I attended the Edinburgh launch of Benita Matofska and Sophie Sheinwald’s “Generation Share” book not really understanding what the “Sharing Economy” was, but feeling some kind of resonance and a desire to learn more. I not only learned what it was, but I was inspired and I realised that sharing is a key aspect of my life.
The book documents the “change-makers building the Sharing Economy” across the globe. The sharing economy typifies a way of living where resources, knowledge, skills and learning are shared, rather than hoarded. At some level – no matter how micro – sharers reject the idea that everything we need must be owned individually and that anyone has the monopoly of ideas or information. Sharers offer up free time, spare space, unwanted items or unused resources to others. And while it may feel like giving, when we give, we often receive – either materially, in kind or simply in the knowledge that we have given someone a helping hand.
Benita and Sophie’s presentation of the book got me wondering what the difference was between sharing and volunteering. After all, volunteering is a means of sharing skills, time or passion with others or with causes. This made me think of my time working for the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco, where limited project resources and a desire to empower local people to solve local problems meant that we sometimes requested that Moroccans to offer their time and knowledge for no monetary reward. Our partners suggested this was unreasonable, that people with low-paid or no work could not be expected to work for free. However, Moroccans – many in precarious situations with little material wealth – were some of the most generous and hospitable people I have ever met.
Perhaps the terminology was wrong. “Volunteering” is seen as a privilege only available to those with disposable time and income to give their time for free. This way of seeing human relationships underestimates the non-material gain in volunteering. “Sharing” is a much more equitable term. As Benita said, we all have an infinite capacity to share.
I began to think of how I am part of the Sharing Economy. I am a member of a local Timebank, a member of Tribe Women, which is run out of a local co-working and community hub, I offer my skills as a Director of Multi-Cultural Family Base and as a family we exchange our local knowledge of Edinburgh with Syrian newcomer friends with whom we practice our Arabic and enjoy friendship.
But I also thought about how absolutely integral sharing is to life in Morocco. Not only as typified by the “favour bank”, my term for the continual cycle of bartering help and skills where money may never change hands, but also as practised by a number of friends and acquaintances. My friend Rakia, now a full-time teacher, still gives her time, knowledge and immense experience voluntarily to the non-profit of which she is President, Association Argania, to help young people secure brighter futures. Another friend, Haim, has devoted many, many years to the tireless restoration of the Slat Lkahal synagogue to bring the Jewish history of Essaouira a little closer to today’s population and tourists. And many, many of my non-Moroccan friends have given their time to English Street Class, a concept established by Mouhcine, a young teacher. Mouhcine brings together native English speakers to teach local people without the need for classrooms, qualified teachers or fancy equipment. In return, many of the volunteer teachers are now learning Darija, the local dialect of Arabic.
At the end of the reading, Benita read a section from the end of the book which concludes that sharing is not restricted to one generation, one demographic, one location, a particular gender or level of physical ability. But neither is it restricted to those with material possessions and wealth. We all have something to share.