• Chelsea Rustrum

Who Owns the Sharing Economy? We Do!

Updated: Feb 21

Lately, the press for the sharing economy has been fairly contentious.

Article after article call into question who owns the sharing economy, big business, whether or not this is actually ‘sharing’, and rightfully, which groups are currently participating in this new way of accessing value, doing business, and building human relationships.

I’d like to offer a new perspective.

The sharing economy cannot be reduced to a single platform or a multitude of them. Let’s stop pointing the finger at big business — this is a movement.

What many people don’t see (and this baffles me) is that this is about more than transacting, it’s about more than convenience, saving or making a buck, or even about getting by with less.

This movement is about people helping people get their needs met. This is a groundswell that reveals our interdependence and puts a face and a name to where our accommodation or transportation comes from. And beyond that, this is a movement where people are opening up their homes, their cars, and many times their trust — and hearts.

Money and sharing Sure, people are making money. And yes, people are living on this new way of transacting, but let’s not forget that people are also using their underutilized time (underemployment), stuff, and space, forging a new way to connect — saving and making money along the way. The reasons that people use the sharing economy are as varied as people themselves.

Everyone is in a different circumstance — and depending on whether they take the provider or participant role, their incentives and reasons change too. Let’s not polarize this movement and call it business as usual or point the finger at venture capitalists with angst and frustration.

Let’s celebrate the shift No, let’s celebrate the fact that we’re rebuilding the economy from the ground up. While we have a long way to go, and many groups to assimilate, invite, and welcome to the party — we’re creating a consciousness around the commons, thinking about our stuff differently, helping mothers, students, and the chronically ill find work when they are up for it, giving people the flexibility to lead the lives they want and pursue their dreams, giving people a leg up to get out of debt, and helping people all over the world get access to an egalitarian education.

Saying that venture capitalists own the sharing economy is like saying big business owns the internet. That’s ridiculous. Who owns the internet? No one and everyone at the same time — the same is true of the sharing economy.

The sharing economy is expansive Besides, this isn’t just about transactions anyway. This is about the commons, paying-it-forward, gifting, and seeing the extra spaces in your life that could be shared. Things like Couchsurfing, Freecycle, WOOF-ing, the Creative Commons, and Time Banking require no currency at all. But you know what — currency doesn’t ruin a value exchange. In everything that we do, we are constantly exchanging value, so just because money changes hands doesn’t suddenly make it evil or no longer “sharing.”

To me sharing happens when two people intersect at the bridge of an underutilized resource.

This movement needs economic support This new way of doing business needs forerunners to hold up the backbone, push against policy makers, and make it possible for all of us to help one another, one-on-one through the efficiency of technology and beyond.

These venture-backed companies are necessary just like AOL and Compuserve were necessary for providing the original entry points for access to the internet. I don’t think the future of the sharing economy looks like it does today, and we all need to decide what it looks like together — as a collective.

The sharing economy is a platform itself, but not necessary a technology platform. No, this is a platform for change — a platform for peer-to-peer connections, and even a platform for generosity.

We need to be careful what we are creating Having said all of this, we do need to stand up for the integrity of this movement. The sharing economy could be usurped by larger interest groups and the fate of most corporations, “profit at any cost.” But, I don’t think it will — because there are millions of us with a new perspective, a renewed faith in humanity, and understanding that this is about people being more human with each other, sharing what they have access to, and mutually benefiting along the way.

Let’s stand in solidarity While the sharing economy in all likelihood won’t resolve the great economic divide of the classes, it does call upon all of us to think about how we might be of more benefit to others. So please join me in standing up in solidarity and upholding the new values we’re creating, whether there is money involved or not. Let’s not forget the benefits of what we’re building — even if there are hiccups and learnings along the way.

This is about us We own the sharing economy. We have power as individuals and as the crowd — instead of being divisive, let’s stand together and build the future as we see it.

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