On May 13-14, Transition US staff participated in the first annual SHARE Conference, joining 500+ entrepreneurs, investors, techies, government officials, and nonprofit leaders. SHARE, which took place in San Francisco was dedicated to exploring the sharing economy, and highlighted both the innovation and challenges within this field.
While there was much buzz at the conference for the latest sharing crazes (dog sharing was my personal favorite) and the new online technologies that are popping up to support sharing, there was also the recognition that sharing is not a new concept. People have been sharing throughout history. Within the Transition movement, people have been participating in the sharing economy as one way to redesign our communities to become more resilient. Here are a few examples of Transition sharing activities in the U.S.:
- Tool libraries
- Seed lending libraries (Richmond, CA seed library pictured on the right)
- Clothing Swaps
- Gleaning projects
- Skill sharing
- Garden wheels
- Community gardens
- Food forests
Below are some of my key takeaways from the conference, particularly in thinking about the opportunities for the Transition movement to continue to engage in the sharing economy as it evolves:
1) Community Organizing
I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at the conference titled Redefining Community: Organizing in the New Landscape of the Sharing Economy. I was joined by Allison Cook from The Story of Stuff Project, Jay Standish from OpenDoor, and Proveen Sinha from Liberating Ourselves Locally to discuss strategies in organizing in the sharing economy. Some strategies included: developing trust and deepening in-person relationships; utilizing online technology, particularly mobile phones; and using community mapping processes to identify existing resources within each community. During one of the conference plenaries, Douglas Atkin from Airbnb described the sharing economy’s power model as self organizing and decentralized, which reflects one of the guiding principles of the Transition movement: subsidiarity, or self-organization and decision making at the appropriate level.
2) Equity and the Sharing Economy:
The conference created a lively space for exploring some of the challenges that are currently facing the sharing economy including equity, regulation, insurance, and labor protections. Rashad Robinson from Color of Change expressed the risk of the sharing economy becoming another version of the current extractive economy, primarily benefiting upper middle class individuals and entrepreneurs. During the Access, Equity, and the Sharing Economy panel, panelists discussed the need to have sharing platforms that are more inclusive of people of color and the LGBT community. One issue referenced was a racial bias among some Airbnb renters. The panel also discussed the need for protection and security for workers that are engaging in the new economy, such as drivers for ride share companies such as Lyft that don’t currently provide health insurance or workers compensation.
During one of the plenaries, Nikki Silvestri from Green for All shared one reason why some communities may not be participating in online sharing economy. Many of these online platforms connect people that don’t know each other. If you didn’t grow up with an experience of trust and reciprocity, then it would be a big leap to trust strangers, as is currently required for participation in many of the sharing economy technology platforms.
Janelle Orsi from the Sustainable Economies Law Center emphasized the need for sharing companies to make decisions in the interest of the people they serve. To do this, she recommended using cooperative or T Corporation governance structures for sharing businesses, which put the people served by the company in control of the company.
3) Emergency Preparedness:
In addition to the potential for creating more economic resilience, another opportunity for the sharing economy is to increase a community’s ability to respond to disasters. One example of how the sharing economy aided a city in responding to a natural disaster was Airbnb’s partnership with the City of New York during Hurricane Sandy. When tens of thousands of individuals were stranded and displaced by Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters, Airbnb members offered free temporary housing to those in need.
The personal relationships that are being built through the sharing economy is another way that communities are building their resilience. Many Transition groups are developing strategies for addressing emergency preparedness, including the Mid Atlantic Transition Hub’s (MATH) work in building a resilient response to extreme weather (MATH event pictured on the left).
Shareable’s Neal Gorenflo moderated a panel on Shareable Cities, which looked at the role of local government, policy reform, and new partnerships in promoting the sharing economy. Panelist Yassi Eskandari-Qajar of the Sustainable Economies Law Center shared one example of a groundbreaking ordinance that could support the sharing economy. The Sustainable Living Research Ordinance in Goleta, CA provides a regulatory pathway to enable residential sustainability projects and designs otherwise illegal under current law. Permits will be given for implementing innovative practices in collaboration with professors and student researchers at local schools to test results on practices such as natural building, onsite wastewater treatment, and self-sustaining agricultural villages. Shareable and the Sustainable Economies Law Center have put together a great primer with specific policy recommendations that enable communities to remove barriers to sharing and realize the benefits of the sharing economy in food, jobs, housing, and transportation.
If you have your own stories about your experience with the sharing economy, please let us know – we’d love to hear them!