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by Cat Johnson
As the sharing economy picks up momentum, its reach has become global. In cities and towns around the world, people are creating ways to share everything from baby clothes to boats, hardware to vacation homes. There are also groups emerging that consciously identify with the big-picture sharing movement. These groups focus on education, action and community-building, and advocate for a cultural shift toward widespread sharing.
From neighborhood-level cooperatives to global organizations, these groups work to bring sharing into the mainstream. They see sharing as a new paradigm; a means to a more democratic society, and they understand that sharing is not a new fad but an ancient practice that technology is reinvigorating.
What follows is a far-from-exhaustive list of sharing advocacy groups around the world. There are, certainly, many others. Ideally, this list will serve as a springboard for connecting with a sharing community near you, or one that is aligned with your vision for a shareable world.
With hubs in Paris, London, Berlin, Barcelona, Rome and Brussels, Ouishare is an international network of entrepreneurs, citizens, activists, journalists and designers working toward the development of the collaborative economy.
“To me, the question is not so much about whether access is better than ownership,” says Ouishare co-founder Antonon Leonard. “It's about people. It's a change in culture. People have just started to realize that they have amazing opportunities to express themselves, be their own bosses, and start a new life.”
Leonard stresses that community “is everything” and that Ouishare is built around people who do things, not those who say they will do things.
“We need complex solutions to solve complex world issues,” he says. “We bet that it's only by connecting people with different perspectives that we'll be able to bring sustainable change. Sharing is an amazing opportunity to build a community and you need to build a community in order to make sharing work.”
Based in New York, Shared Squared is helping people to share by holding events, providing resources to empower sharing economy innovators, and making it easier for people to get involved in the movement.
“Our approach is simply to give people the opportunity to learn about, know about, meet and support other people in the same industry,” says Shared Squared founder, Adam Berk. “If there is one industry that should collaborate, it's ours. So I want to make sure we all work together and support each other when possible and where it makes sense...I think we are unique in the fact that we are transparent, do not care about politics and have a no nonsense policy when it comes to competition: everyone in the space is welcome, no matter how big you are.”
Berk would like to see the sharing economy move away from telling people why they should share, and focus on making sharing cheaper, better, more convenient and more fun. He believes that in the future, third parties will play a bigger role in managing risk, inventory and maintenance for P2P companies.
“I do not think you need to be a Treehugger to share,” he says. “Rich people share yachts and planes. When you are not using your money, you put it in the bank. The sharing economy in general has done a bad job at marketing. Hotels are not the antithesis of Airbnb. Hotels are actually shared rooms too, just with a different model. The third party plays a bigger role in a transaction that is still P2P in reality.”
The People Who Share
The UK-based organization the People Who Share is working to bring sharing mainstream. Committed to “reshaping the world through sharing,” their vision is a thriving sharing economy where everyone is a supplier of tools, resources, goods, experiences, time and experience. Recently, along with partners Ouishare and Shareable, they organized the first ever Global Sharing Day (http://www.compareandshare.com/global-sharing-day/).
“Fundamentally, we live on a planet with finite resources and we have a growing population, we are going to need to share to survive,” says Benita Matofska, Chief Sharer at the People Who Share. “The businesses and organisations of the future are those who build their models around the sharing of resources.”
“What differentiates the sharing economy from our current economic model,” Matofska says, “is that this new economy is built by, with and for people and planet. Fundamentally people unite around the idea that we have unlimited sharing potential and sharing is how we build strong, sustainable, happy connected communities.”
Unstash is a peer-to-peer platform for collaborative consumption that works to facilitate and enhance the sharing experience by making sharing fun, easy and social. The Toronto-based organization is “laser focused on the essence of sharing,” says Unstash co-founder Lon Wong. “We're not about connecting strangers to make a few dollars, and we're not even about swapping which can become dependent on a coincidence of wants. We exist to facilitate and enhance the sharing experience for community good.”
