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Can the sharing economy save the world?

For centuries, the Western economy has trodden a linear path. It’s a simple exchange that has become customary: companies sell goods or services, and individuals buy them.

If it sounds straight-forward, that’s because it is. But, the familiarity also comes from how deeply the model shapes our lives. We work for companies to create assets, then invest our income back into that system.

That’s why the advent of a new, alternative model – dubbed the sharing economy – has sparked so much conversation in recent years. Platforms like eBay paved the way for Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo. For a while, it seemed that the way we live and work might be set to change for good thanks to a model where people held the power.

That was before the sector boomed into a multibillion dollar industry and protesters began calling on governments to limit the impact on neighbourhoods. Across travel, car sharing, finance, staffing and streaming, the sharing economy is predicted to be worth $335 billion by 2025. It’s a classic case of reaching too far, too soon, but some are still fighting for the original dream.

Benita Matofska is one such optimist; she is the founder of Generation Share who works with event consultation firm Speakers Corner to deliver her vision.

Collaborative consumption: a new focus

Benita wants the sharing economy to focus on solving problems collaboratively.

“A sharing economy is a way of life, where we share available resources, however we can,” she explains.

“The term ‘sharing economy’ emerged from the global crisis of 2008/9 and the need to do more with less,” says Benita. She was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon and has spent a decade experimenting with ethical business. Nonetheless, Benita was always keen to take a different path from the sector giants.

“I recognised that in reality, the sharing economy is much more than a collection of new types of Silicon Valley backed ventures,” says Benita. “It is wide-reaching and changing society as we know it. It is at once an economic system built around the sharing of human and physical resources and a mind set.”

Benita says digital algorithms could make it possible to match surplus to need more efficiently than ever before. In an era where population growth is creating fresh issues around food supply, this could become a vital tool.

Her main project, Generation Share, is at once ambitious and community-led. It seeks to find the best examples of sharing gigs throughout the world, so change-makers can work together. “Our big vision is to connect everyone, so that we are all well fed,” Benita explains. One big project is HISBE, which channels 68p in every £1 to suppliers, compared to the standard 9p by supermarkets.

“If we could displace five to ten per cent of new purchases at supermarkets, the downstream impact would be phenomenal for the environment,” says Benita, enthused.

What does this look like in the long term? “The big vision is to build an established secondary market for food,” says Benita. “Currently, our consumption takes place in the primary market, in supermarkets.”

“If there is a viable secondary market that eliminates food waste and starts to displace the purchasing of food from the primary market then the demand for food shrinks, less goes to landfill, and it frees up a lot of resources that go into making the food.”

But, sharing entrepreneurs sometimes face regulations which make it difficult to fulfil their vision. Take the Californian grandmother who came up against the law when she launched a homemade meals startup, even though her project had been dubbed one of the ‘50 coolest businesses in America’ by Business Insider the week before. The regulations will need to catch up before sharing can change the world.

Circular partnerships

Benita notes that subsets of the sharing economy go far beyond food supply to include many other sectors – including recycling. As a year defined by Greta Thunberg’s environmentalism draws to a close, this potential is just waiting to be utilised.

In fact, circular and sharing economy principles have been snatched up by development corporations and the Mayor of London, whose study showed that tonnes of waste could be saved by sharing.

So, can the sharing economy provide a bridge between environmentalism and finance? There is potential. Part of the challenge lies in how regulation can support the sort of sharing that does social good – not just the sector giants.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes.

By Sheena Jordan
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