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Building a sharing economy: Benita Matofska

benita_matofskaBenita Matofska founded The People Who Share in 2011 to co-ordinate the global sharing movement and take it into the mainstream. Here she talks about how the simple act of sharing is having a huge impact on both local economies and global problems.

In your State of the Sharing Economy report it said that the sharing economy will be bigger than the industrial revolution? Can you explain?
There are periods when the world has fundamentally changed. Look at the industrial revolution and what it meant in terms of our economy and for society. Things never looked the same afterwards. We’re going through something similar now with the impact of technology coupled with the fact that levels of consumption are not sustainable and thus the need to make a cultural shift towards sharing. There are two things we can’t change: the fact that the planet has finite resources and that the population is growing. We have no control over those things but we have unlimited potential to share. As well as that the collapse of economy has affected everyone at every level of society and people have had to rethink their lifestyles. But a whole generation has grown up with sharing their experiences via social media and whole industries have been changed through technology.

So a seismic shift is occurring in creating and developing systems that make things shareable and in product design we’re seeing a shift away from obsolescence. Ownership is becoming quite vulgar and it’s more about being a smart savvy consumer. The Kodak story shows that if you don’t share you don’t survive. We had a roundtable discussion recently with businesses including KPMG, and Marks and Spencer, a discussion we couldn’t have had even a year ago. The reality is that we are going to need to share to have a future to survive as a society.

Are we at the tipping point yet in terms of it entering the mainstream?
We’re not at the mainstream yet but that’s where we’re heading. We’ve tipped away from old ways. We all share at some level but technology-enabled sharing is the new piece. It’s about using technology to connect to people in real world. People ask me what’s the pain point of the new economy? Does it mean people will be put out of a job? My view is that there isn’t a downside. People are needed to run sharing services and we’re shifting to a service-based model – one that puts people at centre and is much more people and community-orientated. Product design is changing but there’s also the social factor. When people share they get to meet others, they belong to a community and it’s more of an experience rather than a faceless transaction. When you interact in a linear fashion – go into shop and buy shoes for example – it’s not relationship based. When you sign up to car-sharing or clothes sharing you become a member of a community.

How can sharing boost local economies?
A big part of the sharing economy is encouraging people to buy locally and get involved in their local economy. We are creating a website – Compare and Share – that will aggregate all sharing activities, starting with car-sharing companies.  You will be able to search in a local area and plug it into local activity. Then there’s the social benefit of getting to meet people in your local area. So many of the sharing initiatives rely on peer to peer lending – borrowing a neighbours drill, or sharing property for example – which help build community and make it more resilient. It can also provide income streams for local people, for example by renting out their spare rooms. There’s lots of evidence that when people use a shared property service – such as Air BnB – their contribution to the local economy is much higher than it would be if they were staying in a hotel as they use the local market and restaurants and tap into the local intelligence.

What is a sharing city?
In San Francisco and Seoul the local councils have adopted and put resources into sharable systems and they are calling themselves sharing cities. They’ve researched the amount of money generated by the local economy when it puts emphasis on sharing resources. A sharing city is about enabling people in communities and finding and sharing the untapped resource. My view is that one of best ways to encourage sharing is by adopting the idea of sharing city status. If the highest level says, ‘We are a sharing city and we are going to put in place systems for sharing’, then everything hangs off that from procurement and who the council works with to how departments are run. The whole narrative of the city hangs around sharing. In San Francisco they are openly promoting sharing services, looking at any barriers in terms of local regulations to allow people to share, promoting skill sharing and creating an easy framework. Lots of local authorities got behind the Global Sharing Day this year. We held a big lunch in our street in Brighton that brought people together to share food, a simple event that has had a huge impact on our community. I used to live in New York and on particular days of the week people would put out unwanted items on street. People knew that on a certain day there would be furniture for example and there was a framework around it so that the street didn’t become a dumping ground. So a sharing city is about making processes like that less bureaucratic. It’s about creating open partnerships and collaboration and open and accessible systems. Cross-sectoral relationships are at the heart of the sharing economy so there is a need to build relationships between the public, private and voluntary sectors.

How can sharing help with today’s huge social and economic problems?
Areas need to identify the untapped capacity and connect with need. There’s lots of hardship at the moment but also lots of surplus. It’s about asking how can people, particularly at the lower end of the economic spectrum, access basic necessities such food, shelter, access to spaces for businesses. Food poverty has never been higher and there are 15m tonnes of food going to waste that could be shared. Fareshare is distributing food to those living in poverty and these things are really important in terms of the local economy. Disused spaces can be used and brought in to boost the economy. Many public services are vehicles for sharing. There’s a Big Lemon Bus that is a social enterprise that runs on cooking oil donated by local people. There’s book-sharing on buses. Sharing helps minimising waste and helps health issues, by reducing loneliness and anxiety through connectness and collaboration. The sharing economy is a simple solution to global problems. It’s not just about collaborative consumption but about a real, tangible practical new economy. It’s about evolving into a new economy.

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