How could Finnish companies succeed in the growing sharing economy markets? What kind of models are desirable from the whole society’s point of view? Most of us are already familiar with the sharing economy as a term – but we are still debating what it is in essence, or what it should be. These questions were discussed at the YHTE2017 seminar, held by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd (see the Finnish seminar programme and presentation material in the Slideshare service).
The panel discussion participants Elina Voipio, co-founder of Duara Travels,
Maria Antikainen, Senior Scientist at VTT, and Juho Makkonen,
co-founder and CEO of Sharetribe.
Sharing economy: communality or exploitation?
The tone of the public debate on the sharing economy has changed in a few years. In the beginning, many found the future visions offered by the sharing economy inspiring: moving from owning of things to sharing or borrowing would improve resource efficiency, and sharing services and things in peer network marketplaces would increase well-being and even communality.
In recent times, however, the potential problems related to the sharing economy have raised more and more discussion: unsafe and poorly paid gig work, poor consumer protection, tax evasion and, in case of Airbnb, the rise in rental prices in major cities. These conflicting views are well reflected in such headlines as “In the sharing economy, owning things is not the main thing” (Suomen Kuvalehti) and “The sharing economy is a cute name for exploitation” (Helsingin Sanomat).
It has added to the confusion that, as a rule, totally different operators, ranging from large global platform companies to swapping circles and time banks, have been lumped together under the heading of sharing economy. Fortunately, the terminology has begun to become more varied. For example, such gig work marketplaces as Uber and Task Rabbit fit better under the headings of gig economy or on-demand economy. On the other hand, operators that lay emphasis on social equality and shared management of resources can most accurately be described by such terms as solidarity economy or commons-based economy. It may also be necessary to consider whether it is sensible to lump together such actors as Uber and time banks under the same heading in the first place.
Well-being from the sharing economy?
According to a recent estimate, the value of the market related to the sharing economy will grow tenfold from 2016 to 2020, from slightly over EUR 100 million to EUR 1.3 billion (Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment Report 9/2017, in Finnish). The impact of the sharing economy on the Finnish society will increase significantly. Therefore, from the perspective of well-being, it is quite a topical issue to consider what kind of sharing economy models generate broad-based well-being and how could we support them.
At the seminar, Pasi Mäenpää and Maija Faehnle from the University of Helsinki reflected on the public sector’s role in the steering of the sharing economy. We need reforms in such matters as taxation, regulation and the basic security system to prevent the unwanted development paths from spreading and to help the desirable ones flourish. Last year, the European Commission and Parliament published several reports and analyses on the sharing economy, such as A European agenda for the collaborative economy, instructions on how to apply the EU legislation and a report on the situation of workers in the collaborative economy. However, on the public sector the work is just about to begin.
Naturally, the well-being is also affected by what kind of companies emerge in the sector and what kind of social ‘visions’ they offer with their activities. The seminar presented Finnish companies with not only genuinely novel, but also socially interesting offering. For example, Duara Travels offers accommodation and cultural experiences in developing countries in the homes of ordinary people. With the help of the technology offered by Sharetribe, almost anyone can establish an ‘every man’s sharing platform’. It is also used by the tool rental service Liiteri, which was piloted with VTT involvement. Futhermore, RobinHood Coop, which best fits under the description of commons economy, offers cooperative asset management services (see.
Debate and development work will continue through a new network
At the end of the seminar, on the basis of ‘public demand’ a decision was made to establish a research and development network of the sharing economy. So far, more than 80 members have registered to the network, including people interested in the sharing economy from the research world, citizens’ movements, and the private and public sectors.
Katja Henttonen, Specialist
Maija Federley, Senior Scientist