Owning is the New Sharing

Image source: economyofhours.com

You’ve heard of sharing being the new form of owning, but owning as the new sharing? “How does that work?” you might ask yourself. Well, Swarm is an organisation that aims to offer exactly that. According to Nathan Schneider (2014) writing for Sharable:

“Swarm would be a crowdfunding platform, using its own virtual currency…rather than just a thank you or a kick back it would reward backers with a genuine stake in the projects they support.”

This would allow entrepreneurs to be able to avoid venture capitalists by having a range of smaller investors. Swarm is not the only platform that seeks to achieve change in this way, and OuiShare is a French company that aims to connect sharing-economy entrepreneurs across the globe.

Still the website Ouishare

Ownership still matters ?

The reason is that despite the fact that sharing is all well and good, ownership still matters too as Schneider points out. That’s because as he explains, whoever owns the sharing platforms has the capability of deciding who grows their wealth and how. That has led, according to Schneider, to companies like OuiShare looking at different models of ownership, so-called “real sharing”. There is a need for a greater level of sustainability and inclusivity according to Schneider.

Others have taken the Occupy model of social movement and applied it to organisations. There is the case of Ben Knight in Wellington, New Zealand who set up an organisation called Loomio. The idea was to include Occupy-style values through a worker-owned cooperative that seeks to produce open-source software with a goal of helping people to achieve consensus or collaboration regarding issues that impact their lives. Interestingly as Schneider reports at that time when the company was incorporated, they found that they were the only worker-owned cooperative that was even registered in New Zealand (Schneider, 2014).

The worker cooperative

That said, as Schneider explains, the worker cooperative is not a new model, but it is starting to rise in popularity again. That may be because cooperatives allow people keep control of an organisation and also of its profits. These are also known as “multi stakeholder cooperatives” when they work in the way that Loomio and others do, where several such groups work together. As Schneider describes however, managing these things is easier said than done. People find cooperatives hard to deal with due to difficulties of legal status and other administrative problems. These can be surmounted, however.

Another organisation operating in this space according to Schneider is Sensorica. This is an organisation that aims to build a real open source business model based from a shared lab in Montreal. The problem that the founder of this organisation saw with WordPress and other high profile open source projects like is it that these organisations have a tendency to rely on people that are unpaid, and they are not managed in an open-source style – rather, as Schneider puts it, they are managed in the way that a traditional closed company is. One challenge is that there are few examples that such companies can model themselves on, so to some degree they have to make it up as they go along. At the organisation, workers are paid for the work that they do that contributes to the development of the product and everything is run in a democratic manner and completely transparently. It has been slow to achieve goals, but the organisation is starting to take off.

Ownership and inequality

Schneider believes that Swarm is particularly helpful in exposing some of the issues with ownership and inequality. However there are still many questions to be resolved, such as who gets to own and who only rents on a sharing platform. As he puts it:

“In an economy of cooperatives, who gets to be a member, and who gets left out?”

Support could be achieved in solving some of these types of problem from government. Public policies could help to make things easier for cooperatives just starting out, and providing access to funds to help this sector grow could be another area of support (Schneider, 2014). This requires governments to be persuaded to subsidise alternative types of business according to Schneider, rather than relying on traditional types of businesses. Whatever happens, Schneider is committed to the sense that those that want a sharing economy have to consider the ownership that operates within that too and changing what ownership means so that this has a chance of succeeding.