Building a community of sharing

Collaborative consumption moves society towards a 'culture of we'

Daniel Dubois must have been paying close attention in his kindergarten class because he is an expert at sharing with others.

As a post-secondary student, his capacity for lending and borrowing far exceeds finger paints and recess snacks. From formal shoes to snowboarding boots, from Spanish language lessons to a stepladder, the 23-year-old maintains a "what's mine is yours, what's yours is mine" view of goods and services.

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Sitting in a student lounge at Capilano University, Dubois, a fourthyear bachelor of business administration student, reveals a telling statistic: the average usage of a power drill is a mere 15 minutes over its entire lifespan - and yet half of North American households have one.

"That does not make sense," he says.

Why buy when you could borrow? To get the wider community onboard the sharing train, Dubois is preparing to launch a website called Share Shed. The online social community will connect users who want to borrow something with users who have something to lend - and vice versa.

Share Shed was originally conceived as a class project, but Dubois has committed to the initiative outside of school. He senses a growing appetite for good old-fashioned sharing and thinks his website could take off as the sharing economy, also known as collaborative consumption, gains momentum. This new economic movement has been buzzed about for a few years as growing numbers of non-profit organizations and for-profit companies recognize the potential of sharing. Among the better-known ventures are carsharing services, such as Modo the Car Co-op, and peer-to-peer travel accommodation companies like Airbnb.

Dubois is hopeful the rise of collaborative consumption will redefine wealth from what people own to what people have access to.

"It's actually changing the way people think about ownership and what they need and what they look for in life," he says. "People go and they work so they can save up money so they can buy the item. They buy the item so they have less money so they have to work more. It's just a vicious cycle."

On the surface, Share Shed is about accessing something you need - a painting easel, a knitting lesson. But ultimately, Dubois says, it's about building reallife relationships. Making friends through sharing was normal for his grandparents' generation, he says.

"If they needed something, they could just go knock on the neighbour's door. There was such a sense of community there, and we've gotten so far away from that," he explains. "We're growing closer and closer globally, but we're more and more isolated on a local level."

Dubois recalls the first time he stepped out of his sharing comfort zone. He had connected online with a pair of travellers who were in search of two bicycles to ride around the Seawall. In an act of blind faith, and to get a better sense of how Share Shed users might interact, Dubois offered his own bikes to the strangers.

"I never took any ID or anything because I would be a bit of a hypocrite to not trust."

The tourists left early in the morning and, sure enough, returned the bikes that evening along with a plastic container brimming with freshly picked blackberries - a token of their thanks.

Dubois kept in touch with the pair and through this connection scored the opportunity to visit Facebook headquarters in San Francisco last summer, during which time he filmed a documentary called The Collaborative Project. His film project also took him to the offices of Google, Airbnb and online magazine Shareable.net. Naturally, he and his crew shot the entire documentary with borrowed camera gear.

At a 2010 Ted Talk event, author Rachel Botsman gave a speech entitled The Case for Collaborative Consumption, which served as a big inspiration for Dubois. In her talk, Botsman says sharing is human instinct.

"We're monkeys and we're born and bred to share and co-operate and we were doing so for thousands of years, whether it's when we hunted in packs or farmed in co-operatives - before this big system called hyperconsumption came along and we built these fences and created our own little fiefdoms," she says in her talk.

But the drive to own is waning, she continues, as Generation Y, who have grown up sharing digital files online, move society from a "culture of me" to a "culture of we."

Botsman points to four key drivers that are causing a shift from hyper-consumption to collaborative consumption: A renewed belief in the importance of community; a torrent of peer-to-peer social networks and real-time technologies; unresolved environmental concerns; and a global recession that has fundamentally shocked consumer behaviours.

Still, not everyone feels comfortable sharing, especially with strangers. Dubois says trust, or lack thereof, is the biggest holdback. That's why Share Shed will invite users to rate one another and provide online feedback, so potential lenders will be better able to judge whether their possessions will be respected and returned. Share Shed will also exist within pocket communities, such as the Capilano campus, Lynn Valley or Ambleside, so that neighbours are sharing and building trust among themselves.

The North Shore is already home to a number of organizations driven by sharing. Zen Launchpad in Lower Lonsdale offers co-working space where entrepreneurs can rent "hot desks" for a specified number of days per week. Carsharing services such as Car2Go, Modo the Car Co-op and Zipcar all have vehicles available for use on this side of the Burrard Inlet. And last summer saw the launch of the North Shore Electric Bikeway, an electric bike share company.

In Vancouver, Chris Diplock has spent the last year or so investigating his city's appetite to share. He is the founder of The Sharing Project, a multi-staged research project focused on developing Vancouver's sharing economy.

The final research report, released in the fall, is intended to help entrepreneurs and grassroots organizers looking to develop new platforms for sharing. It concludes that Vancouverites are "highly interested" in sharing and anticipate they will be sharing more in the future.

"Without a doubt, Vancouverites are interested in sharing. As in other cities, sharing in Vancouver has the potential to improve our social and financial well-being, while reducing the environmental impact of our urban lifestyles," the document states. "All the physical goods and spaces that a community needs exist within our own neighbourhoods. Sharing has the potential to connect the people who have these things with the people who need them in efficient and meaningful ways," it continues.

Diplock's interest in sharing began when he and his girlfriend decided to build a chicken coop in their backyard. They didn't have any tools, but were able to borrow everything they needed from their landlord.

"It just made the project super easy and simple and we thought what a great model to help build some projects in the community."

Encouraged by his chicken coop experience, in 2011 Diplock co-founded the Vancouver Tool Library, a non-profit co-operative that lets members borrow hand and power tools.

In doing research for The Sharing Project, he discovered that sharing conjures up different ideas for different people.

"When we think of some older models of sharing we think of the public library, parks, community centres are certainly areas where we share a lot of equipment and space," he says.

But technology, namely the Internet, has paved the way for new models of sharing facilitated by online networks.

"Those platforms are definitely something that's new that's kind of allowed people to share amongst people outside of their immediate friend group," Diplock says.

In addition to technology, the financial downturn of 2008 has also caused people to consider sharing as they reassess whether they need to own things, or just access them, Diplock says. Increased environmental consciousness has buoyed sharing too, he adds. Less consumption equals less waste.

Whatever the reason for its rise, Diplock believes the sharing economy is more than a fleeting trend.

"I think that this is a movement that's developing, definitely, this is long-term."

In elementary school, Dubois ran a Kool-Aid stand with a "pick your own price" menu that earned him enough seed money to start two clothing lines later in his youth. His entrepreneurial spirit hasn't faded.

"Daniel has a passion. Daniel is definitely an exceptional student, exceptional. He will, mark my words, one day be running this country, in some capacity or another. You'll remember the name Daniel Dubois for sure," says Capilano business instructor Carolyn Stern, in whose class Dubois originally came up with Share Shed.

He may not be running the country yet, but he has brushed shoulders with some very influential world figures. Last October, Dubois spoke about his Share Shed project in front of 20,000 youth at WE Day, where he shared the Rogers Arena stage with KofiAnnan, Martin Luther King III and Romeo Dallaire.

Despite its potential for profit, Dubois plans to keep Share Shed free for users. He and his team are investigating ways to monetize the website just enough that it can sustain itself.

"I'm not doing it to make millions of dollars," he says, explaining his goal is to create a social enterprise for the public good, "but I do want it to have a business model where it can make money so it can expand."

Share Shed is still in the development stage, but interested borrowers and lenders can learn more about the startup by visiting Facebook.com/shareshed or following @ShareShed on Twitter.

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