Below is an edited transcript of an interview and audience-led discussion with STWR’s Rajesh Makwana at the annual World Goodwill seminar in November 2015. The conference featured a series of presentations and talks conducted in London, Geneva and New York and covered a full range of spiritual, political, environmental and social issues.

Why is there a need for sharing?

The reality is that we are in the midst of a global emergency. We have all heard the statistics: how the richest 1% of the world population will soon own as much as everybody else in terms of assets and wealth. There is essentially a growing level of inequality in the world, and going against the general understanding, there are actually more people living in poverty than ever before. The situation with climate change was in the news recently. We know that we have already exceeded the 1 degree increase in global average temperatures and we are on course for a 4 degrees increase by the end of the century. And there is an escalation of conflicts over scarce resources. So we need to find ways of globally sharing wealth and natural resources more equally and in a way that is cooperative and doesn’t lead to conflict.

What is the right way to structure the market: should it be through limited companies, or are there other models that are more able to share in an equitable fashion? Put in another way, will we have iPhones in paradise?

I think there is a problem when it comes to companies growing in size to the extent that they become the Apples of the world. I admit, I have an iPhone and I am pragmatic in that respect, we need what we need. But I think we need to be careful about this idea of abundance and recognise that it is not just necessarily a material abundance that we should be after but a spiritual abundance. Abundance for me is ensuring that everybody has access to what they need to survive and to live. We have to recognise that at the moment we are consuming natural resources 50% faster than the earth can replenish them. The planet is in ecological overshoot. So, if we really want abundance, we need sustainable abundance. We need to use resources within the finite carrying capacity of the planet.

What is the eco-economy model that will lead us further?

In a nutshell, it is an economy based on the principle of sharing, whereby we recognise that there is one planet worth of resources that we need to share and we distribute the resources in such a way that all people’s needs are met. There are many reports from ecological economists, and Oxfam has published a report referred to as ‘the Doughnut report’ that looks at planetary and social boundaries. We just need to bear in mind the reality of abundance. 75% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day. That is not what they can spend in their own country, but what that $10 can buy in America. And there are 47,000 people who die every day because they don’t have access to the basics. So we need to temper this idea of abundance with the reality of the world situation.

I am sure many people have heard about the commons movement which proposes a third category of ownership. Everything that is essential to life would be shared, everything outside this could be publicly or privately owned. Do you see any hope of this happening and how?

Essentially I agree that the commons movement embodies an aspect of sharing, and there are many other examples that take a similar approach, whether we talk about the transition town movement or local currencies. The problem we have and the reason that things are getting worse is because even though there is a recognition that sharing is fundamentally who we are and therefore must be how we organise ourselves, the systems and institutions and policies which underpin the way that the economy works are all based on the old ways of self-interest. There is an idea of homo economicus, this idea that we are all self-interested, competitive, individualistic, utility maximisers. It is this idea that still informs policy making, not only within our country, but even global institutions. How does this emerging tendency towards sharing and commoning express itself in a world which is still underpinned by the fabric of national self-interest, competition and greed?

What keeps coming to me is community. It possibly falls within all of us to create that community of sharing. Do you believe that we will need to come out of this paradigm or is it individuals that will take the community and develop that within themselves? 

My short answer is that we need both. There is already this growing movement towards creating the alternative, and I already mentioned the transition towns, the commons movement, the sharing economy and the gift economy and everything else. This is great and very empowering for individuals and communities to connect with each other using new ways of organising. But it is not enough, it doesn’t change the system. We also need to reclaim democracy. We need to rethink how the world’s resources are redistributed, because there are massive political issues there, there are structural issues that need to be addressed. By us coming out of the system and creating the alternative, we are not going to address these structural political, social, economic issues at all levels of society and it is really important that we do both. Often we have people who are working for transformational change, structural change, justice etc. who aren’t engaged in creating the alternative and vice versa. We need to link both of these approaches.

I am all for sharing but how it is to be done matters. I have this company and I have this top job going for £100.000 and I will ask for applications and 27 applications come. Only one will get in, the other 26 will remain unemployed, so what do I do? In India they say you should renounce everything, sell everything. We have done a lot of experiments in society with sharing and welfare, with a lot of unintended consequences. What can we do differently about sharing so there aren’t any unintended consequences from sharing?

