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Nonprofits Imagine a Better Sharing Economy

Nonprofits Imagine a Better Sharing Economy

  • Comments 4
  • Great post! Jeremy Rifkin's "The Zero Marginal Cost Economy" is another good source of ideas around the sharing economy, anti-capitalism, and the role of the nonprofit sector. But he too has been criticized for implying that the nonprofits will lead the movement when it is mostly for-profit companies co-opting it. www.nytimes.com/.../the-rise-of-anti-capitalism.html.

  • This is a really good post. It gets at a fundamental tension within the sharing economy -- that economic gain is built upon access to the Commons. To be very fair, the Commons is rarely organized efficiently without someone being motivated by gain. All those rooms being offered via airbnb...all those cars being 'shared' by Lyft drivers....they all existed before airbnb and Lyft, just as the knowledge and neighborliness of Nextdoor existed before Nextdoor. But it didn't coalesce without entrepreneurs dreaming of IPOs. This post challenges us to think about whether nonprofits--or other not for profit oriented entities--can organize the Commons with a greater emphasis on the sharing and less on the IPO.

  • Lewis, Many thanks for this post and the great resources you linked to.  (and Thanks Lucy Bernholz for tweeting me here.) I particularly like how you point out defining characteristics of the sharing economy: distributed power, exploiting underutilized resources, and The Commons. I think many companies that are defined as part of the sharing economy effectively utilize technology and certainly technology is the what makes exploiting underutilized resources possible but I do not think that technology is a defining characteristic of the sharing economy.  Tech is a tool that humans employ to do a job.  What the job is and the outcomes of the job dictate how the tech is used.  

    I also really appreciate the many questions you have asked. Throughout my career I have been obsessed with building the capacity for socail sector organizations to answer the question "Are we any good?".  Not working to answer this question proved to be a major stumbling block for microfinance.  Social enterprise and impact investing are working hard to understand the value beyond profit they provide but are still very much mired in the debate of profit-first vs. value-first.

    The opportunity we have with the sharing economy is define the outputs of collective impact. As opposed to the traditional outputs of Capitalism where value aggregates at the node, in the sharing economy, value should be a defined as a characteristic of the network - something like vibrant communities - an interesting proxy for love.  A recent study (www.equality-of-opportunity.org) identified 5 characteristics of communities with low upward mobility.  Addressing those characteristics may produce communities with greater social mobility - greater vibrancy. Maybe those levers could be built in to the sharing economy.  

    I think there is a great danger that applying mobile technology to enable people to access products/services can become the default definition of the sharing economy -  that the financial success of a company defined as a sharing company is inherently good. What are the outputs of sharing that produces value beyond profit and that are valuable enough to enable profit to be generated as well?

  • Daniel, I really appreciate the comment that "the Commons is rarely organized efficiently without someone being motivated by gain". The only woman Nobel Prize economist Elinor Ostrom's work demonstrates how the a commons can be organized to enable economic activity without depleting the resource.  onthecommons.org/.../elinor-ostroms-8-principles-managing-commmons  What I like about her work is the focus on a commons as a resource upon which a community's economic activity is built.  The "tragedy of the commons" results without the commons governing principles that Ostrom delineates.

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