I spoke at European Parliament in Strasbourg, France in late May, as the EU is looking at sharing economy policy, taxation, and legislative issues moving forward. These are the questions I was asked at the conclusion of speaking on a panel with at Parliamentary Member at EYE.
What kind of companies contact you, willing to adopt more sustainable models?
Sustainability is quickly becoming an issue for all of us – companies of every size need to consider not only how their business models must adapt and change over time, but how their impact on the environment, the planet, other people, and their greater purpose is going to affect their customers interest in their products and services. Millennials definitely care about the why and the what behind companies and are starting to see the power of their buying decisions.
What is the main resistance when adapting businesses into more innovative-inclusive-sustainable models?
Money. Money is the resistance. In other words, misaligned incentives. If a corporation has a charter to make a profit at any cost, they are not going to make decisions based on what’s best for people or the environment, but rather for how they can extract as much value in the shortest period of time. We need to build models that allow for multiple goals, of which, is to provide social value at any cost. If a company can’t provide social value, they shouldn’t exist. The B Corp is a good start to this, but I think we can do more. Let’s consider how to build community, people, and the planet directly into the model and how we define success.
We have been asking to young people if they are regular users of collaborative platforms to rent or sell products and services. Some of these apps still lack of legal regulation, which can lead to unfair competition, even potential abuse of rights of consumers and workers. Who is really suffering the consequences of this lack of regulation? Is it secure for users?
The users of the sharing economy are doing just fine since they have the digital footprint of reputation to rely on for trust. The providers are the ones who have the most to lose, especially on a long-term basis. There is nothing, based on the way that the employment structures are setup, to stop the platforms from lowering wages, demanding unfair labor practices, and otherwise taking advantage of the un/underemployed. As far as existing industries, I do think the internet and technology can and should help us redefine policy, the very nature of work, certification, qualification, etc. I’m not so worried about existing incumbents, but they, of course will also have to adapt.
How can these “legal gaps” affect workers?
The legal gaps of employment in the on-demand economy affect everything:
– Number of hours / consistency of work
– Employment status / type
– Long term employment/stability, especially with automation
What kind of improvements can be done at this regard? Who and how should do them?
We need to create a new form of worker, which relates to the gig economy, whereby people who are drivers, hosts, or delivery agents are protected by labor laws and taxation requirements that work for the future of work. This means, we need to think outside of the box of contract workers vs. employees. What about the digital worker? How can we rethink a framework that takes into account that most people will not have long term jobs in the future, but rather a series of gigs?
The sharing economy is believed to have the power to change the economic paradigm. Do you think these platforms can really have that potential?
YES! We need value sharing platforms – to remove the middleman from everything, and return to peer-to-peer value exchanges. A few promising things I see are crowdfunding as equity, the blockchain, and platform cooperativism, whereby companies are forming where value is built in, distributed and offered to the users and the providers who actually create that value. For example, the drivers of Uber and hosts of Airbnb are the ones that create the value, so they should also have ownership in the form of equity as well as a say in some of the governance of said companies. That’s difficult for existing platforms to pull off, but new ones are emerging, which will give rise to the idea of shared ownership and value. Once a major platform or social network decides to share value, the dominos will start falling in line… sharing makes sense for the greatest amount of people.
How can we measure what is the social, economic and environmental impact that is attributed to them?
The B Corp is a good start, but we need to do more here. There’s also the idea of the triple bottom line, which I have yet to see implemented in a meaningful way. We really need to continue to iterate and experiment with building new structures of companies, based on the building blocks that we already have.
Why is sharing so powerful?
Sharing is powerful because we’re able to see and feel our connection to one another through the bridge of time, space, resources, skills, and stuff. When there is an abundance of resources that are distributed, we all win.
Every little individual gesture counts, but to really achieve a global change we need to rethink socio-political structures. What should be our mission at “an individual level” to start this shift?
Get to know yourself. Really dig into what you care about and how you can express that care in the world. Find ways to move beyond the idea the compensation defines you and look for where you can most deeply contribution. We’re not here that long – let’s not get mixed up in games of material possession and proof of worthiness – every individual I’ve ever met is happier when they put their experiences, relationships, and creativity at the forefront, carefully considering positive impact in all areas. If we all do this, we will come up with better ideas and implementations, which starts with how we view our connection to the planet and the people around us. Being truly innovative rises from people freeing themselves from the trappings of what already exists, rising to the possibility and creation of what could come to fruition.
How can we get education and political institutions involved in the task of reinforcing more sustainable models?
Get people talking. The EYE conference is a great start, but do focused salons, dinners, and smaller meetings. Build bridges – many of them. So many industries, people, and experts are working in silos. Invite, exchange, and get people talking, from all walks of life. When you get people talking, it becomes more obvious how they might help one another, so be that glue.
During different talks at the event, it was evidenced that commencing and maintaining startups is not an easy nor cheap adventure. On the other hand, a member of the European network of Cooperatives told me some statistics of how successful cooperatives are, while they also promote more democratic values. Why do you think these alternative models are not that popular or supported then? Why aren’t taught at university?
They are probably not taught at university because they are so new… and because, at least in their digital form, they are in an experimental phase. If you want resources for university education, I’m connected to a bunch of people, myself included, who could come to universities and speak to students on this subject. The time is now!
Sharing Economy Policy Podcast, featuring Chelsea Rustrum (see also, below)