Benita Matofska, Chief Sharer of Compare and Share and social movement The People Who Share, defines the sharing economy as a ‘socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human and physical resources. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by different people and organisations.’ Whether it’s product-services, redistribution markets or collaborative lifestyles, where people with similar needs or interests exchange less-tangible assets such as time and skills.
Although as a society we have always shared, digital platforms are facilitating collaborative consumption at a larger scale. According to PWC, the sharing economy has been around forever, however over the last decade, it has grown ‘from a means of transaction between friends and family, to become a global movement of businesses which are increasingly being valued in the billions.’ Their megatrends report on the sharing economy predicts that the five main sharing sectors – peer-to-peer finance, online staffing, peer-to-peer accommodation, car sharing and music video streaming – have the potential to reach an astonishing $335 billion by 2025.
Matofska is a major player within this growing industry. A social innovator and entrepreneur with over 20 years of broadcasting experience under her belt, she became Head of Global Entrepreneurship at Enterprise UK. However there was a yearning to create an entity much bigger than anything she had tackled so far in her career. Speaking to Sublime, Matofska revisited a defining moment that would set the wheels in motion for this social movement.
‘I was invited to be a councilor for the One Young World Congress and I found myself backstage with Desmond Tutu, which was probably the most humbling experience of my entire life. In that moment, sharing that platform and listening to those two men talking about their contribution to ending global poverty and just the work that they had done, I pledged that the next thing I was going to do would be some kind of an initiative that would in some way deal with our complex problems and find some sort of a solution.
‘I kept waking up in the middle of the night with the word ‘sharing’ and it would not leave me. One morning I woke up and the first thought that popped into my head was that what’s wrong with the world, is that there is a shortage of sharing. What’s really inspiring about that is the fact that, we can fix that. We each have an unlimited capacity to share and collaborate. So if we can unleash our collective sharing potential, then there’s no end to what we can do together.’
What was needed was a campaign to build a sharing economy. Launching The People Who Share on January 17th, 2011, the aim was simply to encourage people to reshape the world and their outlook through sharing to create a happier and more sustainable lifestyle. Though met with trepidation at first, Matofska started running some events like Crowd Share, where they gave hundreds of people the experience of sharing and a marketplace where they could find local sharing and exchange services within their community.
‘It was all about getting people to learn more about the sharing economy. In June 2012 I ran the first National Sharing Day. We bought together 45 partner organisations, which hosted events up and down the country. Then, something extraordinary happened that day. The whole thing went viral. We had people tweeting us from Ukraine, the Philippines, all over the place saying, “we want national sharing day.”’
Never one to say no, Matofska refined her idea and produced ‘Global Sharing Day’, which ran in November that year. The transition into a week’s worth of events came about naturally as more organisations and sponsors got involved and put on events to coincide with Global Sharing Day. ‘We had events happening all over the world, so this year we decided to run Global Sharing Week,’ she explained.
Away from this, Matofska runs monthly meet ups through the Global Sharing Economy Network, where people come along every month and work with a different partner as well as discuss issues pertaining to the sector. She comments: ‘Recently we discussed excluded communities in the sharing economy and looking at some of the challenges they face. The month before we were looking at responsible businesses and the idea that they need to be resource responsible. How can we encourage businesses to actually be sharing in terms of creating a collaborative culture but also how can they make the best use of sharing their resources?’
Her own social business Compare and Share is a comparison marketplace for accommodation around the world. Unlike other comparison sites that are associated with big brands, Compare and Share is affiliated with other sharing sites. ‘Compare and Share has got this big vision, which is making this space mainstream. We want to make it discoverable for everybody. We have this big idea that people should be able to share first before doing anything else.’
As innovative as the idea is, trust is still a massive barrier. Reservations about swapping homes often put people off the idea who dread coming home to a trashed house. Matofska explains that people need to feel safe and in order to achieve this there are measures in place to help build that trust, which is vital for the continuation and growth of the shared economy. ‘We’ve been developing Share Trade and the idea is that individuals or businesses can apply for this badge and to qualify, a bit like Fair-trade, they would have to be verified and they would have to fulfill a series of criteria. For example they would provide some kind of verification of their users, people would be signing up to a code of conduct, there could be criminal record checks, ratings and reviews, perhaps some kind of insurance component.’
With the correct infrastructure in place, people are likely to embrace a more collaborative lifestyle and realize that they don’t need to depend on large corporations as much. There is no doubt in Matofska’s mind that the sharing economy is heading mainstream. Air BnB, Uber, DogVacay and TaskRabbit are just handful of businesses that are embracing the ethos behind the sharing economy, but more importantly, these start-ups as well as Compare and Share are leaving people with experiences they never thought they would gain. Benita reflects, ‘that adage of the more you share the more you have is so true. When people take that little leap of faith, what you find is that you get so much more in return and the experience of sharing is a positive, meaningful one.’
It all starts with presenting people with the opportunity to share and connect, which is what Global Sharing Week aims to do. By engaging people and making them think about what they have to offer to their community, adds fuel to a movement that has been within us all along.
In terms of new industries opening themselves up to this new business landscape, Matofska says: ‘I think we’re going to be seeing more in the way of curation and aggregation. We’re seeing this moving across different verticals so from logistics, through activity and peer-to-peer goods. We’re also seeing things like energy where people can collectively purchase energy, there’s nothing that’s really off limits when you think about it.’
A growing number of people who Matofska likes to call ‘Generation Share’ are becoming more conscious about their environment and the planet. No other structure has shown consistency of using the virtual world in order to create meaningful experiences in reality. With smart devices easily supporting start ups within the sharing economy, the same people we feel are anti-social and glued to tablets and phones could just be playing their part to shake up the business landscape as we know it.