Sharing Economy – More than Uber and Airbnb

Yes, sharing economy includes kitchen-sharing.

Meet Dodo Cheng. He is a social worker in the field of community development. He is in charge of the project ‘Sharing Kitchen HK’ (共廚家作), funded by SIE Fund. The grassroots, mostly housewives, cook food in restaurants’ kitchen and sell the food.

It has triple benefits when they can earn business experience and demonstrate their culinary skills, restaurants could share profits with housewives, and make use of idle time during non-opening hours. Dodo was happy that the project is able to enhance housewives’ self-esteem and social network.

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Ladies from ‘Sharing Kitchen HK’ were preparing  rice dumplings for sale during Dragon Boat Festival this year. (Photo source: ‘Sharing Kitchen HK’ facebook page)

 

Good Lab advocates sharing economy

Thanks to Uber and Airbnb for popularizing the concept of sharing economy. Good Lab identified that sharing economy would disrupt business structure and traditional discourse on resource allocation, ownership and accessibility. (Of course, Good Lab, being a co-working office, is a case of sharing economy!)

We organized two series of seminars in 2014 and 2015.  On July 7, we organized a one-day workshop for second time (the first time in April) targeting people from various government departments, businesses and non-profits. They understood what sharing economy is, got in touch with social entrepreneurs and innovators, and explored the potential and controversies of sharing economy to their work and life.

More than Uber and Airbnb

Simply speaking, sharing economy is an economic system based on ‘access to’ rather than ‘ownership of’ underused physical and human assets, including time, space, skills, and many more.

In this workshop, Good Lab deliberately introduced more cases from civil society. We argue that sharing economy should not be exclusive to giant privately-owned digital platforms, which, in some cases, destroyed community or social values such as openness, trust and social inclusion.

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Ada Wong, convener of Good Lab, introduced the concept of sharing economy.

Not as good as we thought, sometimes

Digital platforms want to enjoy the freedom akin to online startups but without the regulations placed on most taxi services. Uber wants to exclude the responsibility of driver-partners and therefore saved huge expenses on employment protection. Some evidence shows that in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, Airbnb landlords kicked out long-term tenants to attract short-term, more profitable tourists. Also, more and more transactions from crowdfunding platforms involve big institutional investors. P2P lending is not entirely person-to-person.

Sharing kitchen, co-housing, space sharing, rebuilding community ties

How can sharing economy bring along social benefits, especially trust and collaboration? Good Lab invited Dodo and three representatives from their local social startups to present to workshop participants. Participants were delighted to hear how they are harnessing the concept of sharing economy to achieve social goals.

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The workshop invited representatives of four local social startups to present their idea: From the left: Plato Lam (venue.hk), Laly Woo (Tai Tung Co-housing),  Anthony Wong (Around Hub), Dodo Cheng (Sharing Kitchen HK).

Dodo’s project links up grassroots, local restaurants and customers. Anthony Wong and his teammates do not feel comfortable when they do not know their neighbours next door. Their Around Neighbour app help users find the right assistance to solve everyday household problems, while rebuild community ties at the same time. Recently, they are helping a work cooperative to develop an app to coordinate patient escort service.

Wanna leave your parents to live but the rent is exorbitant? Laly Woo and friends are trying to construct their co-housing unit. Inspired by Udongsa project in South Korea and 9floorspace(玖樓)in Taipei, they are planning to develop a Hong Kong version – Tai Tung Co-housing(大桐共宅). What differentiates co-housing from renting a flat together, Laly said, is tenants can co-design their living space and cherish relationships between them. They have found two apartments and will continuously look for more.

Plato Lam and his teammates started venue.hk (吉場)last year. They understood the difficulty in finding a place to organize group activities like screening, seminar and yoga class. venue.hk identifies idle and underutilised event venues, and matches venue hosts and users who share common values. Consequently, venue hosts can find a way to reduce rental burden.

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The Seoul government has set Seoul as the sharing city and supports lots of sharing economy activities. For example, Socar is a car-sharing service in Seoul and has alleviated parking space problem. Young job seekers can rent second-hand suits donated by others with low cost at Open Closet. Some tool libraries (such as the one shown in this photo) opened alongside its Public City Library too. (Photo source: shareable.net)

Idea generation and pitching

Practice is the best way to learn. To realize what a local sharing program can be like, Good Lab required participants to work out ideas. They sat in groups and imagined living in an estate. They explored what facilities people could use when they were not in use, for example, yoga class in library. Then they discovered neighbours’ hobbies or talents. Finally, each group built up one idea that could involved sharing, presented in the form of role-play.

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Guess how a school can become when not in use?

Here are two of the six ideas: 1) Retired elders found their value while helping busy young neighbours to do simple housework. 2) Mainland exchange students taught neighbours’ kids Mandarin, in return for home-made meals and a taste of local culture.

These ideas may have hurdles in practice; nevertheless, the activity effectively captured the essence of the whole workshop, linking concepts and reality.

From sharing economy to sharing society

The workshop discussed the origin, the pros and cons of sharing economy. Yes, it is disrupting the law and society. Digital platforms should not shirk their responsibilities in the name of sharing. The government must be aware that consumers and workers are well-protected when they engage in sharing economy activities. This is done by revising law and regulation.

Second, the scope of sharing economy is broader than what private platforms represent. It values ‘just sustainabilities—qualities such as social equity and inclusiveness—rather than efficiency and profits’, to borrow the words from scholars McLaren and Agyeman.

Ultimately, Good Lab hopes that citizens, businesses and government officials can together develop policies, delivering solutions, and designing cities that suit community’s needs. Let’s transform Hong Kong to be a sharing society!

A glimpse of feedback

Most of the participants enjoyed the day. The workshop increased their knowledge about the kinds of Sharing Economy currently taking place.  The following are some of the feedback:

  1. Gained a more balanced view on the young generation and regained hope in them.
  2. Rediscover relationship between neighbours and share resources with one another
  3. Build on trust and change from fear to fun
  4. Idea is good but need public to accept this with more education and communication
  5.  要尋回人情味,與別人互動分享資源 (To feel again the human touch, and share resources to others)

At last, I marked one comment that one participant made at the end of the workshop:

‘The workshop has recalled my memory when I was young. In the past, neighbours were willing to share their stuff with each other. We lost the spirit for long. This workshop proves that we can do it again.’

Her remark again reminds me that we can start small and local. Just invite schools, community centers, or district councilors to organize book swap, toy swap, talent sharing, or tool library!

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