Broadening the definitions of sharing

12 March 2014

A new definition of the sharing economy by The People Who Share outlines a vision of a new economic system that embeds collaboration at its heart. In the growing public discussion on sharing, this basic principle is increasingly being considered as fundamental for achieving a more equitable and sustainable society.

What is the sharing economy? This question is being asked a lot lately, and there are often wide differences in understanding as to what sharing actually means in relation to social and environmental concerns or that elusive concept ‘the new economy’. There is a tendency for many in the sharing movement to regard the entire phenomenon as free of politics and economics, and more in the space of morality and values. Many others see economic sharing as mainly beholden to business and commercial interests in modern affluent society, or else as a solely internet-mediated form of exchange based on consumer-oriented, peer-to-peer and technology-driven innovation.

But far from everyone sees the perennial ethic of sharing through such a narrow lens, and there is an emerging debate on the importance of this fundamental principle for resolving the major political challenges of the 21st century. Admittedly, there is still only a marginal focus on sharing in the urgent public discussion around how to tackle inequality and achieve a more equitable distribution of economic resources, especially between countries as well as within them.

At the same time, however, many sharing pioneers are promoting sharing in relation to human rights and concerns for equity, democracy, social justice and sound environmental stewardship, while upholding the importance of economic sharing in challenging unjust power structures and paving the road to a better world.

For a number of years now, STWR has been following the political evolution of the sharing economy movement and ‘meme’, and advocating for everyone who champions the sharing economy to see themselves as part of a much larger movement for economic and social transformation. As we’ve often said in many blogs, articles and reports, the true milestone for the ‘Age of Sharing’ will be the creation of a global sharing economy that ends poverty and gross inequality, respects nature’s limits, and cooperatively manages the earth’s resources so that everyone can live both sustainably and well.

The vision of a sharing world

In this light, it’s good to see a new definition of the sharing economy by Benita Matofska, founder of The People Who Share, who outlines an “alternative socio-economic system which embeds sharing and collaboration at its heart – across all aspects of social and economic life”. Based on 10 building blocks that include the sharing of power, the redistribution of resources, and new economic models necessary for a shared planet, this wide-ranging definition therefore acknowledges that the true sharing economy is still in its infancy and demands a “a systemic approach to change” that is fundamental to achieving its big picture vision.

Implicit in this recognition, however, is the need to align business ownership models with the principle of sharing if the common good is to prevail over profit and growth imperatives. Indeed if the sharing economy is to be scaled up into a systemic alternative that can bring us closer to more equitable and truly sharing societies, then sharing must also be institutionalised through government policies and the provision of public services – which may not be sufficiently emphasised in many of the existing definitions of what economic sharing entails.

This is where the real transformative potential of sharing ultimately lies. Given the entrenched vested interests and institutional barriers that prevent systemic change from taking place, there is great potential in adopting a long term vision of sharing as a rallying platform for progressives and activists. At the very least, advocating for economic sharing is an active, solutions-based approach that goes beyond critiquing the existing problems in the world, and can help to navigate between the divisive ‘isms’ that still drive much of the debates on economic alternatives. As the sharing economy concept receives increased attention from more politicised and internationalised perspectives, it is possible that the necessity of sharing will soon be reflected in more mainstream public discussions on how to reform the global economy.

A new definition from The People Who Share

Here is the full definition from Benita Matofska on ‘what is the sharing economy?’:

I’m frequently asked to define the Sharing Economy and decided it was high time to pen the definitive answer. A clear definition is needed not only for purposes of clarity and to enable meaningful discussion, but also to provide a precise aim and direction to those working to enable, foster and create a Sharing Economy. 

The Sharing Economy is a socio-economic system built around the sharing of human and physical assets. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by different people and organisations. 

Whilst the Sharing Economy is currently in its infancy, known most notably as a series of services and start-ups which enable P2P exchanges through technology, this is only the beginning: in its entirety and potential it is a new and alternative socio-economic system which embeds sharing and collaboration at its heart – across all aspects of social and economic life. 

The Sharing Economy encompasses the following aspects: swapping, exchanging, collective purchasing, 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, pay-as-you-use economy, wikinomics, peer-to-peer lending, micro financing, micro-entrepreneurship, social media, the Mesh, social enterprise, futurology, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, cradle-to-cradle, open source, open data, user generated content (UGC).

A Sharing Economy is a sustainable economic system comprised of the following 10 building blocks: 

1. People: people are at the heart of a Sharing Economy; it is a People’s Economy, meaning that people are active citizens and participants of their communities and the wider society. People are also suppliers of goods and services; they are creators, collaborators, producers, co-producers, distributors and re-distributors. In a Sharing Economy, people create, collaborate, produce and distribute peer-to-peer, person-to-person (P2P). The participants of a Sharing Economy are individuals, communities, companies, organisations and associations. 

2. Production: in a Sharing Economy, people, organisations and communities as active participants produce or co-produce goods and services collaboratively or collectively or co-operatively. Production is open and accessible to those who wish to produce. 

