Will the Sharing Economy Catalyze New Forms of Philanthropy? | Beth's Blog

Will the Sharing Economy Catalyze New Forms of Philanthropy?


After I attended Catalyzing the Sharing Economy conference (the sharing economy is defined as the use of networked, mobile, information technology to share goods and services), I shared a post with some notes and ideas about why I think it is the next generation of networked social change.   Lucy Bernholz, who has been thinking about the sharing economy and social change for longer than anyone, share her conference notes, asking “Where is the Public Good?”   TechSoup’s Lewis Haidt shared a post that challenges to think about how we can all participate with a greater emphasis on the sharing and less on the IPO.

Now that we’ve had some time to reflect,  I am wondering about how the Sharing Economy will catalyze new forms of philanthropy and CSR?

1.  Data Philanthropy

This is where a company or other entities donates it data for a social good cause.  I first heard this term about year ago and wrote it about here.  Lucy Bernholz wrote a reflection post Share Conference called “Sharing Data.”  She points out Sharing companies with robust digital platforms have potentially valuable digital data that could be of use to those interested in social change including researchers, policy makers and government officials.  She offers a few opportunities:

Want information on current transporation patterns (Lyft, Uber, Car share, bikeshare)? Want information on tourism patterns (Airbnb, Homeaway)? Want to look at structural racism, affordable housing or daycare, or gender and safety issues? (analyze use patterns from any of the aforementioned). Will these companies hold the data back and fight subpoenas from AGs offices? Will they negotiate with users to release data for public use? Are these data sets part of the “public benefit” potential of these companies and will they argue such when the inevitable battles between nonprofit and for-profit versions of home or car sharing services arise? Can cities and sharing companies strike pro-active data sharing deals that protect users privacy, inform public policy, and benefit communities – without going to court?

2.  Alternative Currency Donations

Jeremiah Owyang has a framework that describes the sub-sectors of the Share (or collaborative) economy and lists different companies.    One sector is “Money” which includes crowdfunding, micro lending, and crypto currencies.    We’ve witnessed how crowdfunding and micro lending has been a huge trend in the nonprofit sector – think Kiva for micro-lending, GivingTuesday, Give Local America, and the many nonprofit crowd funding platforms.    But could cypto currencies, like bitcoin, be used for donations, even major gifts?   Read about that in “How nonprofits are cashing in on the crytocurrency trend” and this interview from David Neff.

3.   Share Companies and CSR

We have read reports about start ups in the share economy are making big dollars.  AIRbnb for example has an estimated worth of 10 billion.  But as my colleague, Lucy Bernholz, likes to ask, “Where is the Public Benefit?”   Will these companies have a traditional “Corporate Social Responsibility” department or initiatives?  What do we see emerging?  Here’s one small example.   In March, Airbnb announced a plan “Shared City,” a multi-faceted collaboration designed to give back to the communities it serves — beginning with the city of Portland, Ore. and expected to be rolled out to cities around the world.   As part of this, they are focusing on safety and offering homes free smoke detectors and information.

How do you see the sharing economy disrupting corporate philanthropy and giving in general?



8 Responses

  1. Dawn Carter says:


    Great thoughts, Beth. You pose a good question, about public benefit. I was at the conference on Wednesday only and was not aware that AirBNB had encouraged hosts to offer their places free of charge after hurricane Sandy hit the NYC area. The speed with which they provided emergency housing was impressive.

    I could also see marginalized populations participating with Feastly, providing authentic ethnic cuisine and making extra income. I mentor a former foster gal, and no one can cook like her grandma! I think the Sharing Economy can serve the public good if educational bridges are extended to our neighbors.


  2. Jay Geneske says:

    I question the term Corporate Social Responsibility, which carries a history and spirit of “this is our feel-good contribution” rather than the practice of partnership, where all parties have meaningful–and sometimes lucrative–opportunities to gain. Achieving these types of partnerships would likely require a non-CSR point person in the organization.

  3. Beth says:


    Your point is a good one. I know that Jeremiah Owyang says to companies that their customers are not consumers because they sharing … maybe it is a “Corporate Sharing Program”.


    Great points about making bridges.

  4. […] After I attended Catalyzing the Sharing Economy conference (the sharing economy is defined as the use of networked, mobile, information technology to share goods and services), I shared a post with some notes and ideas about why I think it is the next generation of networked social change.  […]

  5. Kirsty says:


    I read a related article in The Economist recently and particularly liked the way they compared the sharing economy to online buying on eBay, for example.

    Having started out as a peer-to-peer marketplace, it is now dominated by power sellers. Lets hope that the big boys such as AIRbnb are doing this for the public good and not purely seeking out opportunities for enterprise.

  6. Matt C says:

    These are some great ideas for expanding philanthropies! I also definitely want to learn more about this Sharing Economy. Thanks for sharing.

  7. […] ideas are all shared – has serious implications for the social sector. Lucy Bernholz and Beth Kanter break it down for […]

  8. Nick says:

    Excellent blog you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any user discussion forums that cover the same topics talked about in this article? I’d really love to be a part of online community where I can get suggestions from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thanks!

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