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WEconomy: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption

CCA LiveE | Tuesday December 6th, 2011 | 7 Comments

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

By: Maricarmen Sierra

Have you ever shared a car ride, lent someone a book, made a mix tape, or traded clothing?  Then you’re part of the WEconomy, a new economic model where communities of consumers share, swap or rent goods as opposed to owning them.

Invisible woman

When I moved from Mexico City to San Francisco to pursue my MBA in Design Strategy I had to start a new life from scratch. I started searching for the basics: a roof over my head, a car to move around and a job to secure some income. As a student on an F-1 visa, I had neither a social security number, nor credit history, nor work permit. In the eyes of the formal economy, I was invisible. Apartment brokers slammed their doors, phone companies ignored my calls, and job applications left me undefined.

The traditional economy was dead to me.

But then my millennial instincts kicked in. That Sunday, I put out the S.O.S. to Facebook and Craigslist. By Tuesday, a German urban planner and a Pakistani pastry chef sublet me a cozy apartment in the Upper Haight. The next day, a Norwegian architecture student moving back to Europe offloaded a moving van worth of furniture for $100. On Saturday, I got a mint vintage bicycle in exchange for a weekend of my restorative yoga classes. Where the Economy died, the WEconomy thrived.

And it’s truly thriving. The lives of everyday consumers from DC to Delhi are undergoing the most radical transformation since industrialization. New technologies are harnessing the power of the crowd, the power of “we,” to disrupt outdated top-down business models. Now instead of overpaying for a mediocre hotel room, you can swap apartments with strangers anywhere in the world on (Airbnb).

Until now, if you wanted to buy a sofa and save on the shipping by transporting it yourself, you had to own a car. Today you can rent any type of car, on any given day, for the time you want and access it on a nearby parking lot (Zipcar).  Consumers are realizing that they can organize themselves to achieve the same ends with new means that better fit their needs.

This trend is unleashing billions in untapped value from the bottom up. Kickstarter, a crowd-funding site that allows the public to invest in creative projects, now allows musicians, artists, journalists and filmmakers to actualize projects based on the power of their ideas.

Access trumps Ownership

To foster this WEconomy as business leaders, we need to start redefining our understanding of the market from being providers of goods to become purveyors of services and experiences. It also requires a new language: ‘access’ beats ‘ownership,’ ‘social value’ becomes the new currency, ‘exchanges’ replace ‘purchases,’ and people are no longer consumers but instead users, borrowers, lenders and contributors.

So in this global market, where money has stopped being the only valuable currency, what are the innovation opportunities for future businesses? How can web, mobile and real-time technologies continue to foster sharing? What ideas can attend the need for practicality over materialism and experiences over possesions?

This isn’t a conceptual calling. Every aspect of my life has been touched by the WEconomy. It’s great to be visible again.

[Image credit: ALoveLetterForYou.com]

Originally from Mexico City, Maricarmen Sierra now lives in San Francisco pursuing an MBA in Design Strategy at CCA. She’s a social entrepreneur, yoga teacher and mindful citizen of the world.  msierralaris@cca.edu


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  • http://www.peaceloveswap.com Meg Franz

    Great article – it’s so true – in this new economy or WEconomy – we are all learning to share, borrow, lend and I think it’s the way of the future. With 4 kids – I am trying to teach them that they don’t need to go out and buy everything new – in fact, they are SO used to swaps, consignment and thrift that they go a little crazy when they go to mall with their grandma (my mother in law= opposite of me = different story..) anyways, great article, we would LOVE to see kid’s clothing & gear swap events in every city/community across the US – and if moms need help starting one – that is what we do.. http://www.peaceloveswap.com
    meg franz. founder peace. love. swap

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Maricarmen-Sierra/678610143 Maricarmen Sierra

      Hi Alina,
      Clouditems is a great idea! Good luck on the launch, I’ll definitively check it out to continue sharing value with others.

  • http://clouditems.com Alina Shahnazari

    Very well explained! I can relate to this article as I am an immigrant too. I totally understand what being invisible means. That’s why I thought we need a social network to connect our possessions so our needs for specific items can be fulfilled just my networking. Check it out. http://clouditems.com
    We are going live on Jan 11,2012. Join us today!

    Alina Shahnazari, the cofounder of Clouditems


    Thanks for your experience, always a lesson for us readers, please continue writing about them!

  • http://www.ecosharing.net Elena Milan

    Great Article!!! Effectively access matters more than ownership.

    This is why we setup http://www.ecosharing.net the first sharing website fully linked to facebook: Share what you own with your existing networks of Facebook friends!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Maricarmen-Sierra/678610143 Maricarmen Sierra

      Great initiative! Congratulations on the project and i hope we continue to foster trust between strangers.

  • http://www.ecosharing.net Elena Milan

    Another good example of collaborative consumption is http://www.ecosharing.net With this site you share/borrow/swap only with people you trust, your friends on Facebook hence you end up sharing a lot more items.