Could the Sharing Society be the key to economic recovery?
When you look at the interplay between Globalization and Economic Sustainability, it becomes quickly apparent that local economic and political crises are having an increasing global impact. Although the green shoots of economic recovery are appearing, they remain fragile as public and private debt continues to rise, despite the many austerity measures. Added to this are the concerns and question marks over global food supply and distribution, forecasted energy shortages and the seemingly continuous train of natural and man-made disasters.
One way to combat the high levels of consumer debt is to share what we have, a phenomenon discussed in Jeremy Rifkin’s book The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons and the Eclipse of Capitalism. Also known as the Sharing Society, or peer-to-peer economy, this growing trend, which, according to Rifikin, is transforming millions of consumers into “prosumers”, is beginning to attract serious political interest. It’s already worth €11.31bn globally, and is starting to make some headway; most notably as a series of services that enable collaboration, and the sharing of human and physical resources, through innovative new websites and mobile apps.
The Sharing Society’s growth is attributed to increased connectivity between people, aided by smartphones and tablets. We’re starting to see a number of tech start-ups emerge from the likes of Silicon Valley, such as Airbnb, Carpling and Taskrabbit, that are making this type of ‘bartering’ available on a large scale. Driven forward by the proliferation of the internet, these companies act as middlemen between those with surplus time, property or assets, and would-be users. For instance, Airbnb puts people who have rooms or houses to rent on a short-term basis in touch with those who are looking for somewhere to stay via its website and mobile app.
Europe has particularly been affected by this new wave of economic disruption, with various European cities and countries currently deciding how best to govern the Sharing Society. We’ve tapped into the sharing economy too, launching the Home to Swap initiative in 2013. This scheme encourages our employees to swap homes with their colleagues and take a culturally enriching holiday in one of up to 52 different countries. Whilst our initiative invites employees to exchange their homes for free, other examples of sharing services offer people a chance to monetize their spare time, cars or homes. So what is required to make it a true success?
Policy clarification – The Sharing Society poses some interesting legislative challenges as it can blur the lines between business and personal lives. For instance, offering your sofa to a friend for a couple of weeks is something that’s not currently regulated, but if you started to monetize your ‘sofa’, and offer it out further afield via social channels, you would need to consider issues such as insurance and tax.
Trust – Technology is enabling trust between strangers to such an extent that we’re sharing possessions, property and services. But people still like to deal with people, and it’s important that these new sharing services provide an element of human interaction to encourage trust between suppliers and their customers.
End-user buy-in – With sharing services rapidly taking off across the continent, Europe could easily become a Sharing Society hub and it’s already disrupting markets. Regulatory issues, such as the Uber vs black cab debate, need to be addressed quickly though if sharing services are to attract mass attention from both consumers and businesses. Accessibility and preventing discrimination are also important factors to overcome which have recently come to light in the sharing economy.
Supporting the next generation of the Sharing Society
The rise of consumer-to-consumer sharing services is spurring on the next wave of the Sharing Society: Business-to-business. Companies, such as shared workspace platform, WeWork and “talent-as-a-service” provider, Crowdsource, are steadily increasing in number. Sharing resources such as office space and skilled workers helps to streamline businesses, enabling them to operate more efficiently with less red tape, as well as responding quickly to market changes in a more cost effective manner.
The principle of shared value offers us a real opportunity to better align business, government and civil society interests as combined forces for good governance, global stability and security, social inclusion and economic prosperity.
This blog article is based on content from the Ascent Journey 2018 publication. The Ascent Journey 2018 publication presents our vision and anticipates the technology shifts that will shape business and society through 2018. It will be released in December 2014.