John Lievens: What’s Next for the Sharing Movement?

Culture, Design, P2P / Panarchy, Resilience
Jean Lievens
Jean Lievens

Peers will build on key aspects of the movement that Shareable, as a pioneering sharing movement organization, helped shape. Peers’ mission is to make sharing the defining economic activity of our time. They will do this through grassroots campaigns to make sharing more visible, grow the number of sharers, and legalize sharing.

What's Next for the Sharing Movement?

Neal Gorentio, 31 July 2013

With the launch a promising new sharing movement organization called Peers today, it’s a good time to reflect on the character of the sharing movement.

Peers will build on key aspects of the movement that Shareable, as a pioneering sharing movement organization, helped shape. Peers’ mission is to make sharing the defining economic activity of our time. They will do this through grassroots campaigns to make sharing more visible, grow the number of sharers, and legalize sharing.

Let’s take stock of the movement. We have something special here. Sharing is deeply empowering. It’s fun and fulfilling to connect with others in such a mutually beneficial way, and sharing also helps us meet our needs. It’s rare that a movement has such powerful psychological and economic personal drivers. On top of this is the fact that we urgently need to share. Poverty and resource depletion are today's defining challenges. Sharing is a systemic fix that can address these challenges simultaneously.

With mainstream media coverage of the sharing trend, millions of people are waking up to the potential of sharing. Cities are waking up to it too – the mayors of 15 major cities recently signed a Shareable Cities Resolution promising to advance the sharing economy in their cities. This builds on the plans of Mayor Edwin Lee of San Francisco and Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul who have shareable city initiatives already underway.

We should appreciate the strengths of this movement and build on them. Here’s more on what we have to build on and how we can build on it.

Peer to Peer Inside

Peers puts the soul of the sharing economy into its name. Peer to peer dynamics form the basis of a new, liberating social contract.

The old social contract bound citizens to large hierarchies like nations and multinational corporations. In this contract, citizens gained the protection of hierarchies in return for obedience, labor or taxes. Citizen’s rights were protected by intermediaries like labor unions, courts, and elected officials.

This contract favored the powerful from the start, but now they’ve completely broken it. The powerful — mainly big business in Western-style democracies — have co-opted or weakened the intermediaries designed to protect citizens. The elite are now almost completely free to consolidate wealth and power even more that they already have — all at grave expense to citizens.

I know this, you know this, and the multitudes know this. As a result, we’re seeing an unprecedented level of social unrest around the world.

As they have always done in crises, people are turning to each other to survive. What’s different today is that a new coordination mechanism — the Internet — enables individuals to create, share, and govern directly with one another using networks instead of hierarchies.

With this, a new social contract is forming based on peer to peer relations, which the P2P Foundation has been exploring for a decade. Instead competing with sharp elbows for rank in the hierarchy, individuals are empowered to face each other as equals and ask a simple but revolutionary question — “what can we create together?”

A Revolution For, Not Against

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As Shareable’s stories make clear, the answer to the above question is nearly all that we need to for an autonomous peer to peer society. That’s good, because sharers prefer to create alternatives rather than fight hierarchies for change.

Why? Because making stuff is what they love to do most of all. Shareable’s audience is filled with folks from the creative class: programmers, journalists, architects, entrepreneurs, artists, designers, educators, engineers, artists, lawyers, scientists, communicators, and the like.

They also prefer to build, rather than fight, because it’s a cheaper, easier, and faster way to create change. Sharers use new tools, technologies, and organizing strategies to route around existing institutions to solve problems.

Creative Commons is a perfect example. Rather than reform copyright laws, it created licenses that empowered creators everywhere to control how their work is shared. It’s an elegant legal, social, and technological hack.

Another powerful example is Open Source Ecology (OSE), which is open sourcing the designs for the 50 machine tools necessary for modern life. Instead of fighting institutions that create economic inequality, OSE is giving citizens the ultimate DIY toolbox to build their own economy.

Over time, this strategy will become more viable as tools to share, make, and collaborate continue to drop in cost, as they have for decades. Citizens will be able to do it themselves in many more areas of life. This gives the movement an economic engine that resistance movements lack. Sharing can support us while we create change.

But it might all come down to this. Creating is energizing. It taps into our passions. It brings us together. It leaves a legacy that can be built on.

Synergy in Cities

To quote Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh, “Cities are platforms for sharing.” Shared infrastructure and population density means that cities are ideal places to share.

This is being amplified with the ubiquity of cell phones and rapid urbanization. We’ve only recently become an urban, cell phone carrying species. Today, more people live in cities and own a cell phone than do not.

This has opened up unprecedented opportunities to connect to people, place, and property in more positive ways in real time. While there’s been plenty of innovation in this space already, the restructuring of urban life from a top down to peer to peer mode has only just begun.

Cities are the ideal place to grow the sharing movement for other reasons as well. For example, they’re hotbeds of political innovation. When environmental and anti-smoking groups couldn’t overcome corporate power at the national level, some went local and made progress city by city. Cities around the world now boast the most advanced carbon reduction programs and anti-smoking laws.

