Peers, the SHARE Conference, and the State of the Sharing Economy

In 2013, Peers hit the sharing scene and immediately got to work organizing people around the world. Through the coordination of grassroots projects including local clothing swaps and mealshares to awareness-raising and activism to address regulations that impede ridesharing, short-term rentals and more, Peers has positioned itself as a leader of the sharing movement.

On May 13 and 14 at Marines' Memorial Theatre in San Francisco, Peers, in partnership with SoCap, presents the first SHARE Conference. Created as a way to “catalyze the sharing economy,” SHARE brings together numerous thought-leaders and movers-and-shakers of the sharing movement to learn, connect and share information and ideas. In advance of the conference, Shareable caught up with Peers co-founder and executive director Natalie Foster to get her take on the event and what the first year of Peers has been like.

Shareable: What was your motivation to create the SHARE Conference? What distinguishes it from other conferences?

Natalie Foster: As the sharing economy grows, Peers recognized a need to bring together the full spectrum of stakeholders—from companies, government, investors, startups, non-profits and sharing economy early adopters—to discuss the power and promise of the sharing economy movement. So we created SHARE in collaboration with SOCAP, the convener of the world’s largest conference on social enterprise and impact investing. SHARE will be the first time that this unique group is brought together to discuss the present challenges and future potential of the sharing economy in the US. SHARE will bring together varying perspectives to speak candidly about the opportunities and challenges, find common ground and work together to push this movement forward.

We couldn’t have pulled this event together without the amazing support our advisory committee has given to us, including Neal Gorenflo. Neal has been an instrumental asset to SHARE, and Peers in general, and we appreciate his insights and experience as a thought leader in the space. In gratitude, we’d like to extend a 30% discount to the Shareable community; enter the promotional code Peers_Share when you register.

Conference attendees range from freelancers and startup founder to investors, government officials, nonprofits and more. What’s the importance of bringing together all these cross-sector people?

The sharing economy provides numerous solutions to the economic and social turmoil facing our world. Many of us in the sharing economy believe there’s a need to rethink our economic, social and cultural structures, to focus more on empowering individuals and communities to find their independence, as well as sustainable, meaningful ways to live. The sharing economy movement touches upon every sector, every geography and every person, so it’s important to represent all of these different perspectives at SHARE. It is only by allowing a space for everyone to voice their knowledge, opinions and ideas that we will be able to continue to build this movement and change our lives for the better.

Any presentations or conversations that you’re particularly looking forward to?

At SHARE we’re curating conversations across a wide range of sharing economy topics, from marketplace shifts, trust and security, policy and legislation, to civic engagement. I’m looking forward to all of the panels and amazing speakers we have on board, especially the forward-thinking conversations including: “The New Citizen: Civic Engagement in a Changing Landscape,” “Work and the New Economy,” “Access, Equity, and the Sharing Economy” and “Co-ownership at Scale: New Business Models for a New Economy.” I think these conversations will inspire people to think about the next steps forward for sharing economy and our movement. [Editor's note: See full SHARE schedule here]

What do you hope comes out of the conference? What’s your big picture vision for it?

First and foremost, SHARE will bring together people who have never met, who only know each other through their virtual profiles, and people who’ve been collaborating for years together to discuss a topic that we are all passionate about and invested in—the sharing economy. Even though we all come from different backgrounds, we are all linked by this strong belief that the sharing economy is what the world needs. I hope that SHARE will be the birthplace of great collaborations, ideas, projects, friendships and future growth for the sharing economy. It is impossible to build great movements alone, so I look forward to connecting people at SHARE so we can continue to build the sharing economy movement together.

From your perspective, what is the current state of the sharing economy at large? What are the biggest challenges it faces and what are some of the greatest successes?

Right now, the sharing economy is in its toddler stage—growing and shaping its identity. The biggest challenge the sharing economy faces is the varying perceptions people have of it—be it positive, negative, or somewhere in between. A big goal of SHARE is to call out these questions and concerns people have around the sharing economy, so that forward-thinking leaders can speak on opportunities to align to help the sharing economy grow in a way that is sustainable.

And, we’re seeing people begin to recognize that the sharing economy is rooted in values we all hold dear—community, sustainability, living a meaningful life, and finding innovative ways to prosper. We are seeing new models emerge all over the world where people are sharing their homes, assets, skills, and time to build a better life for themselves and their communities. The sharing economy has allowed people who don’t have or want the traditional 9-5 job to tap into their entrepreneurial spirit and piece together different revenue streams. They are building a livelihood that allows them flexibility, stability, and the opportunity to build more meaning in their lives and community. At the same time, we need to build the space and infrastructure to ensure that these values stay at the core as more businesses, nonprofits, and individuals enter the space.

Where do you see Peers fitting into the ever-evolving sharing movement?

Peers represents the members of the sharing economy. We provide everyday people who are engaged in the sharing economy to build a new way of life that gives them meaning, stability and a platform to discuss the malleable new economy. At Peers, it is our mission to ensure that our members voices are being heard as the movement forms, while simultaneously creating a space for all stakeholders to come together, share their ideas and take productive steps forward. We work to ensure the space is shaped in a way that is beneficial to individuals, communities and the world at large.

Last time we chatted, Peers was just getting rolling. How are things going with the organization? What can we look forward to seeing? Can you give us a little inside scoop.

It’s crazy to think it’s been less than a year ago Peers launched! Since then, Peers has been developing and testing different ways to engage our members. We’ve launched projects ranging from community-building dinners, where 120 members throughout the globe hosted over 1,000 strangers in their homes, to PeersSwap, where people gathered to exchange clothing and discuss the sharing economy. We launched Peers Petitions, a platform that allows for any member to advocate and protect the sharing economy in their community.

Through all of this, I am inspired by the everyday people that are not only using digital platforms to gain access to services or products, but also using it as a means to stitch together a community with the people they’ve met through the sharing economy. So far, Peers has members in over 150 cities who are actively engaged in their own communities to grow the sharing economy. We’re excited to spend the rest of 2014 developing more programs to engage our members and build a bigger and stronger partner network to mainstream, protect and grow the sharing economy. I’m sure SHARE will present some great ideas for partnerships and projects.

Anything you’d like to add?

I just wanted to say thank you to Neal and the Shareable community for all of the support, advice, time and knowledge you’ve offered to Peers and the sharing economy. Our impact and strength would not be what it is without our network of passionate, intelligent and forward-thinking people like you. So, we hope that friends, new and old, can come out to SHARE to learn, celebrate what we’ve all accomplished and do some big thinking on what’s next for the sharing economy.

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