Sharing Economy Paves the Way for Collaboration


biz mtgOur series on the sharing economy has illuminated a new industry, one that has forged professional relationships, brought people together, funded dreams, and changed the face of business and community. The sharing economy has even broken into mainstream with Zipcar’s acquisition by Avis. The sharing economy has captivated imaginations because collaborative consumption allows peers to provide for peers and makes each lender a micro-entrepreneur along the way.

Now that the peer-to-peer networks have burgeoned, it is time for this attitude of collaboration and shared resources to expand into nonprofit, corporate and policy arenas to help leaders solve larger issues. Ben Hecht writes in his Harvard Business Review post:

A diverse group of local leaders — private, public, philanthropic, and nonprofit — fed up with the dysfunction around them, come together to challenge conventional wisdom and fix problems long written off as unsolvable, such as poverty, unemployment, and a failing education system…While collaboration is certainly not a foreign concept, what we’re seeing around the country is the coming together of non-traditional partners, and a willingness to embrace new ways of working together. And, this movement is yielding promising results.

Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, has long championed the effectiveness of partnerships between businesses and nonprofits to solve environmental problems, but now, collaboration is going further. City governments are getting help from nonprofits to solve municipal problems (Code for America) and businesses are helping nonprofits pass legislation (Avon). Even the White House invited outsiders to help build We the People, the White House petitions system, and contribute example code to a software development kit (SDK). The Rio+20 summit in 2012 showed that governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations could come together to work toward solving global issues (although not much has changed).

Hecht points out that leaders are realizing that not only can’t they solve some problems themselves, help might come from unexpected places. The advent of the sharing economy, or collaborative consumption, makes partnering with unlikely allies seem more acceptable. It is the perfect environment for disparate leaders to realize that each brings unique talents, resources and influence to global, national, regional and local issues.

The influence of customers

In addition to enhanced collaboration, the sharing economy also brings customer into an active role. No longer are customers just on the receiving end of product innovations – they’re inventors, producers, and even sellers. The sharing economy gives organizations freedom to test a product or program on its customer base, get feedback, make adjustments and roll out a better product.

What makes a collaboration successful?

Hecht and Tercek have surprisingly similar views on what makes a collaboration work, perhaps because they have both participated in and witnessed successful and unsuccessful partnerships.

  • Define the end goal. Ensure the entire team (participants from all sectors) are on-board.
  • Realize what strengths each brings to the table.
  • Keep the bigger goal in sight, and don’t be diverted by a single organization’s agenda.
  • Adapt as the project changes due to data fluctuation. If unexpected data presents another, better course of action, be flexible enough to take it.
  • Listen to your customers/stakeholders. Organizations that have ignored feedback have sometimes regretted it.
  • Share your lessons learned. Let others learn from your mistakes and help their efforts be even more successful.

Collaboration certainly isn’t new – it’s just becoming more mainstream and formalized, just like peer-to-peer lending. Partnerships have yielded amazing results in the past, but now that leaders have learned what a valuable tool it can be, look for even more partnerships and crowdsourced ideas in the future to try to create unique solutions for some of society’s problems.

  • Code for America deploys computer-savvy individuals to different cities for one year to study that municipality’s issues, define them, present solutions and ensure those solutions can be replicated going forward. [data]
  • Avon, defender of women’s rights for decades, threw its weight behind other NGOs in Belgium and helped pass a law outlawing domestic violence in that country. It’s salesforce was out in droves gathering signatures to send the bill for discussion.
  • LiquidSpace and Marriott teamed up for instant shared workspace, utilizing unused space and reducing the need for resource-intensive office space.
  • The Nature Conservancy worked with state leaders in Iowa to pass a measure raising taxes to protect their flood plain and their crops, the main industry in that state.
  • IBM has turned their focus on municipalities, hospitals and higher education. IBM worked with Zhenjiang to institute a new bus scheduling system to manage traffic patterns to help make the system faster and more efficient.

There are many other instances of unusual partnerships that have yielded great results. Tell us about the ones that impress you in the comments.

[image credit: thetaxhaven: Flickr cc]

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at and @anewell3p on Twitter.

One response

  1. Wouldn’t it be great if the governments that are dealing with the regulations around the sharing of homes – specifically the Airbnb issue in NYC and San Fransisco would choose a collaborative approach to figuring out where government regulations protect citizens from unscrupulous businesses/landlords and where they get in the way of individuals freedom to share what they pay for.

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