Civic Consumption Puts the "We" in the Sharing Economy

Civic Consumption is “the leveraging of shared buying power for dynamic social change to strengthen communities and reward enterprises doing the greatest good.”

 

On December 12, Groundswell, a Washington, D.C. based organization that works to “unlock communities' shared economic power to grow sustainability and expand prosperity on the local level,” hosted a summit to bring change agents together to discuss the Civic Consumption model.

Unlike the consumerism we most often see, punctuated by competition and accumulation, Civic Consumption shifts the consumer identity from “me” to “we,” creating collaborative relationships and empowering communities to increase access to resources. In an interview with Groundswell, Sara Horowitz, director of Freelancers Union notes, "This is where it gets interesting, because once you start to aggregate consumers, you can go in two different directions: One is the traditional for-profit sector, to just sell products to them. The other direction is to say there's going to be a social, non-profit-type strategy that will aggregate people and return and recycle the money back into that community."

Will Byrne, CEO and co-founder of Groundswell, compares the potential impact of Civic Consumption to the labor and civil rights movements that shaped the 20th century through collective action. “By harnessing forces in the marketplace, we can tackle the changes we care about and accelerate the work of community-based organizations through economic action, simply by purchasing goods and services we already need.” Ideally by pooling, we can reduce prices, increase access, and reduce inequities.

Here is a sample of innovative leaders to watch that illustrate the power of Civic Consumption and create real change in the places they serve:

  • Common Market aggregates both supply and demand for healthy food and has built the necessary infrastructure to help small farms prosper and distribute local food to people who need them through institutions such as hospitals and schools.

  • Freelancers Union organizes self-employed workers as a group to bring high-quality health benefits, resources and community to the nation's 42 million independent workers.

  • EveryoneOn provides low-cost internet access to 14,000 zip codes with a low median income by working with public and private sector partners to aggregate demand, and in the process provide accessibility to the technology often necessary for success in school and work.

  • First Book combines the purchasing power of schools and non-profits to provide books and educational resources for low-income communities with traditionally reduced access to resources.

  • Groundswell pools individual energy purchases that incentivize clean energy suppliers to provide affordable prices to all participants through their Community Power Program.

Video: Groundswell helps communities combine their collective power to purchase clean energy.

While reducing consumption and sharing resources is imperative to growing the Sharing Economy, when we’re talking about services and goods that everyone should have equal and guaranteed access to, like education and food, the Civic Consumption model makes a lot of sense. It works in tandem with sharing principles. “You can never know everything. As individuals we may lack expertise or skill set, but reaching out to other like-minded organizations, we can fill in those gaps,” says Kyle Zimmer of First Book, who goes on to explain, “Scaling is critical. Fundamentally, we have to scale to do what we want to do.”

For individuals, the key to both Civic Consumption and a successful Sharing Economy is in aggregation and solidarity. “It’s not enough to do good. You have to build power,” says Mario Lugay of The Kapor Center for Social Impact. And when we look at how to do that, ultimately, it’s a closed loop system that reflects back upon the principles of Civic Consumption and sharing. Eric Shih of Groundswell concurred by closing the Civic Consumption Summit with this: “There’s real power when we come together.”

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