Not to mention that city governments need to share. With shrinking budgets and growing demand for services, they need to do a lot more with less. This means engaging citizens in running the city as much as possible, collaborating with local governments in their metro region, and sharing resources and best practices with cities around the world.

In 2011, Shareable pointed the way for the sharing movement with ShareSF, which convened sharing entrepreneurs, city officials, and nonprofit leaders to explore how they could amplify San Francisco as a platform for sharing. This lead to the founding of San Francisco’s Sharing Economy Working Group by Mayor Ed Lee, Shareable’s 15-part series with the Sustainable Economies Law Center on sharing policies for cities, and the founding of the local advocacy group BayShare.

The action in San Francisco inspired Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul, South Korea to launch a “Sharing City” initiative, which is an ambitious plan to make Seoul the most shareable city in the world. It could inspire cities throughout Asia and beyond.

In addition, OuiShare has organized its European network around city nodes. This grassroots network is engaging city governments in several European cities. I’m excited to see what comes of their work.

Peers will build on this by catalyzing bottom-up campaigns for sharing behavior, culture, and policy change in cities throughout the world.

Collaborating for Impact

No single organization can create the change that’s needed. It will take a multitude of organizations to create a green, enlivening, bottom-up economy. Peers is launching with collaboration in mind from the start. My friend, Natalie Foster, who is leading Peers, began a recent meeting with me about collaboration with a simple question: “How can we help Shareable succeed?”

That’s the right attitude, and we must go further. Sharing groups need to deepen collaboration with each other and other movements.

Sharing groups already collaborate in an ad hoc fashion, but do not plan collectively. The movement would do well to form multi-stakeholder networks to develop and focus on shared priorities. I laid out a vision for a sharing movement coalition last fall in “Time to Go Big: A Vision for the Sharing Economy.”

Collaboration is the shape of change. Foundations are increasingly funding networks of nonprofits to solve problems. A recent example is the RE-AMP network in the U.S Midwest, which emerged from a sophisticated process taking several years, with the goal of dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region. Prior to RE-AMP, over a hundred nonprofits worked separately on the same problem, each with their own relationships to foundations. After RE-AMP, nonprofits and foundations work together on four shared priorities. They are now making dramatic progress.

While developing such networks takes much skill and time, it’s one of the few ways to get transformative change. True social change requires new social structures. New tools, technologies and processes enable groups to design new social structures for change.

With this in mind, Shareable recently submitted a funding proposal to the Garfield Foundation (who funded the development of RE-AMP) with five other nonprofits — The Center for a New American Dream, The New Economics Institute, BALLE, Post Carbon Institute, and Transition US — to develop a similar network to democratize local economies in the US. Importantly, the intention was to begin with six nonprofits, but include dozens of groups over time. We’ve agreed to collaborate whether we win the grant or not.

The sharing movement needs to take this one step further by collaborating with other movements that share similar goals. The environmental and anti-poverty movements come immediately to mind as allies.

After all, what else should a sharing movement do but collaborate? It’s the perfect opportunity to practice shared leadership and, as Otto Scharmer of Theory U fame might advise, lead collaboratively from the emerging future with the good of the whole in mind.

Systemic Change

I believe that sharing can address the root causes of both poverty and climate change, the most important problems of our times. Carsharing statistics point to this.

A 2010 UC Berkeley study showed that one shared car replaces up to 13 owned cars and that 50% of new members joined to get access to a car that didn’t already have access. Another study estimated that for every 15,000 cars a city could take off the ownership rolls, it could keep $127 million in the local economy annually (80% of car spending goes out of the local economy). If San Francisco, for example, reduced car ownership by half to around 250,000 cars, it could keep over $2 billion in the local economy annually.

I don’t know of any single strategy that can dramatically reduce consumption of a resource while dramatically increasing access to the very same resource, while strengthening the local economy. Do you?

This is the magic of sharing. We need to recognize the potential of sharing as a solution, focus on the highest impact opportunities available to each of us in our own communities, and mobilize our networks around these opportunities.

Our survival may depend on this.

All Together Now

So what’s next for the sharing movement? This is for us to decide. With the advent of peer culture and technologies, our fates have never been more firmly in our own hands.

That said, my suggestion is to start with the sharing movement’s existing strengths and build on them by:

  • Putting peer relations at the center of everything we do. It’s through peer relationships that we produce the most important product in the human world – each other. We should build a culture that fosters empowering relationships and brings out the best in people.
  • Building the alternative production, consumption, and governance institutions we need to support each other in a peer world and thus gain our independence from the life-threatening hierarchies of the past.
  • Focusing our efforts at the local level, where change is still possible and sharing innovations can help support peers meet their everyday needs.
  • Developing effective multi-stakeholder and inter-movement collaborations for rapid, large scale, transformative change.
  • Working on the highest impact opportunities. Place the weight of the movement and the public behind these opportunities.

What would you add to these suggestions?

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