For Wong, sharing isn't merely about saving money, or living simply, or the environment, it's about our shared humanity. “The sharing of things can seem trivial,” he says. “But in my experience, sharing something even small and tangible can become a gateway towards the sharing of life in deep and meaningful ways.”
Let's Collaborate! is an event series developed to inspire and connect the collaborative consumption community in New York City.
“The purpose of Let’s Collaborate! is to gather entrepreneurs, academics, VCs, and people passionate about the sharing economy together over thought- provoking events,” says Melissa O’Young, founder of Let’s Collaborate!. “I believe that something magical happens when you put a group of passionate people in a room together. My goal,” she continues, “is to create a core community of sharing economy enthusiasts first, which will hopefully inspire them to infect the greater community towards more collaborative behaviors.”
The P2P Foundation is “an observatory of open, sharing, P2P and commons-oriented activities.” Playing host to numerous conferences and boasting 18,000 articles on the matter, the organization is a valuable hub of information for researchers and practitioners of the sharing economy.
“Different phenomena have led to a big underlying paradigm shift in favor of sharing,” says Michel Bauwens, one of the founders of the P2P Foundation. “Networked internets have dramatically decreased the coordination and transaction costs, making access to shared resources often cheaper than ownership of an individual resource. You keep all the advantages but at dramatically lower cost,” he continues. “This changes the perspective from individual scarcity-driven behaviour (I buy this because I may need it), to abundance-driven behaviour in which there is a confidence that access to a resource will be possible without owning it.”
"The sharing economy is going to be a major driver for a new kind of economy we are heading towards.”Based in Germany, KoKonsum is an open network for people interested in the sharing economy. The organization seeks to give visibility to existing, as well as new, sharing economy startups, and initiatives that everybody can be part of.
“In my opinion, the sharing economy is going to be a major driver for a new kind of economy we are heading towards,” says Daniel Bartel, founder of KoKonsum. “Collaborative Consumption will disrupt many industries, help tackle environmental problems, empower people to fulfill their dreams and build a new sense of trust.”
He emphasizes the importance of trust and reputation in moving the sharing economy forward saying, “Only in trusted peer networks is it possible to carefully share ones things with others. This doesn’t mean that you need to know everyone personally, but it is important that you have a reputation of being trustworthy.”
Consumo Colaborativo is a digital media platform to spread information and best practices to the sharing community. Based in Spain, the organization acts as a connecting point for various people and projects and an information hub for sharing enthusiasts.
“The sharing economy is about understanding consumption and ownership are means to an end but not the final end/objective itself,” says Consumo Colaborativo founder Albert Canigueral. “We have lived in an extremely inefficient way for the last decades and collaborative consumption allows to make a more rational use of all the stuff already built and the new stuff that humans will keep creating.”
Based in Ithaca, New York, Share Tompkins steers people to resources that already exist, such as food pantries and freeskool, as well as sharing platforms that are emerging locally, such as the Ithaca Carshare and the Ithaca Biodiesel Cooperative. It also helps to organize and spread the word about skillshares, swaps, barters and other sharing events.
“Sharing is not in any way a new idea,” says Share Tompkins co-founder Shira Evergreen, pointing out that Ithaca is home to Ithaca Hours, the oldest alternative local currency in the U.S. that is still operating. “What's exciting about this particular moment in time is the fusion of sharing with technology, design and entrepreneurship. It is as if we are collectively relearning how to rely on one another and to do so we need to harness the tools of our time. I believe that once sharing has become second nature again,” she continues, “we will be less reliant on particular sharing platforms and settle into a new/old modality where we see our local community as an interconnected web of resources that can meet everyone's needs.”
Working to promote access over ownership, and "unlock the idling capacity" of assets in ways that offer enormous social, economic and environmental potential, Collaborative Consumption is a global advocate for the sharing economy.
“The key benefit of the sharing economy that we are the most passionate about is that it empowers people,” says Rachel Botsman, founder and director of Collaborative Consumption and author of the book What’s Mine is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live“ (http://www.collaborativeconsumption.com/book-and-authors/). It empowers people to live more sustainably, to build community in new ways, to make money from their existing assets and most importantly, to rediscover a human connection we have lost somewhere along the way.”
