The Sharing Economy is a gateway drug that threatens the infrastructure of our economy as we know it. This collaborative consumption (working together to provide the general public with affordable access to all types of resources) has enabled individuals to cut out the middleman, replace big business and solve popular needs with personal services and solutions. It's igniting a series of change from the underbelly of our society that's creeping into the everyday lives of the masses.
If there's one thing history has taught us, it's that falling in line and remaining cemented in our beliefs leads to a sustainable economy. Those who have challenged this in the past instigated social progress, political recourse and cultural revolutions -- all phenomenons rooted in change, outlined to disrupt the norm and drenched in risk -- risk we can't afford to take.
Or can we?
It's in our nature to fear change -- especially the type that involves uprooting everything we know about creating wealth and powering an economy. But if we put fear aside for a minute and focus first on the impact of the social economy to date instead of the challenges it may or may not produce in the future, it's quite clear that we're in the middle of a colossal shift. What we're seeing now is that collaborative consumption actually drives progress. We're watching the foundations for a more distributed, sustainable economy form as a result.
As the sharing economy releases a series of new jobs into the market, we're seeing people dig themselves out of debt. Airbnb, a prominent player in the sharing economy, has been the cause of tens of thousands of individuals finding financial stability worldwide by renting out extra space to supplement income. Take Airbnb host Kimberly Kaye. Kimberly was forced to quit her job due to an incurable, degenerative disease and as a result she and her husband, Ray, "spent countless nights wondering if and when they would lose their home."
From the completion of their first booking, Airbnb "provided immediate protection from homelessness, and enough income to pay for Kimberly's treatment." The income the couple makes from the home-sharing service is less than what they would receive through NY unemployment, but has enabled them to remain financially stable and keep their home in the city that they've both loved for so many years.
In the transportation industry, Lyft and Uber have been responsible for lifting the oppression former taxi drivers faced when operating under an antiquated transportation model. Lyft encourages drivers to work at least 10 hours per week, but operates without a regimented driving schedule. This flexible model has proven successful in attracting, empowering and retaining drivers. For Nick Hiebert, this meant being able to "take on work-trades and pursue otherwise-impossible learning opportunities," as well as finance some travel -- a luxury that would have been inaccessible without this form of income.
The impact of the sharing economy goes beyond the individual. Growing businesses are leveraging the sharing economy to escape the confines of traditional office space and offset costs. As businesses become increasingly dynamic and growth patterns shift, the structure of commercial real estate remains rigid and reluctant to conform to the patterns of modern (often digital) companies. The existing CRE system puts these businesses at risk as they are forced to take space based on projections. CRE broker, Greg Hoffmeister, has said, "Spaces for growing companies are few and far between. The ones that do exist come with complexities and cumbersome lease terms that add unnecessary delays and costs to young companies on tight timeframes and tight budgets." Leveraging shared office space gives these businesses the flexibility to protect their bottom line and the opportunity to select a space based on their current needs.
Society has established these opportunities within our economy because there is a void of service from like-minded individuals. The innovative minds of today have found ways to more efficiently and effectively reach economic goals, while benefitting consumers and businesses. If we take what we know and combine it with what we know is possible, we have the potential to build something incredible and sustainable.
All we have to do is work together.