There is a lot written about the ‘sharing economy’ at the moment. The sharing economy also referred to as ‘collaborative consumption’ or the ‘peer to peer’ economy is based on the notion that neighbours help out neighbours. Spare rooms, under utilised cars or electronic equipment are rented out via websites to those who want to make use of them on a short-term basis. The sharing economy grew out of the bleak economic landscape of 2008 when the financial crisis prompted people to re-think the way that they consume goods and services. Collaborative consumption meant less wastage and that communities were more sustainable.
Then something strange happened…
As collaborative consumption became more popular the most successful of the ‘sharing economy’ companies became brands. Companies such as Airbnb, Uber and Task Rabbit grew in scale. Airbnb currently lists on its site more than 600,000 accommodation options from rooms to sofas, with choice locations (even if on a sofa) going for as little as $25 per night and boasts a $10 billion valuation. This reminded me of the scene from George Orwell’s Animal Farm when Napoleon, leader of the pigs and therefore the animals proclaims, “Four legs good, two legs better!” What is the difference between the Airbnb’s of this world and the big businesses (hotel chains) that they were initially so different from? Taxation, inspection and regulation is the answer many believe including the ‘State of New York’.
How does Social Enterprise fit into this?
Social Enterprises are organisations that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s opportunities in life or the environment. Any profits generated are reinvested into activity that delivers social impact. Delivering social impact is the primary objective of a Social Enterprise rather than commercial profit. Airbnb is clearly not a Social Enterprise.
Does this mean that organisations in the ‘sharing economy’ cannot be Social Enterprises?
Not necessarily, but there are other organisations that are seemingly more authentic manifestations of the sharing economy. Freecycle is a non profit organisation and is a great example of the sharing economy. Unwanted goods are donated in a ‘pay it forward’ manner with no monetary exchange taking place. Trade School is another great example of the sharing economy. Trade School is an open learning space that runs on barter. Take a class and pay for it with a barter item or teach a class and receive payment in barter items. For details of forthcoming classes at Impact Hub Westminster’s Trade School click here.
I hope you have found this information useful. What are your views on the sharing economy? We would love to hear them. You can let us know by tweeting @hubwestminster or emailing us via
Many thanks,
Impact Hub Westminster Team