Collaborative consumption: the future?

I’ve been incubating this blog post idea for a good while now, ever since hearing about land sharing. NESTAs collaborative consumption event has prompted it to finally take shape on your screens.

The “current socio-economic zeitgeist”

The key speaker at the event was Rachel Botsman who authored "What's mine is yours".

Although an early start to the day, it was a great start. Why? Not just the enthusiasm and passion of the speakers but the focus of the event.

Did you know 80% of what we own is used less than once a month?

That there are now more TVs in the UK per household than there are people?

We’ve all been caught up in the trend of material possessions equaling status; of consuming beyond our needs. Rachel maintains that this trend is no more. Instead, we are seeing the rise of the primacy of experience over possessions. People don’t want to just own, they want to engage. They don’t want the DVD, they want the film that’s on it.  Botsman calls this trend ‘clarity of consumption’. Do you agree that it’s a trend? According to The New Sharing Economy report,

75 percent of participants predicted that their offline sharing will increase in the next five years.

This change she sees in the way society functions has emerged from four key drivers: increasing environmental awareness; the recession; a desire to return to the simple and social technologies. (See our drivers on climate change, the credit crunch, and online communities for our take on these).

So what does this mean for collaboration or the charity sector?

A big player in today’s society is social media. Whether you use it or not, there’s a pretty good chance it’s impacted on your life somehow. And it’s how that social media trend has interacted with the changing perceptions of consumption which I think has really kick started the ‘what’s mine is yours’ movement. Simply put – the technology lets people share. People are sharing, but not just the obvious material possessions. They’re also sharing the non-tangible: the experiences, skills and time. Botsman could provide an endless list of those – the highlights she shared with us yesterday morning included Weldon Irby, a retired mechanic who fixes bikes in his local community so he's now called Bike Santa;and Air Bnb. There are many more examples in both the handout from the day and What's mine is yours (Carbon Heroes, Car Clubs, Byke, Zilok, Erento, CrowdCube....the list goes on).

This has a number of implications for charities. There are quite a few setups that use collaborative consumption for profit, but there was a question around whether this was the only realisation of these models. The response? That social responsibility could go hand in hand. Sure, people are making money from lending their car but they are also ensuring someone gets a car when they need it, and helping to reduce overall consumption. Which motive is more powerful is purely personal.

People may use one of these sites with the motive of saving money,

Rachel says,

but what they get out of it is realizing that they are meeting people and finding out that this is a much better way to get what they need.

Arguably charities could tap into this trend as a source of community interaction and social responsibility – issues which facilitate much charitable work and effectiveness.

They could also link up more obviously. Thanks to crashpadder.com founder for this idea - someone could nominate a charity for 50% of the income they get from renting out their spare room. This isn’t a new idea but it’s the way that people can do it on a more flexible basis that is really key to today’s lifestyle. The charity wouldn’t be asking just for the money but for engagement with this way of people interacting.

Another idea is that the biggest barrier to online sharing of this sort is trust. Arguably charities are trusted more than some institutions such as banks or parking wardens. Can they then play a role in increasing the trust quotient of these new social interactions?

The last question asked at the NESTA event was around big society. I cornered a couple of the social entrepreneurs and asked them what they thought of all this Big Society Business. As much as anything I was interested to see how much the Government’s concept had infiltrated their world. Their answer was that they’re already realising much of the mindset behind Big Society (agreed) but to see the collaborative consumption movement really take off, government need to remove some key hurdles such as relevant policy permissions and laws.

Last updated at 08:48 Wed 27/Oct/10.
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How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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