their future, will be out of business altogether. RIP Kodak – they didn’t embrace sharing and look what happened to them.

Fact is, we are no longer defined by what we own, what we accumulate or our extrinsic value; in this Sharing Economy era, you’re defined by what and how you share. You are what you share.

Sharing has become a lifestyle, a mindset and increasingly, the Sharing Economy is changing the world as we know it. And you don’t get more ‘sharing’ than that.

[1] What is the Sharing Economy? Benita Matofska, The People Who Share, 2012

[2] What we know about the Global Sharing Economy, Report by Benita Matofska 2015

[3] PwC, Sizing the Revenue Opportunity, 2014 and 2016

[4] Europe Economics Report, 2016

[5] Deloitte, 2015

[10] Harvard University 2015

[11] The People Who Share, 2012

[12] Share the World’s Resources, 2013

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