Top image: Fairphone prototype. The below introduces a chapter on sharing in the book, Enabling City 2.
One of the most important questions of my life three years ago was, “How can we start a movement for sharing?”
This was the key question that the SHIFT Foundation, consultant Will Watman, my friends at Free Range graphics, and I asked when developing the plan for what became Shareable magazine. With that question as a spur, I did a massive amount of research.
After weeks of digging, what I began to see was that there was already a huge, unnamed, unrecognized global movement for sharing well underway, and rapidly accelerating. What I saw was a movement of movements, a collection of innovations as diverse as the people from around the globe bringing them to life. The innovations include free and open source software (FOSS), all the open movements inspired by FOSS, collaborative consumption, the commons movement, the solidarity economy, car sharing, bike sharing, co-housing, co-working, hackerspaces, participatory budgeting, public banking, gov 2.0, and much more.
While the innovations I “discovered” are distinct and often don’t share the same culture, they do share one overarching goal — to democratize the creation, access to, and management of vital resources whether material or immaterial. They are all meant to empower individuals and communities. While highly centralized legacy institutions are failing to serve and are losing credibility, all of these are on the rise to fill in the gaps. I clearly saw a new order emerging, an order that we, at Shareable, and others now call the sharing economy.
What I learned later is the magnitude of these shifts. For instance, democratically owned and managed cooperatives employ more people than multinational corporations; there are over 200,000 open source software projects; that most of the Internet runs on open source software enabling trillions of dollars of commerce; that a majority of people live in cities, have a cell phone, and are under 25 — a setup for revolt or a riot of sharing or both; that all of the many things that we share is the goose that lays the golden eggs — no commons, no market.
This research was both humbling and inspiring. I realized we had the wrong question. At a personal level, I realized that I was mostly blind to the economic empowerment already available to me. While I had made a lot of progress in ridding myself of the toxic values of consumer culture, I still lived inside a scarcity-based personal narrative.
I also came away completely inspired. The very thing we need to happen was happening. This was deep systemic change, a path for higher quality of life for more people on radically less resource consumption was unfolding. Life could be a triumph amid crisis. What I saw was more profound and beautiful than anything I could have imagined. This is the spiritual fuel that keeps me going today.
These realizations pointed the way to how Shareable could make a difference. Because a sharing movement was already underway, we could raise awareness of it and accelerate its development. We could also help connect the dots between disparate movements and innovations to reactivate an ancient story knitted deeply in our collective conscience — that our fates are tied and that to continue as a species we must work together. There is no other story or way out of the crises we face.
Finally, we needed to bring this down to earth by telling emotionally engaging stories from the personal perspective, and not merely offer descriptions of what is happening. We knew even then that millions of people need a new, empowering narrative for their lives and for society as a whole. We don’t just suffer from discredited legacy institutions, but also an obsolete cultural narrative that revolves around competition (the man who dies with the most toys wins, keeping up with the Jones, climbing the corporate ladder, etc.). The new meta-narrative can be summed up simply enough, and is one that wisdom traditions throughout the world affirm — prosperity through sharing.
This is why I’m honoured to introduce this section of Enabling City. Shareable and Enabling City share the same intention here — to point to the significance of these innovations, to tell their story, and to inspire you. I hope reading them will lead you to action. I believe this is the most important movement on the planet today. And, therefore, I believe the most important thing you can do now is to start participating in it today.
We are winning, join us.
Besök en Bank, which means “visit a bank” in Swedish, is a banking reform network located in Malmö, Sweden. Through creative urban walks and interventions, the group invites people to rethink their relationship with conventional banks, educating them about the inner workings of interest rates and debt, and what it means for social welfare when governments divert funds to save banks from defaulting.
Fairphone – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Smartphones are an important fixture of our day-to-day lives, but we know very little about how they are made. By shedding light on the problematic aspects of current manufacturing practices, Fairphone wants to be a practical starting point for telling the story of how our economy functions. As the world’s first fair trade and open source smartphone, Fairphone sources conflict-free minerals to ensure that the raw materials that are needed to produce our devices do not fund illegal armed forces. The product is also designed to be durable and recyclable, meaning that it will not need to be replaced frequently and flood landfills with dangerous e-waste.
Children’s Development – Khazana, India
Working with street children in Delhi to equip them with the skills they need to break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty, the Children's Development Khazana, the first of its kind for the rural poor, is a savings bank that is run on co-operative principles and is administered by the children themselves. The project was conceived as a space to teach working youth about saving and the banking system, helping them plan for the future by allowing them to earn an interest on their deposits. today, the project is operational in 120 branches in South Asia, working in Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Kyrgyzstan.
The Philippines are home to over 800,000 sari-sari stores, small home shops that are the country’s biggest local trade channel and are often a family’s main source of income. Hapinoy is a network of nanays (mothers) that works to develop highly skilled and empowered micro-entrepreneurs. Through Hapinoy, mothers can access the capital they need to run a sari-sari and provide hard-to-access products like over-the counter medicine, solar-powered products, and mobile devices. Hapinoy also provides training and technical support so that nanays have the business and leadership skills they need in order to run a sustainable activity and have a positive impact on their community.
Eat With – Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, UK, USA
Eat With is a social networking site where hungry locals can join or share meals with strangers. It’s a creative space for fashioning a DIY pop-up kitchen, cooking class, or shared restaurant adventure. Already affectionately known as the Airbnb of food, Eat With events are springing up in cities from Buenos Aires to Berlin, helping members make new friends and discover new cultures in a fun and tasty way.
ScholarMatch is a crowdfunding platform that connects under-resourced students with donors who can help them go to university. With student loans at an all-time high, ScholarMatch offers free support services to university-bound students and their families, ensuring that they are knowledgeable of the admission process and able to access available financial aid. Founded in 2010 by award-winning author and philanthropist Dave Eggers, the platform has already matched 98 eligible students with $275,000 in university scholarships, and continues to provide an avenue for donors to invest in tomorrow’s generation.
Tribe Wanted – Fiji, Italy, Sierra Leone
For the last six years — on an island in Fiji, a beach in Sierra Leone, and now in the umbrian hills of Italy — Tribe Wanted has been working to develop sustainable and cooperatively owned ethical tourism destinations built entirely from the ground-up. So far, the project has generated $1.5 million in revenues and is now managing an ambitious fundraising process to expand its co-op model and build new sustainable communities around the world.
Fon is a network of members who share a bit of their home WiFi and, in turn, get free access to millions of other Fon hotspots around the world. All that is required is a Fon router that creates a private signal for personal use, and a shared one for other members and visitors to access the network. Together, Fon spots create a crowdsourced network — the largest WiFi network in the world — where everyone who contributes connects for free. There are no monthly fees, only the desire to share an important resource with others.
Do you buy your clothes at thrift stores, but find that you still own too many? Klädoteket believes that a desire to express a ‘wearable identity’ doesn’t have to involve the unsustainable consumption of excess clothing. As a clothing library, the project blends a concern for the environment with the desire to democratize fashion, making clothes more affordable and enjoyable. Patrons pay a small membership fee and in return are able to borrow fine garments for several different kinds of occasions — from everyday use to more elegant functions.
La Cocina – San Francisco, USA
La Cocina was born out of a belief that a community of change agents, given the right resources, can create self-sufficient businesses that benefit themselves, their families, their community, and the whole city. The organization’s mission is to cultivate low-income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses. The space provides affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific technical assistance, and access to market opportunities that help entrepreneurs — women of colour and newcomers, in particular — gain financial security by doing what they love to do: making and sharing good food.