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Seven challenges for the sharing economy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
6th May 2013


Excerpted from Anne-Sophie Novel ‘s presentation at Ouisharefest:

(Anne is the author of a french book on the sharing economy, Co Révolution)

“By following the development of the collaborative economy since 2009, my feeling today is that we are entering an age of maturity. While it is time to gain visibility, the collaborative economy is facing several challenges and this rises some questions :

Who are the people who share ? What for ? How to reach new audiences ? Are there true common values to this economy ? If there is nothing really new about somewhat ancestral collaborative lifestyles, wouldn’t it be time to focus on how sharing can improve sustainability, on the meaning of words and the values they hold?

1 – To me, the first challenge is to understand the public of collaborative consumption.

Studies show that the people who share have emerging consumption habits, they are more driven by economic benefits than by collective motivations. There is not a trend against consumption : the majority of these people is just looking for good deals and ways to earn monney.

It has been proved that 52% of the population, in France and in the US wants to change its consumption habits. If 83% of the French population feels usage is more important than property, only 19% of them have already tried to rent what they need.

A study made by IPSOS and ADEME recently showed that 60% of French people use second hand market and 37% of them group purchasing. Barter and ridesharing represent less than 10% of the population habits.
Collaborative consumption is more developped within young people, but it tends to spread through other categories of the population.

This means collaborative consumption can suit everyone for various reasons, and the fact that we have no word to name the people who share just reflects the diversity of these emerging consumption habits.

So the question is : do we need a common name for these people to recognize themselves ? Or do we need to precise the definition of the collaborative economy in order to improve its promotion ?

2 – Because, and this is my second point : it’s necessary to promote this economy more largely. Except Airbnb, Zipcar, Blablacar and some other success stories, many start up businesses just fight to survive and reach a critical mass of users. Moreover, some ideas are really nice in theory, but not usefull in practice.

Adam Berk, who founded and recently put an end to neigh*borrow, in the US, recently said on Pandodaily that sharing is not enough : he advises young entrepreneurs to try to solve a problem, to rapidly test their idea in their surroundings (If you can’t find 10 persons to use your product, you can’t find 100), not to reinvent the wheel, and admit that sometimes an idea simply does not work.

Neal Gorenflo, founder of Shareable, also explains that the money coming from Venture Capital just changes the collaborative economy spirit.

But what is the true spirit of collaborative economy ? And if people want to participate but do not act, how can we find solutions to convince people more broadly ?

3 – And this leads me to the third challenge : the values. Collaborative economy is made of collaborative lifestyles, redistribution markets, barter, co-construction habits, crowfunding, etc. You can make profit or not, but does this economy have any clear claim or statement ?

For some people, it is a catch-all term and it is risky for it not to be more understandable sometimes.

If simplicity, transparency, community, participation are common points ; authenticity, sustainability, co-creation, social efficiency are some of its core-values but they are not enough to define it clearly and make it readable.

What’s more, all the start-up businesses do not share these values. So What are the TRUE values of this economy ? If this is not clear enough, the CO-washing is not far…

4 – Fourth : let’s have a look to well-known speakers and analysts on collaborative economy. Rachel Botsman and Lisa Ganksky are not on this slide but they could… I just wanted to focus on other contributions : Rikfin is known for his books on empathy and the third industrial revolution ; Bernard Stiegler, French philosoph prefers speaking about a contributive economy while Chris Anderson and Joël de Rosnay underline the importance of the makers’movement ; and Yochai Benkler explains the “networked information economy” to describe a « system of production, distribution, and consumption » based on open source, decentralization and non market strategy.

In the end, the collaborative economy is in the middle of all these contributions, made up of thousands of innovations, some for profit, some nonprofit, and some that thrive in the commons… Does this mean that the future of economy is to be collaborative ?

5 – And if we accept such an idea, it is important not to reinvent the wheel ! In the end of the 1880s some workers already built in the foundations of a cooperative economy, and now we often forget that more than eigh hundred million people worldwide are part of a cooperative. This economy is still causing debates to know if traditionnal approaches are better than the one given by the American approach of social entrepreneurship… all in all, it is never easy but I do believe the collaborative economy should learn from the history of cooperative economy in order to affirm its status.

6 – Challenge number 6 : Have you seen how often ecological arguments are presented in the collaborative economy ? And my interest for these issues is directly linked to the capacity of collaborative economy in building a better world for the next generations.

Some figures for that ?  Every shared car replaces up to fifteen owned cars, sharing reduces waste, it plays against planned obsolescence, it promotes a local economy, etc.
But these are the consequences ! What if these solutions were made to directly serve green purposes ? What if the collaborative economy decided to defend more strongly a green economy ? Wouldn’t that help in its desfinition ?

As Neal Gorenflo said recently on ouishare group, « we expect that these tech driven solutions could become part of, if not lead, a larger movement of social and economic transformation ». It is necessary to always keep that in mind and to include it in the vision of the collaborative economy.

7 – Now that Venture Capital and investment are putting some money in young start-ups, it is important to protect the values, if we can define them. Shall we defend the people’s benefits or the stakeholders’ benefits ? Can we observe a strong collaboration between collaborative economy start-ups ?

If we are still focused on technological innovation and suffering from counter-productive influence of certain forms of investment, I do not give much chances to the future of collaborative economy… ”

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2 Responses to “Seven challenges for the sharing economy”

  1. Mariana Leyton Says:

    What I find most interesting is the idea of these new (or ate least different) core-values related to these new structures. I do think that most of the propositions in terms of p2p networks and collaborative economies based around the commons can only work if these core-values are defined and internalized, as the proposed changes have to start with our most basic assumptions about the market economy and the status quo in general.

  2. Marco Says:

    As to contribute to your point 6, what needs to be considered as to ecological consideration is the rebound effect of the sharing economy. I talk about this on slide 15 called sustainability concerns of the sharing economy: http://www.slideshare.net/speed101/the-rise-of-the-sharing-economy

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