It’s Co-op Week and people across the country are celebrating the positive economic, social and environmental impacts of co-opertatives! The sharing economy – also known as the collaborative economy – is fast becoming one of the most important trends that is affecting the business world, but it’s still struggling to be defined. If you’re not yet at the same level as my mom (who is winning the collaborative economy), this article outlines three ways to engage in the sharing economy.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that this thing, the sharing economy, goes by a few different names and is used by different participants in different ways. Second, opinions are divided on just how much of a positive impact the sharing economy is making on the world, especially when it’s seen through a co-operative lens. Jeremiah Owyang reports that “sharing is the new buying” in his groundbreaking analysis of the collaborative economy. Doug Henwood argues that sharing economy darlings like Uber and AirBnD represent the dark side of collaborative consumption because these billion-dollar-companies “monetize the desperation of people in the post-crisis economy while sounding generous – and evoke a fantasy of community on an atomized population.” And Sarah Kessler laments that the sharing economy is already dead and that we killed it (you should still read this blog post, though)!

So what does this mean for you?

Here are three ways that the sharing economy might appear to you and some suggestion on how to engage with it:

The gig economy

In this model, people share their spaces, vehicles and “stuff” with others in a way that generates economic value for themselves and large corporations. Airbnb and Uber are companies through which people can get “gigs” by offering-up their space and transportation within a corporate umbrella (e.g. space in your home is promoted through the Airbnb platform).

You might be interested in the gig economy if you seek the freedom and flexibility of freelancer work; just be warned that there is a lot to be skeptical of in terms of a greater shift towards short-term, temporary contracts as a means of sustaining communities.

The peer economy

In this model, individuals interact with each other to share goods and services without use of a third party company or business – when people imagine the best of the sharing economy I think that we’re thinking of peer-to-peer trading, financing and consuming.

You might be interested in the peer economy if you need the occasional use of a power drill but you don’t want to buy it. Or you might be interested in the peer economy if you grow or create a lot of something (for my parents it’s zucchini and squash) and see potential in leveraging social networks to trade and/or share your supply with a hungry market or community.

The co-operative economy

In this model, people employ the co-operative principles to meet their basic social, personal end environmental needs.  It’s a bit like putting a values-based lens on the gigs and peer-to-peer lending mentioned above. The co-operative economy, I think, is underscored by peoples’ purpose and intention in how we share, collaborate and earn money in a way that makes the world a better place.

You might be interested in the co-operative economy if you see collaboration as a vehicle for changing peoples’ understanding of how we create and share wealth in our communities. You might even have a plan for monetizing the age-old phrase “sharing is caring” and you probably envision a world where everyone has the potential to win:

…co-opetition amongst business competitors to achieve full employment in their communities is more likely to help these communities reach their potential than driving the other company out of business would achieve. Co-opetition is starkly different from competition in that competition is typically focused on winners and losers and, when it comes to business and governance, defines success by the financial bottom line, as opposed to things like well-being, happiness and/or social justice.

The collaborative economy is an important trend that is impacting peoples’ work and life in numerous ways.  I hope that this article helped you understand how you might think about sharing a little differently.

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