Looking beyond the finances - how the sharing economy can be a force for good

In 2011, Time Magazine included the sharing economy on its list of ‘Ten Ideas That Will Change the World’.

The iconic magazine was spot on. There are very few areas of day-to-day life that haven’t been affected by the sharing and on demand economy. Want to go travelling? Rent a car? Order a taxi? These platforms let you do it at the touch of a finger and, often, at a fraction of the cost.

Opinion on these platforms is divided. They are, no doubt, creating new value, both socially and economically, in the way that they are growing consumer needs and expanding existing markets. However, the other side of the debate cannot be ignored; there has been much discussion on the negative value these platforms may have on traditional players. But, beyond the black and white figures, we must also look at the positive socio-economic impact being created.

Ahead of our Breakers to Makers Sharing Economy & On Demand Conference on October 20th, we wanted to get the conversation going on the ways the sharing economy can be a ‘positive disruptor’.

Levelling the playing field for the little guys

Sharing economy platforms are frequently portrayed as taking business from other firms, but the door swings both ways. Sharing economy services are a great way for smaller communities and individuals to offer alternatives to major brands or chains.

The platforms can be a great leveller, allowing an entrepreneur with a dream to find a customer base and delve into action in a way that wasn’t possible before. Huge startup costs for things like office space and equipment can often be offset by the possibilities and opportunities from the sharing economy model and the technology it offers up.

Empowering local economies

There have also been some fascinating developments recently in terms of collaboration between major sharing economy platforms and small businesses, the most high profile being the partnership between Airbnb and Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

The initiative is designed to encourage those staying with Airbnb to use local businesses and explore attractions and activities off the well-worn tourist trail. This helps not only to bring money into the community, but also boosts the area’s reputation and attracts more visitors.

As global tourism booms to record numbers, there are huge concerns regarding the ability of metropolitan infrastructures to cope. It’s not unreasonable to see how intelligent use of sharing economy platforms and coordinated approaches to business in local communities can help spread the strain of high visitor numbers and boost smaller areas that have previously been unable to compete.

Strengthening the bond between local authorities and communities

Earlier this year, the UK government announced pilot schemes in the North of England to encourage businesses and civil servants to make more use of sharing schemes. As well as cutting costs, it is expected that the approach will bring social benefits, too.

These benefits could come in many ways, from making public transport more accessible and affordable to freeing up vacant property so that it can be used by local authorities to host events and other initiatives. Debbie Wosskow, chair of the Sharing Economy UK trade body, has said that the Manchester pilot scheme will "develop hubs and micro-enterprise, increase the use of new technologies and encourage volunteering".

If the sharing economy can bring a little more ‘local life’ into our globalised world, it’s worth fighting for.

Easing strains on infrastructure

In 1800, only 3% of the world’s population lived in cities. Now that figure is estimated by the UN to be 54% with the trend set to continue. The rise of asset sharing should be seen as a key factor in helping ease the strain that will inevitably be accompanying such growth.

Seoul is one of the world’s most rapidly developing cities and has recognised the role a ‘sharing’ culture can have in coping with continued growing pains. The city has begun investing in schemes that encourage the sharing of assets - such as living spaces - and maximise limited resources.

The sharing economy is at an inflection point: with certain platforms used by millions valued in the billions, the sector is certainly no longer niche, but regulatory hurdles are preventing it from entering fully in the mainstream. While that may mean that some rules need to be broken, the sharing economy is also creating positive disruption through the making of new rules that improve the way we live our lives and the way society operates. The question is, not if, but when will regulation adapt itself to it?

Come and tell us your thoughts

*We’ll be discussing these issues at the Breakers to Makers Sharing Economy & On Demand Conference this October. We’d like to get the thoughts of everyone involved in the sharing economy on this topic and help shape the agenda. So come join us and add your ideas. *

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Patrick is a Biz Dev at Onfido, and he's all about helping companies onboard more customers and prevent fraud. In his spare time, he learns code and hikes in the internet-less parts of this world.