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Working for a Shareable Future

What does the future of the sharing economy look like, and how can we build a grassroots movement that will make that vision a reality?

In April, PCI had the opportunity to explore these questions with Mira Luna, Organizing Director at Shareable, an online magazine promoting the sharing economy and host of the Sharing Cities Network. In the interview transcript below, Mira offers important lessons from connecting and scaling up the sharing economy movement, as well as her hopes for collaborating for impact across organizations.

Tell us a short story of a time when you were most inspired, effective and engaged in your work. 
 
My first few months with Shareable were pretty exciting.  About a year and a half ago I was sent to the northern Midwest (Detroit, Chicago) to organize communities that we initially thought didn't have a lot of sharing or new economic activity going on. I was immersed in on-the-ground community organizing without much of an agenda, just a few goals, and saw the process emerge organically through a process of deep listening with these communities. There were goals, processes and tools emerging that I couldn't have imagined. We were just supposed to support communities to start the sharing projects they wanted to do, but I saw that people really wanted to connect with each other. As I was researching all the projects going on, someone engaged with me from Michigan and suggested we create a map - which was the whole idea for the Sharing Cities Map Jam.
 
A lot of the projects didn't know about each other, even in the same town. For me to start making these informal connections was very powerful. When we started hosting these Map Jams, we thought five or ten would happen and ended with thirty to forty. Then people wanted to follow up the Map Jams by hosting ShareFests. People were very immersed in the experience - the connection piece is what was so powerful.
 
I'm also on the board of US Solidarity Economy network, and we see grassroots organizers struggling to facilitate that connection piece in communities, but I've found it to be the most powerful piece – it really helps people see they aren't doing it in a bubble, and it helps people share resources. For example, the Transition movement in the Bay Area is too under-resourced to get much of their work off the ground... but if we share resources, co-promote events, etc. we can support each other rather than compete with the mainstream economy.
 
Getting to see a movement build so quickly and organically, part of that was due to my openness to just witness what needed to happen rather than imposing my own ideas on it, to listen to people and what they really needed. I've done a lot of local organizing, but to see it move up to scale so quickly was particularly exciting.
 
An examination of sharing at Fifth Street Share Fair in Santa Rosa, CA. Photo credit: Rentalic.
 
What is most alive in your work right now?
 
I helped host three video conference calls this past week around ShareFest. There were a total of forty people on those calls. It was exciting for people to hear each other and their stories. A couple of people were really struggling, but after hearing other stories, including people who were hosting ShareFests in developing countries or without having very much money, it convinced me of the power of what we can do as a community. It was both inspiring for me and for the people on the call. The actual face-to-face connection via webinar technology is even more important than hearing the words of the update.
 
As the network grows, the staff will step back and allow people to connect with each other - otherwise it's just a nonprofit telling people what to do. A network helps people share their dreams with each other, support each other. It’s not Shareable saying “This is what we want to do” or “This is what we got a grant to do,” but rather enabling people to connect as part of a grassroots network. Initially we have to be the broker of those relationships, but more and more those connections are being made on their own, or after we broker them they take off on their own.
 
It's a lot more authentic that way. The old community organizing model is to go in with an agenda. The new model is empowerment, to allow people to create their own destiny. This happens when a community is connected to itself, but also to other communities doing similar work.
 
Ken: Do you imagine continuing to provide the infrastructure for this kind of connecting?
 
Yes and no. I've been told by other network organizers that you have to. But to some degree it's been set up that way. I'd like to see Shareable become part of the network as more of a participant and move away from the primary facilitator role, but then others will have to step up to take responsibility for managing it. We'll be there as long as it's needed, but our goal is to step back and let people fill in and take leadership where they can.
 
I see a lot of overlap with Transition. What people like about Shareable and the Sharing Cities Network is that we have created enough structure so people don't get lost. I was involved in Transition locally, and while there is a model and some programming, there are so many options that it can sometimes feel like spinning wheels, jumping from one project to the next. I'd like to find a way to collaborate with Transition US that feels authentic. Many local Transition groups are already using our tools, resources, models and the Sharing Cities Network. It doesn't matter to me which flag they carry as long as they are making positive change.
 
Imagine it is five years from now and your work has succeeded wildly. Frame your next responses as if you are speaking from that future point in time. 
 
a) What has been catalyzed in the world? 
 
