Welcome to the launch episode of Innovation for Change’s Civic Stage!
Our new monthly podcast explores how social change happens and ideas and ways of working that are helping people to solve some very specific challenges.
We are focusing on stories and discussions related to the idea of civic space – the public space for people to freely express themselves speak out, organize and peacefully protest. While these rights can be protected by law, in practice they are often attacked by governments and corporations all over the world.
So if civic spaces are shrinking, how are people finding creative ways to roll back this trend? To create lasting social change in 2018 and beyond, people and communities, NGOs and social movements need to innovate as quickly as new problems surface.
EPISODE 1: The Era of the Sharing Economy and Shrinking Civic Space
Civic Stage launches with a discussion of the digital sharing economy with a show called ‘The Era of the Sharing Economy and Shrinking Civic Space.’ Show hosts Kara Andrade, Adi Mistry Frost and Gerardo Torres are joined by Amanda Cahill, from the Centre for Social Change, David Weingartner from OuiShare, Juan Carlos Lozano from Innpactia in Colombia and Walter Corzo from Jóvenes Contra la Violencia in Guatemala. Our guests discuss new ways that people are organizing and sharing resources to solve complex problems and tilt the balance of economic power.
Each month we’ll publish an accompanying feature exploring some of the highlights of the show.
From Freecyle to Uber, and back
We are surrounded by examples of people-driven solutions to local economic challenges. Freecyle, the local email groups that recycle products without payment, is one such example. There are applications that help homeless people get excess food for free. Then there are farmers’ ‘tool libraries’ for the exchange of specialised machinery too expensive for individuals to buy.
These are very different examples of the sharing economy from those popularised by Uber and Airbnb. Hailed by some as new and more democratized ways of making money, in reality underlying inequalities remain. People’s labour continues to build the value of billion dollar companies and, ultimately, benefits the few shareholders.
While venture capitalists are using this model to generate profits in the digital space, civil society is seizing the opportunity for a different end: for people to own their local economies, to collectively create social good and civic value.
What is the sharing economy?
There are many ways to define the sharing economy, but Amanda Cahill, Director of the Centre for Social Change based in Brisbane recognizes an old idea given new energy by technology. “It’s the practices that we’ve had in place for a really long time and we still do in lots of different ways around the world. We have the potential with technology to decentralize and democratize so that people can own their own value.’’
Cahill sees people coming together to share skills, assets and knowledge as carrying the potential to democratize economic practices. For Cahill people are “able to access the means of production more directly,” through peer to peer contact and on a more equal, ethical basis which can help to redistribute surpluses or profits.
Distrust of these models is understandable says Cahill, who sees the risk of falling “into the same old economic relationships where people are giving their labor as part of the value that is being extracted and they are basically contractors to a different kind of company.”
Create, share and own collectively
David Weingartner at Ouishare identifies several characteristics of sharing economy projects that help catalyse change. First, the online platform co-operative movement “allows their stakeholders to become shareholders in models that bring together digital platforms and old co-operative mindsets,” says Weingartner. Second, when financing comes from the community actually using it, there is no longer a need for venture capital financing and the indebtedness that follows. These features allow people to create, share and own value – monetary and otherwise – helping to change existing inequalities in market-based systems.
Civil society experiments
Social entrepreneurs, NGOs and social movements are experimenting with the democratising potential of being able to connect people to work together and share the profits, by finding new ways to transact, share and access resources. There are different civil society experiments in different parts of the world that test a range of alternative economy ideas including new online sharing economy platforms.
One example is ComuniDAS which was launched by the Innovation for Change Latin America and Caribbean Hub. The platform offers a catalog of services that network member organisations in the region are willing to exchange. By tapping into a highly skilled marketplace willing to donate or exchange pro-bono services, ComuniDAS addresses both the demand for certain types of services and a lack of available funding to access them.
“What we’re trying to achieve is to catalyse a much larger social movement and social change by helping people focus most of their time to achieve impact, and help people join their efforts,” says Walter Corzo from Jóvenes Contra la Violencia in Guatemala, a hub member organization which has been involved in ComuniDAS.
Another example is Innpactica in Columbia. “We wanted to create a solution for the way funding is distributed currently because we completely disagree with what currently happens,” says Director Juan Lozano. Many of the same NGOs always receive funding so Innpactia has made information on funding opportunities widely available, overcoming “information asymmetries that are essentially anti-democratic in the context of an enabling environment for civil society”.
In just two and half years, Innpactia identified almost $6 billion of available funding which Lozano suggests has helped change Colombian civil society’s perception of funding as being scarce. Organisations now “understand that there are enough incentives to cooperate and that the person beside you or the organization beside you is not a competitor, but actually a potential partner,” Lozano said.
Scaling social impact
ComuniDAS and Innpactia are just two projects that show how the sharing economy can lead to positive social impact. Trust, however, is a key factor. For others in civil society to benefit and for these impacts to scale, it requires building trust to experiment and trust to play with new ways of working together.
Cahill suggests that the sector needs to “understand the political implications of what’s going on” and quickly “build knowledge and capacity building expertise, as well as the infrastructure and digital support for people on the ground to be able to run with this.”
There is a large potential for social change. “Create your value, own your value and share your value to build an economy. That’s good for people and the planet,” says Cahill. “That’s the potential that we’ve got, and that’s really exciting.”
Adi Mistry Frost and Kara Andrade
Carry on the conversation about innovative ways to defend and strengthen civic space, by following @Innovforchange on Twitter and registering to join the Innovation for Change network at innovationforchange.net.