If someone buys ten inner city units purely - and only - to rent them out on AirBnB or if they lease a 2nd car so that they can drive for Uber we call it ‘sharing’ and the ‘Sharing Economy’.

Is this sharing? No. But, the ‘Sharing Economy’ is far from black and white. It’s the ‘Hiring Economy’, which is possibly just a different name for the economic model – driven by shareholder profit and individual’s greed – that got us into financial crisis in the first place.

The Sharing Economy emerged 10 years ago from the global financial crisis and the very urgent need to do more with less. Technology (predominately person-to-person online marketplaces) allowed people to connect to share spare or idle resources – spare rooms and spare seats in commuter cars.

The Sharing Economy has evolved from sharing per se to renting and hiring; renting luxurious holiday homes, joining inner-city car clubs and accessing previously unavailable audio visual film studios. It’s big business. Worth $2 trillion globally, with over $24 billion invested since 2010. The Sharing Economy is expected to be valued at more than $11 trillion by 2025. The UK Telegraph recently reported that one AirBnB host in Barcelona earned more than $4 million (revenue) renting out 63 entire properties, while a Paris host recorded more than $2 million in one year from 50 properties.

Much of the Sharing Economy isn’t truly sharing. It’s a ‘Hiring Economy’.

·       Paying top dollar for an un-hosted beachfront holiday villa isn’t sharing. That’s just hiring a holiday house.

·       How is a property developer building, then short-term leasing inner city apartments exclusively via AirBnB, sharing?

·       An investor buying a fleet of hatchback cars to lease to potential Uber drivers isn’t sharing. That’s a hire business.

·       Annual subscriptions to Mobility as a Service or movie streaming platforms aren’t sharing.

They’re hiring business models.

How did we get into this situation? How do we clarify the confusion as to what sharing really is and means?

In its truest form, sharing was built around the principles of trust, community and collaboration – enabling people to access what they needed rather than buying and owning goods which are temporarily or infrequently used. Sharing such resources – maternity clothes, DIY tools, camping equipment and outdoor chairs – the things we already have and own cuts back on mindless, needless consumption and waste.

Why do 50 houses in the same street each need to own a ladder to clean their guttering once a year?

Years ago, sharing centered on our friends, neighbours, colleagues, the library, the community centre or village hall and the local school. People built communities and utilized their assets. It still exists.

·         OLIO connects neighbours so that surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. For example, gifting spare home-grown vegetables or donating the surplus groceries in your fridge and pantry before going on holiday.

·         StreetBank is the world’s biggest neighbourhood sharing website enabling people to give away or share things and skills from ladders and drills to DIY and gardening.

Sharing, in the traditional sense, the non-monetary movement of goods and services between friends and within communities is desperately and urgently needed today. It provides an opportunity to buy less, consume less and waste less. More importantly it presents an opportunity to solve real social issues – such as providing surplus food to food banks, to soup kitchens or to the parents who can’t afford to feed their kids during the school holidays.

As more and more sharing-economy-related companies go public and as more private resources are up for ‘hire’ or ‘rent’ our politicians, policy-makers and urban planners are faced with unchartered and unprecedented challenges. Do they support sharing, done properly, which can create more equality in our communities especially in these times of increasing economic uncertainty? Or, do they continue to focus on supporting or regulating the big business; profits and some might say greed that is the ‘Sharing Economy’?

What do you think?