Botsman and her team focus on getting the business community on board with the sharing economy through speeches, interviews, articles, consultation and connecting diverse organizations.
“One of the beautiful things about the community around Collaborative Consumption is its diversity,” says Botsman. “You can be in a small town and have a local leader championing ideas, to a swanky VC office where the partners are telling you it’s the next big thing, to a government leader taking a proactive role in growing the sector. Connecting all these different groups, getting them to talk the same language and realize their objectives can be aligned is something our community is passionate about.”
Local Exchange Trading Systems or Schemes (LETS) are community-based networks in the UK in which people trade goods or services. LETSLinkUK tests and develops models for exchange currencies, provides a central platform for existing LETS schemes and helps interested communities develop their own local exchange currency.
A network of online communities that share goods, services, rides, spaces and more, the Finland-based Sharetribe facilitates sharing in a trusted environment. An open source platform, Sharetribe is made up of sharers, “tribes” of sharers, coders interested in developing on top of Sharetribe code and local ambassadors who translate and spread information about Sharetribe in their communities.
“We strongly believe that access will triumph over ownership in the long term,” says co-founder and CEO Juho Makkonen. “It was the way the world was organized before, and in many areas it will happen again. Building communities is at the very core of sharing, and also at the very core of Sharetribe,” he continues. “For most people, it's difficult to trust all the people in the world so communities help us create trust. Community is also a powerful motivator: people who identify themselves with a certain community usually want to contribute to it's common interests.”
With a tagline, “From bigger, towards better,” the Post-Growth Institute provides platforms for people to offer insights about sharing in an economic context. Advocates for reduction in consumption and minimizing one’s ecological footprint, the Australian-based institute supports and promotes sharing communities and prominent sharing advocates, organizes community and networking events including Free Money Day, and provides numerous articles and resources.
“By sharing more, we open up the ability for an equitable economic model to fully emerge,” says Post-Growth Institute founder, Donnie Maclurcan. “Sharing reminds us that there is enough to go around in this world, and that we don't need unhealthy competition in order for that distribution to take place. By sharing,” he continues, “dysfunctional status envy and the notion that private ownership is the epitome of a 'civilised' society can be nullified in a supportive way.”
He notes that sharing is nothing new, but we now have the benefit of technology to assist us. “The modern return to shared access models,” he says, “has the ability to place old wisdoms about custodianship into a modern context that has the new benefit of powerful digital platforms to facilitate effective sharing.”
Sharers of San Francisco
Formed to connect people interested in the new, sharing economy, Sharers of San Francisco facilitates events, dinners and Meetups where participants can meet other sharing enthusiasts, learn from each other and make connections in the sharing movement.
“What's unique about the Sharers of San Francisco,” says Chelsea Rustrum, founder of the group and author of the forthcoming book, It’s a Shareable Life (http://www.itsashareablelife.com/), “is that we get people together who enjoy sharing. These are the people that need to be talking: the P2P founders, Airbnb hosts, Couchsurfers, coworking mavens, car sharers and ride sharing advocates. We don't just get the peer-to-peer marketplace founders together for education chats,” she continues. “Instead, we invite users and founders to get together for largely unstructured events like Collaborative Happy Hours and Coworking Days...We get the right people talking and helping one another through conversations and potential collaborations.”
School of Commoning
The School of Commoning is a worldwide community of people participating in the local and global commons. It offers workshops, seminars and courses and has a thriving online presence to connect sharing advocates and facilitators.
“School of Commoning works to enhance individual and collective competences in the creation, protection, and governance of commons,” says George Por, co-founder of the school. “Commons are what we share in common not through ownership for private gain but through stewardship of resources needed for a good life. As we move towards a commons-based society,” he continues, “we see more and more examples of trust, reciprocity and relationships replacing the commodification of goods and services.”
