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10 Ways Our World is Becoming More Shareable

We’re sharing more things, more deeply, with more people. Why sharing is the answer to some of today’s biggest questions.
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Community Garden Photo by Geoff and Sherry

Members of the community gather to break ground at the London Ferrill Community Garden.

Photo by geoffandsherry

Sharing is a big deal these days. Sharing is a growth industry, a new field of study and of practice; it presents a realm of career opportunities, a new way of life, and a concept around which we are restructuring our world. Sharing is the answer to some of today’s biggest questions: How will we meet the needs of the world’s enormous population? How do we reduce our impact on the planet and cope with the destruction already inflicted? How can we each be healthy, enjoy life, and create thriving communities?
—Janelle Orsi, “Four Degrees of Sharing”

Our world is inherently shareable, though it’s easy to take that for granted. We are already historically connected by climate, roads, fisheries, language, forests, culture, and social networks, all of which are part of the commons. But in recent decades, the rules of access and ownership have started to shift in new directions, making sharing more convenient, necessary, fulfilling, and even profitable. Here are ten  ways that our world is becoming more shareable.


Blue Number 1Sharing as a Lifestyle. The ways to share in everyday life seem to be multiplying like rabbits, but maybe the Great Recession is just forcing all of us to pay more attention these days.

There’s carsharingridesharingbikesharingyardsharing, coworkingcohousing, tool libraries, all kinds of cooperatives—it goes on, trust us. And ways to share power, dialogue, and knowledge, such as workplace democracy, citizens' deliberative councils, unconferences, open space, and world café, are getting more attention these days, aided by innovative Web 2.0 tools.

There are also scores of new websites—like DivvyNeighborgoods, ShareSomeSugarRelay RidesRentalic, hyperlocavore, and many more—designed to help us share real stuff. Taking all of these into account, it's entirely possible to create a complete lifestyle based on sharing. You can live in a cohousing community, work in a co-op, grow food in your neighbor's yard, and get to the open space town council meeting via your carshare. Want to know about the nuts and bolts of how to build a Shareable life? Check out The Sharing Solution by Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow.


Blue-Number-2.jpgShareable Cities. A revolution is underway in our understanding of cities. The revolution couldn't come any sooner, considering that 2007 was the first year in human history that the majority of human beings lived in cities. Perhaps as a result, cities are becoming the focal point for our collective hopes and dreams, as well as all kinds of innovation needed to avert a worsening climate crisis.

Bike Share Photo by University of Denver

University of Denver opened its bike sharing library in September 2009. Bikes can be used all day until 7 p.m. and come with a lock and a helmet.

In the past, we tended to see cities as dirty, unnatural, and isolating places; today, citizens and urban planners alike are starting to see their potential for generating widespread well-being at low financial and environmental cost. There's increasing appreciation for the benefits of public transit, urban agriculture, making room on the streets for pedestrians and bicyclists, and for civic engagement. The very thing that defines a city—its population density—makes sharing easier, from cars to bikes to homes.

Perhaps in response, there seems to be a boomlet in technology that helps First World urbanites understand their environment, share, and use resources more effectively; IBM has based their massive Smarter Cities advertising campaign around this theme. But it may be that the most successful innovations will spring from the megacities of the developing world. In the absence of vast financial resources, these cities may do as Bogotá, Colombia did and prioritize human well being over economic growth. Can a city become a happiness commons? Former Bogotá mayor Enrique Penalosa knows from experience that it's possible.

Blue-Number-3.jpgSocial Enterprise & Cooperatives. Definitions vary, but in general social enterprises, whether nonprofit or for-profit, offer a product or service in order to advance a social or environmental mission with benefits for all. The industry is small relative to the overall economy, but growing extremely fast in some sectors:

  • Nonprofit earned income grew over 200 percent to $251 billion between 1982 and 2002.

  • Investment in clean tech ventures nearly trebled to $5.2 billion between 2004 and 2008 (though it has declined recently thanks to the Great Recession).

  • Fair trade good sales doubled between 2004 and 2007 to around $4 billion.

  • Over 11,000 worker cooperatives have emerged in just the last 30 years, many them embracing prosocial missions in addition to being managed, governed, and owned by the people who work at them.

  • Social investing could grow to $500 billion in assets under management in 5-10 years, according to the Monitor Institute.

Blue-Number-4.jpgThe Nonprofit Sector. Nonprofits are an increasingly important way for people to share their wealth and labor. Nicola Goren, former acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said in a speech last year that we're in a midst of “a bona fide compassion boom.” The Obama administration is encouraging the trend toward mutual aid with the United We Serve program. With engagement and social enterpreneurship growing, Bill Drayton may be right: We may yet evolve into a world where everyone is a change-maker.

  • In the U.S. alone, donations to nonprofits more than doubled between 1987 and 2007, to $303 billion.

  • About 75 percent of all donations come from private individuals like you and me.

  • The number of nonprofits doubled between 1991 and 2006, to 1.9 million.

  • In 2005, nonprofits employed 12.9 million people, or 9.7 percent of the US workforce.

  • In 2008, 61.8 million volunteers dedicated more than 8 billion hours of service, worth an estimated $162 billion.


Blue-Number-5.jpgMicrofinance is a powerful innovation that extends small loans and financial services to help the world’s poorest rise out of poverty, serving customers traditional banks ignore. The growth of Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank, and its success in alleviating poverty in Bangladesh, helped trigger an almost unmanageable surge of money into the sector—currently about $25 billion, and growing fast. Grameen has low-interest loan programs for a variety of poor borrowers, including no-interest loans, and is owned by the rural poor it serves. Kiva, a U.S. nonprofit peer-to-peer microfinance sensation, facilitates around $5 million in no-interest loans a month to entrepreneurs in developing nations through its website. At one point, Kiva had to limit loans through their platform because the demand to give out loans was so high. Microfinance is yet another way the world is learning to share its wealth.

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