Thursday, May 15, 2014

SHARE 2014

Tuesday and Wednesday of this week saw 400 folks crammed into San Francisco's Marine Memorial Auditorium for the first (and I'm sure it won't be the last) SHARE Conference - focused on catalyzing the sharing economy. It was co-hosted by and SOCAP and while the sponsor lineup read as if it were ripped from the SF Chronicle's local business page, I met and heard from participants from Madrid, Bogota, Mexico City, Grand Rapids and lots of folks from that easternmost Bay Area city, Brooklyn.

More than a year ago the first charrette we held at Stanford PACS (part of a series that led to the launch of the Digital Civil Society Lab) was on the sharing economy. Our hunch at the time was that the sharing economy - where nonprofits, businesses, social businesses, VCs, informal networks of individuals, freelancers, and government were all competing/cooperating/arguing and innovating - would be a rich vein of insight into the new ways we are using private resources for public benefit. Since understanding how we use private resources for public benefit in the digital age is the mission of the Lab it made sense to spend some time investigating this space. Here's a slide I used way back then to make the point that, in the sharing economy, the same purpose (in this case car sharing) was being served by multiple organizational structures:
Here's what I took away from the conference:
  • Everything old is new again - and that's good and bad. Rebranding co-ops as #Tcorporations (they're managed under section T of the tax code) will make them sexy to social entrepreneurs and that's OK. What's really interesting is not how iPhones are rejuvenating a 500 year old business model, but how the confluence of this phenomenon, along with crowdfunding, MIGHT lead to the growth of mutually beneficial workplaces and worker owned governance structures (e.g. coops). The MIGHT in that sentence is intentional, I've only drunk a small bit of the crowdfunding and sharing Kool Aid. Power imbalances, structural inequality and exclusion don't just roll over because there's a new(ish) model in town.
  • Real attention to creating new ownership models and new finance structures - that might distribute wealth in new ways - is exciting. And there's lots of innovation in the sharing space. 
  • Nonprofits and foundations that think they are the center of the "do good" world have blinders on. Sharing companies/platforms is just one place alternatives abound and money is flowing and good is getting done. Nonprofits and foundations need to come to this table, not expect sharing enterprises/practices to come to theirs.
  • Sharing companies are - for a wide range of purposes - talking about and building communities. The user-activism of home sharing hosts is notable (even if you disagree with their goals, you can't argue that they've sure become engaged in their communities).
  • The policy trainwrecks going on right now between cities, states, and these companies are going to continue - the issues of oversight, safety, taxes, and resource allocation are real. The dynamics between startups and governments don't need to be as adversarial as they are right now, and over time they won't be.
  • Again, nonprofits active on policy issues at the local level should be paying attention to the civic activism (for better or worse) of individuals motivated by their relationships with companies like Uber and Airbnb. People making an income from these companies are newly vested activists in city/state politics. Are they more than single-issue activists? Well, that depends on a lot of factors, including the ability of existing networks to engage with these folks.
  • Data matter. Sharing it matters. Companies are - or soon will be - working together on shared trust measures built from user (that's you and me) data. How are we going to act on this? I attended two self-organized sessions on data at the conference - one from the perspective of companies and one from the perspective of users (hosts, drivers, etc.) - on how they want to use their data to represent themselves in this space.
  • Joe Public may think of Airbnb and Uber as the disruptive avant garde of sharing. Most of the enterprises represented at the conference talked about those guys as the "big bad(ish) guys" who need to be disrupted. (Even as they went off happily to drink VC-funded cocktails at an Airbnb-hosted afterparty). This is a very fragmented space.
  • The #futureofwork panel - which included a labor organizer, a government workforce development manager, a researcher, and an investor - was fascinating. Where do robots, health care, freelance work, and insurance trends all come together? In your paycheck, if not now, then soon, that's where.
With all that, I'm still trying to figure out where sharing enterprises fit into the space where we use private resources for public benefit (what we call the social economy). Here's my latest image of this space:
Not too surprising, I am really interested in two elements of this whole chaotic scene:
I was hoping to attend the conference and leave with answers to these questions. After all, I've been asking them for several years now. Oh, well, I don't have answers. But I think my questions are getting better. What are your questions about where sharing fits into the space of using private resources for public benefit? 

1 comment:

Lewis H said...

Great post. Yeah, there are a lot of tensions (and I didn't even attend the AirBnB drinks).

To me, alternatives will have to start small and move from there. Interesting moment for sure.