He emphasizes that community-building is an essential element to creating a commons-based world.
“Building communities around sharing is a key building block of the world we want to live in,” he says. “It is the practical way to get there. Without such learning communities that don’t just talk about ideas but act as laboratories of learning and using new tools, we would just recreate the old structures that got us the mess in the first place.”
An Iberian Peninsula-based cooperative, Las Indias advocates for distributed, P2P practices as a revived economic model. The group behind the book The P2P Mode of Production: an Indiano Manifesto (http://lasindias.org/the-p2p-mode-of-production/), Las Indias educates people about the benefits of the sharing economy, promotes the commons and connects participants in the sharing movement.
A monthly series in San Francisco for the collaborative consumption movement, Collaborative Chats brings together leaders, participants and curious bystanders of the sharing economy for panel-style discussions. The chats, which Shareable is a founding partner of, range from topics of funding and gaining traction in the movement to exploring how and why Generation Y-ers are more interested in sharing than owning.
One of the nation’s first local economy centers, the Share Exchange in Santa Rosa, Calif. is a community meeting place, a collaborative co-working space, a local made marketplace and a non-profit promoting local economies.
“Share Exchange is at the crossroads of the localization movement and the shift to sharing,” says co-founder Kelley Rajala. “We are a unique intersection of sharing, exchanging and local economic development.”
Rajala explains that we simply can’t continue to consume as we have been and that being in the most wealthy, powerful and resource-consuming nation, she feels a responsibility to facilitate the transition toward a sharing lifestyle.
“By having a physical shared location and organizing events, mixers and swaps, we have cued up the opportunity for people to meet new friends,” she says. “Sharing becomes a natural activity within a trusted circle of people.”
Built around the principles introduced by author/entrepreneur Lisa Gansky in her book The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing (http://meshing.it/book), Mesh Labs serves to help businesses succeed in the sharing economy. With a global reach and a reputation as leaders within the sharing movement, Gansky and her team utilize technology, social media and community connections to educate startup and existing companies about the wisdom of embracing “the new wave of information-enabled commerce that's also improving our communities and our planet.”
The recently-created Australian channel of Shareable Magazine, Shareable Australia acts to create person-to-person connections within the sharing movement. The channel helps to facilitate and spread the word about Meetups, unconferences, swap meets and the sharing marketplace, and reports on local movements and events.
“The sharing movement provides a compelling alternative vision for succeeding in the 21st century by placing commons-based models at the centre of our politics, economics and society,” says Shareable Australia editor Darren Sharp. “The central idea of the commons is that resources, both physical & knowledge-based, can be shared for mutual benefit that give people access to an ends (a ride to work, lemons or an encyclopedia) without needing to own the means to produce these assets.”
Sharp notes that sharing enables individuals to define themselves through relationships of trust, reputational standing and social connectedness rather than the commodity treadmill of mainstream consumer culture.
“Common sense tells us that relationships matter and provide the basis for happy, productive people and communities,” he says. “The sharing movement can help us get over our attachment to stuff and re-frame idle material possessions and surplus knowledge as an exciting opportunity to share, learn and connect with those around us.”
Many of the above-listed groups are new kids on the block in the world of sharing. There are several well-established, pioneering sharing organizations that have long been leading the way including North American Students of Cooperation (http://nasco.coop/); The Center for Popular Economics (http://www.populareconomics.org/); The New Economics Institute (http://neweconomicsinstitute.org/); and the New Economics Foundation (http://www.neweconomics.org/).
Your Sharing Groups
As we journeyed down the rabbit hole of sharing groups, with each one leading to another, we became aware of just how many organizations are advocating for sharing. We want to know who is out there doing what, and to connect the groups with Shareable readers. In the comments, please let us know what sharing advocacy organizations exist in your community.
Cat Johnson is a freelance writer reporting on community, culture, music and design. Her work has appeared in Shareable, GOOD, the Santa Cruz Weekly, Metro Silicon Valley, No Depression and more.
She Tweets at Twitter.com/catjohnson