I have some hesitation. I don't want to impose my own plans, but in some ways we have to have plans in order to move forward - but I want to be responsive along the way. Five years from now, I imagine that one hundred cities have created their own agenda, goals and plans for becoming Sharing Cities, and along those lines each different sector of "the economy" (which is a limiting framework in itself), or how we get our needs met - through food, transportation, work, finance, creative expression, housing – can all be provided by sharing resources collectively. 
 
The community owns its own energy, owns common land together, and has common telecommunications services. The commons has grown - it had been shrinking - and this network of cities has really blossomed and is taking ownership of its own destiny. The models that are emerging are being spread through the network, virally and organically, replicating in a way that reflects each community's culture and goals. And when I say sharing I mean anything from public banking and alternative currencies to housing and food cooperatives to Makerspaces and art collectives (the "fun stuff").
 
Every community and neighborhood has those resources available. In a way, it's the evolution of "communism," where people have voluntary access to the commons but also have democratic control of those resources and managing them. No one is forced to participate, but people are attracted to sharing/the commons because it actually improves their quality of life, makes their communities more harmonious, and that attraction is magnetic.
 
b) Imagine that the emergence of the New Economy Coalition in 2014 was a key to the success of your work over those next five years. Tell us how that happened.
 
This one is a little bit of a challenge for me because I see a lot of positives but also limiting things about how the Coalition is currently being managed. I don't see a lot of connections being made among organizations. It's more one-way, let's get behind this person's work, rather than collaborate, build bigger projects, share resources, more analysis of how the work we're doing overlaps and how we can overcome the funding constraints that discourage this kind of collaboration. We have to claim it and promote our work. We need some collaboration and facilitation so we can have some kind of soul-searching and bonding.
 
(Looking back...) We had some sort of facilitated process continuously over five years ideally by an un-invested third party organization that is neutral and can help us as a group come up with common goals and vision and figure out what role each org plays in that whole and also allows each org to thrive as part of a larger organism so that we thrive together. We learn to honor, understand and respect each other's perspectives and put that into a holistic vision. We have ongoing conversations with each other that are not necessarily focused on an agenda, preferably face to face or over video. 
 
We come up with some established agreements about how we work together and we check in on those agreements so that we continue to be committed to the co-creation of this vision. It's a lot, but it's the only thing that's going to make this work.
 
I hate those moments where I butt up against big egos. I got into this work to play together. It's a fun thing, it's not some kind of a think tank, but more a sandbox where we play together and discover what holds us together.
 
Marissa: Allocating staff time to participate in that process when we have so many competing priorities is a challenge. How could we free up organizational resources in order to participate in that kind of process?
 
We pretty much have one funder and they're wonderful and really supportive of us doing movement work and working with other organizations. It needs to be a conversation with the funders and their whole orientation to the funding... they pull the strings. The movement piece isn't something that we should be doing in our spare time, it's something we should be doing at least half the time. Funders should say "we're going to fund you to work together." That's kind of what Garfield Foundation was doing. 
 
 
For a while I was doing this for free and could allocate my time as I wanted, but if you're trying to feed a family, particularly as a community organizer, which is pretty low-paid work, it's challenging. Collaboration is really hard, but that's what we need to be spending a lot of our time doing. For funders, this needs to be a top priority, and they need to have a deep understanding of the impact of this work.
 
It's easier to go into that space if you have a bunch of orgs who are ready to go into this together. Demonstrating that it may work is an important part of being able to get the funding.
 
I'm doing this because I'm called to serve in this way.  But if Shareable was to disappear because our vision was achieved or our partners' work was so successful that it wasn't needed anymore, then we at Shareable would be thrilled.
 
This interview is part of Post Carbon Institute’s “Weaving the Movement” project, an appreciative inquiry process to identify patterns and synergies in the new economy and community resilience movements and support the efforts of the recent New Economy Coalition CommonBound Conference . Interviewers are Ken White and Marissa Mommaerts of Post Carbon Institute, and Ben Roberts of Conversation Collaborative.  To read additional transcripts of “Weaving the Movement” interviews with new economy and community resilience leaders, visit the project hackpad. “Weaving the Movement” has been made possible through financial support from the Threshold Foundation.
 

More Weaving the Movement essays at Resilience.org.
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