There is a massive shift globally towards not-for-profit models and co-operatives, where decision-making is more evenly distributed among stakeholders, and profits are shared more evenly amongst stakeholders too, they are not extracted by shareholders. These sort of models have been emerging for a very long time and there are 1 billion people globally who are now part of a co-operative. The second question around how do we share, there is literature here, you can go to our website, there are different ideas on how to establish systems that are broadly in line with the principle of sharing. Also, systems of welfare and social protection, there are problems with them, but essentially they are far better than not having them. They are very important in the developing world, where many countries are still lacking effective systems of welfare and social protection. So it is really important to strengthen and scale up these mechanisms within counties, and we need such systems in place globally as well. Exactly how we go about that is almost a secondary discussion, because at the moment we are moving in exactly the opposite direction. We need to demand something different and that is happening globally.

The point I am going to make is, to me the word share is a 2-way thing, somehow the sharing has to retain the self-respect of the person that is shared with to enable them to give something back to retain their self-respect. Your organisation hopefully enables us to move on from that muddle that is just donating.

This is not about charity, it is not about giving individually. In fact there is a lot of literature that suggests that charity is part of the problem, because it maintains the status quo. The issue is justice, sharing really means justice. Our focus is how to create a just and sustainable world. It is about creating the economic, social and political systems that systemically embody the principle of sharing.

Your founder wrote a report that focuses on how article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could be used, and this goes back to justice, as a touchstone for how you would establish systems of sharing. 

We are still exploring and developing this idea. The real question is how do we create change? We do need a global movement of citizens who are on the streets demanding change from their governments. There is evidence to suggest that the number of protests for social and economic justice have really escalated over the last decades, and we need people who are coming together with their heart open in the spirit of sharing, demanding common sense from their governments. Article 25 states that everybody has the right to the essentials of life. This is nowhere obvious in the world, in probably no country in the world. If we can’t even achieve that, what hope have we of addressing climate change? So this has got to be the starting point.

A lot of people talk about a coming global economic crash. How do you see something emerging from that to create a new economy?Also, someone mentioned humanity being at a turning point in terms of more people awakening to the Christ Consciousness. My question has to do with the concept of ownership and stewardship. How does your organisation bring the concept of stewardship into the concept of sharing?

I think that when we talk about ownership we think about my iPhone, but there are things that clearly need to be stewarded rather than owned by the nations of the world or local communities. That is what the commons is focused on. The stewardship of common resources is not about ownership; but that doesn’t mean that we can’t own our own table and chairs. That is a different level of ownership. When it comes to things that really matter in the world, stewardship is preferable over ownership. On the bigger question on how change happens, the manifestation of the Christ principle, the realisation that we are one humanity, we are heading there. It could be, sadly, that another global economic crisis, a big crash, could catalyse that process. If that does happen, then we either resurrect the old system and it happens again, or we work together democratically to hash out a new system based on different principles, and undoubtedly sharing has to be part of that discussion.

Three points, first, how about the new ways of sharing that we see that align with the law of least resistance, for example AirBnB, Uber for instance. Secondly, your view on mobile phones provoked me a little bit. Especially in Africa the mobile phones are a very strong driver of increased justice, and distribution of new technology such as access to micro loans and the penetration of access to mobile phones in many countries in Africa is up to 80%, they leapfrogged beyond many things to get there. The third point relates to your comments on stewardship. The place to start with sharing is knowledge and education. 

Firstly, sharing is absolutely very much part of what it means to be human: evidence from anthropological and behavioural sciences demonstrates that sharing and cooperation is hardwired into us from a very early age. From an evolutionary perspective we wouldn’t have been able to evolve as a species if we weren’t able to share. In terms of AirBnB and Uber, they call themselves sharing economies, I take some issue with that, they are essentially renting rather than sharing. Mobile phones, yes you are right, there is a difference between the pragmatic use of mobile phones where necessary as a way of helping development, and our throwing away our phones every few months for the latest model, that is a massive waste of resources. There is a better way of doing it.

Do you have any final comments? 

We need to consider how we can become involved in trying to create the alternative, and in demanding change from our governments. If Christ was in the world today, surely he too would be demanding justice for those people who currently don’t have access to the resources that we take for granted? There are 17 million people who die needlessly every year, and fortunately, there are millions of NGOs, civil society organisations and campaigns out there, providing anyone who wishes to serve with abundant opportunities.

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