3. Value & Systems of Exchange: a Sharing Economy is a hybrid economy where there are a variety of forms of exchange, incentives and value creation. The system embraces alternative currencies, local currencies, timebanks, social investment and social capital. It is based on both material and non-material or social rewards and encourages the most efficient use of resources. This hybrid incentive system enables and motivates people to engage in productive activities. In a Sharing Economy, waste has value, it is viewed as resource in the wrong place. A Sharing Economy enables ‘waste’ to be reallocated where it is needed and valued. 

4.     Distribution: in a Sharing Economy, resources are distributed and redistributed via a system that is both efficient and equitable. Idle resources are re-allocated or traded with those who want or need them to create an efficient, equitable, closed loop or circular system. Recycling, upcycling and sharing the lifecycle of the product are features common to a Sharing Economy. ‘Waste’ is viewed as ‘resource in the wrong place’ and the system uses technology to re-distribute or trade unused or ‘sleeping’ assets, generating value for people, communities and companies. Shared ownership models such as cooperatives, collective purchasing and collaborative consumption are features of a Sharing Economy, promoting a fair distribution of assets that benefits society as a whole. Access is promoted and preferred over ownership and seen as distributed ownership or shared ownership. Being a member of a car club, for example, and paying for what you use, is seen as preferable and smarter than bearing the cost, burden, resource wastage and idling capacity of ownership. 

5. Planet: a Sharing Economy puts both people and planet at the heart of the economic system. Value creation, production and distribution operate in synergy or harmony with the available natural resources, not at the expense of the planet. A Sharing Economy is inherently sustainable because the system is designed for sustainability rather than obsolescence.  Product design, for example, is based on not only the availability or re-use of resources, but promotes models that have a positive impact on the planet. For example, rather than simply reducing negative impact by carbon reduction, a Sharing Economy creates goods and services that positively enhance the natural environment, such as cradle-to-cradle (C2C) or circular economy models. An example would be a pair of trainers made from recycled materials that have seeds implanted in their biodegradable soles; as the trainers degrade, plants grow. 

6. Power: a Sharing Economy both empowers its citizens economically and socially and enables the economic and social redistribution of power. Both facets hinge on an open, shared, distributed, democratic decision-making process and governance system. This robust eco-system facilitates this opening and sharing of opportunities and access to power. Power is shared or distributed and the infrastructure enables citizens to access power and decision-making. Systems that enable and promote fair pay, reduce inequality and poverty such as Fairtrade are supported and preferred.  It supports people to become economic agents, micro-entrepreneurs, entering into binding contracts with one another, and trading peer-to-peer. 

7. Shared Law: in a Sharing Economy, the mechanism for law making is democratic, public and accessible. Rules, policies, laws and standards are created via a democratic system that enables and encourages mass participation at all levels. Laws and policies support, enable and incentivise sharing practices such as car sharing, peer-to-peer trading and a variety of forms of resource sharing. Laws, policies, structures and infrastructure create a system of trust with insurances, assurances, social ratings and reputation capital at the forefront. 

8. Communications: in a Sharing Economy, information and knowledge is shared, open and accessible. Good, open communications are central to the flow, efficiency and sustainability of this economic system. A fundamental tenant of the Sharing Economy is that communications are distributed, knowledge and intelligence are widely accessible, easily obtained and can be used by different individuals, communities or organisations and used in a variety of different ways for a myriad of purposes. Technology and social networks enable the flow of communications and support the sharing of information. Promoting the message ‘Share More’ is at the heart of Sharing Economy communications. 

9. Culture: the Sharing Economy promotes a WE based culture where the wider community and the greater good are considered. Health, happiness, trust and sustainability are notable characteristics. Sharing is seen as a positive attribute, people who share are celebrated, encouraged and enabled. A shareable lifestyle is championed and preferred. A sharing culture is embedded across sectors, geographies, economic backgrounds, genders, religions and ethnicities. Diversity is celebrated, collaborations between different groups applauded and incentivised. The sharing of resources is part of the fabric and eco-system of a sharing society; externalities are always considered and integrated. Business culture is based around the most efficient use of resources and a collaborative business culture. Conscious business, social business, sustainable business, ethical business, social enterprise, business as a force for good are also features of a Sharing Economy.  The predominant business models of a Sharing Economy are: access based models, services, subscription, rental, collaborative and peer-to-peer models. Disruptive innovation, sharepreneurship, creative entrepreneurship, intrapreneuship and micro-entrepreneurship are common features of a Sharing Economy. 

10. Future: a Sharing Economy is a robust, sustainable economic system that is built around a long term vision, always considering the impact and consequences of present day actions on the future. By considering long-term implications, futurology and being able to see the ‘big picture’, a Sharing Economy presents a stable, and sustainable economic system. Systems thinking, and the need for a systemic approach to change is fundamental to the success of the Sharing Economy.

Photo credit: tedxbrighton2012, flickr creative commons