Sharing. It’s what many of us were taught as kids: Share your toys; Wait in line for your turn; Share you allowance with someone who has less. But, alas, for many of us, that philosophy became obscured as we struggled up whatever business ladder we chose. We learned to hold onto our ideas until the time came to bring them forth – knowing we would get the credit and not need to share. And sharing became even harder during the recession, when the economy and businesses ground to a halt. It became increasingly difficult to just survive on our own, let alone share with others.
Except, that’s not how it works at Shareable.net, an online magazine about sharing cofounded in September 2009 by Neal Gorenflo. As a former stock broker, Gorenflo had a big salary, challenging work and great travel opportunities. But one day he realized he’d become “a man without purpose, place, or real attachment to people” and that the work he was doing was “dedicated solely to profit un-moored from concern for specific geographic communities.”
In part one of this Q&A, Gorenflo explains the why of the magazine and how it all works.
Triple Pundit: How did Shareable.net come to be?
Neal Gorenflo: I became disillusioned with my work and came to realize that I really had no purpose. That started an internal conversation. At first, it was about me. I wanted to do something else with my life. I thought I was betraying myself by not doing the work I should be doing. But I also felt that I was not alone, that a multitude felt the same way I did and I knew that sharing would be good for people and planet.
I vowed to do whatever it took to create a world where people do not feel lonely, alienated, bored or hopeless—then went to my office and submitted a letter of resignation.
I began consulting for Internet startups that helped people share stuff in the real world, and also began a monthly salon for social entrepreneurs interested in sharing. I consciously built a community around the idea of sharing. Through the community I built, I met the people who launched Shareable with me.
3p: Where did your startup funds come from?
Gorenflo: The magazine started with a four-year grant from a small family foundation interested in doing a follow on to Free Range Graphics’ movie, “The Story of Stuff,” about the destructive materials economy. The foundation wanted to do something that talked about solutions. So, we got together and wrote a plan for the foundation focused on sharing as a solution, and it was accepted.
While I was motivated to help others, my decision wasn’t purely altruistic. There was something very selfish, too. By dedicating myself to a mission, I was saving myself from a life poisoned by regret.
3p: Tell us how your organization works.
Gorenflo: We’re ramping up our earned income and fundraising to move toward self-sufficiency. These efforts include sponsorships, affiliate revenue, events and high donor work. Our long-term funding will likely always be a mix of donations, grants, and earned income.
Partnership is a key strategy for Shareable, not only because it’s an effective strategy for a small organization, but also it’s at the core of our value system. This means making space for others to join in the work and working with other organizations such as On The Commons, the P2P Foundation and Rentalic to advance our shared goals. We find partners through this process. Any financial support flows from this.
Most of our contributors do not get paid. Many are inspired by our mission, because there’s nothing quite like Shareable. We’re also catalyzing a movement, so those with similar goals want to help. Much of the time it’s a matter of engaging volunteers as partners, understanding their needs and motivations. In every case, the experience has been mutually beneficial.
3p: And, what about longer-term plans?
Gorenflo: Long-term, we’re working smart to create a breakout success with Shareable, which will make us less reliant on grants. Our traffic is growing surprisingly fast. We’re tapping into a zeitgeist where folks are less trusting of big institutions and turn to each other for support.
All this being said, we definitely don’t have it all figured out. I welcome suggestions from your smart readership about how we can move more quickly toward self-sufficiency.
(Editor’s note: Come back next Friday for part two of the interview, to learn about Shareable’s “killer app” and discover insightful tips for aspiring social entrepreneurs.)