Share Economics
July-august 2014
When I was young, we washed our dirty laundry at home. We had laundromats, but they were for convenience only and for those less fortunate. Nowadays, it seems that washing dirty clothes has become more convivial. As I was researching collaborative economics, I happened upon "La Machine du Voisin", a French website. Simply browse the site to find someone, maybe even in your neighbourhood, who is willing to share their washing machine for a smile or a small fee.

Surprising? Yet it's one of the latest variants of collaborative economics, or as some call it, the sharing economy. The envelope is being pushed yet again! Cars, farm machinery, labour, homes, offices, financing, warehouses, meals and now washing machines have become opportunities for sharing. Collaborative economics is in full swing: a recent report indicated that 40% of Canadians, half of whom are between 18 and 34 years of age, subscribe to any one of these new economic models offering authorization of use but not necessarily ownership.

Now that's a revolution that calls for business models to be re-examined. It seems that sharing and collaborating have turned into a dominant trend, especially with young people. There are several factors that can explain this newfound enthusiasm. First, it's a reasonable alternative for lean times. Then, thanks to several accessible Internet platforms, finding partners and making arrangements has become child's play. Not to mention the satisfaction of doing one's part for the planet by not buying items that will undoubtedly remain underused, and there is the feeling of being part of a supportive community, and of course there is also the gratification of turning one's back on big business and consumption while preferring to turn to individuals to build relationships!

Diane Bérard, from Les Affaires, speaks of an "exponential movement that defies traditional (business) strategies." In an article she wrote last fall she goes on to say that "the time has come to react." As for Joe Kraus, a general partner with Google Ventures, he was just as emphatic in a Forbes interview last February: "The sharing economy is a real trend. I don't think this is some small blip. People really are looking at this for economic, environmental and lifestyle reasons."

In this context, it is obvious that cooperatives are clearly of their time. They offer users an opportunity to unite to benefit, as a whole, from services, infrastructures, solutions to their common needs while building relationships and a sense of community. The time has come, said Diane Bérard. Yes it has. Moreover: The time has come for cooperatives to push their boundaries. Inter-cooperation, partnerships in the community, collaborative networks, and cooperation must leap forward, gain ground and transform how services and products are used.

True wealth cannot be measured by how much 'things' we have but rather by the quality of relationships we build. These relationships may sometimes provide a means to exchange goods and services, an opportunity to meet up and enjoy each other's company, or at times provide a safety net and a little human comfort when things get tough. We need to get back to our sense of community, to rearrange the foundations of our living as a society. It is the natural order of things: Man is a social animal or have we forgotten this?

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Fax: 514 850-2567


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