Jean Lievin: Communities: the institutions of the 21st century? An interview with Rachel Botsman

Crowd-Sourcing, Culture, Design, Economics/True Cost, Governance, Innovation
Jean Lievens
Jean Lievens

Communities: the institutions of the 21st century? An interview with Rachel Botsman

Since her influential book about how collaborative consumption is changing the way we live, Rachel Botsman has been a leading actor in the collaborative economy and stimulated important debates about its future. OuiShare Fest Co-chair Francesca spoke to her about her vision of the collaborative economy movement, her current work and what she will bring to OuiShare Fest this May.

A lot has happened since your book “What’s Mine is Yours”. Did you imagine the collaborative economy would look the way it does today? Where do you see the movement going now?

Rachel Botsman. When I wrote my book in 2009, it was clear to me that the transformation starting to happen around our consumption habits was just one chapter in a much bigger socioeconomic shift starting to take shape. It’s funny, I discovered the first draft of my book in my study the other day and laughed to discover the title was in fact ‘The Rise of the Collaborative Economy.’ It has a big pencil slash on the front with a note from the editor “It’s not an economy, yet.” Only a few years later, the term “Collaborative Economy” is gaining broad acceptance, which shows how fast the ideas are growing.

I am surprised by the accelerated growth and investment in the space but on the other hand, it amazes me that these ideas are being covered by many media outlets as if this economy just emerged. It’s a natural stage in the evolution that the movement will go through a stage of being attacked and picked apart; it’s how we will discover the weaknesses to make it stronger. That said, I am always careful when championing the ideas not to hype them as a tech utopia.

If this is one larger shift, where do you see the connections between consumption and topics such as peer production, 3 D printing, crowdfunding and open education?

R. B.I fundamentally believe these ideas are linked together by the idea of ‘distributed power’; I define this as the ‘shift in power from top down, centralized institutions to decentralized, connected communities’.

Many organizations were built upon centralized power, from universities to banks to media companies, controlling not just the capital and ‘goods’ but the distribution channels. The loss of control over the way money flows, where people can learn and how content can reach the end user is the disruption that is transforming sectors. I think the reason why we sense these ideas are connected that this disruption is creating more access to things that were previously not accessible (education, capital, manufacturing etc.), thereby empowering the individual.

The reason why I can’t wrap my head or fully embrace the term the ‘sharing economy’ is it only describes one behaviour and it doesn’t aptly describe ideas such as crowdfunding and MOOC’s that are part of this new economy.

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