Movement of the Day:, grassroots or lobby? is a new platform designed to support the sharing economy in a variety of ways, including influencing policy-making. Given its funding by sharing companies and venture capital, some people, like Andrew Leonard of below, are asking questions about the nature of the organisation.

My intuition is that this is indeed a top-down campaign organisation, not an expression of the grassroots. The proof of the pudding is whether the policy-makign advice will be focused on protecting industry vs. consumer interests (of course, these may align on occasion, but not always).

First, the self-description:

“Peers is a grassroots organization to support the sharing economy movement. We believe sharing can be the defining story of the 21st century if we come together to build it.

We started by meeting with small groups of people who share their cars, homes, skills and time. Within a few months, we had meet-ups and house parties happening in cities across the globe, from Boston to Barcelona and San Francisco to Seoul.

We’re launching Peers to provide support and tools for people who want to see the sharing economy thrive.

We support the movement in three ways:

* Mainstream the sharing economy: By raising the profile and visibility of sharing.

* Protect the sharing economy: Through policy campaigns for smart regulation.

* Grow the sharing economy: By discovering, joining and using new peer and sharing services.

There’s something powerful when you get car-sharers, bike-sharers, home-sharers, stuff-sharers, peer travel guides, microentreprenuers and other folks in a room together. Magic happens. The Shareable community know that! We want to make more of that happen around the world.”

Co-founder Natalie Foster explains how Peers is different from Shareable, OuiShare, and People Who Share:

“We love these folks (especially Shareable)! We’ve learned a lot from the great work they’ve done and we’re joining forces with many of them to build this movement together.

We think we can add value to the movement by ensuring Peers is a truly global organization and by creating the tools to help individuals self-organize. In time, we envision that Peers will be a platform for sharers to launch their own campaigns and take on an issue that threatens their ability to share in their community.”

Andrew Leonard asks questions about the nature of the initiative:

“The obvious question is, who does Peers represent? Natalie Foster described Peers as a “grassroots organization” aiming “to grow the sharing economy.” But some probing questions from a Bloomberg reporter on the call quickly established that “grassroots” might not be the best word to describe Peers. Foster eventually admitted that Peers was launching with 22 partners, among whom were a number of companies operating in the sharing economy space. Although initially seeming a little reluctant to answer the question of who was paying for Peers, she also eventually acknowledged that the 22 partners were also helping to fund the operation.

Natalie Foster is a veteran of President Obama’s digital team, and has also worked for the Sierra Club and So her progressive credentials look pretty solid. But her exchange with the Bloomberg reporter raised more questions than it answered. One of the primary missions of Peers, said Foster, was to help “protect” the sharing economy and advocate for it. For example, Peers might help its members ask the mayor of a city for a bike-sharing program, she said. But at the same time she also stressed explicitly that Peers was not a “lobbying organization.”

I don’t know how one decides when asking a mayor for something is lobbying and when it isn’t, and I really don’t know how the word “grassroots” applies to an organization that is at least partially funded by industry players.”

Andrew Leonard later updated these remarks:

Foster says the bulk of Peers’ funding has come from “mission-aligned independent donors” and foundations. Those donors do include investors and executives of sharing economy start-ups, acknowledged Foster. Foster also said the idea for Peers can be traced back to seed money from Airbnb that started a “conversation among stakeholders” at Purpose, an organization that creates “21st century movements.”

Foster would not reveal how much money Peers raised before launch. She stressed that Peers’ goal is “to build a platform for people to self-organize and have their voice heard” on issues that affect the sharing economy, including, specifically, the question of “smart regulation.” Foster said she was pleased that 7,000 people had already registered as members. She emphasized, several times, her personal excitement at the prospect that the sharing economy could make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”

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