"Agent-Animated Wealth and Philanthropy: The Dynamics of Accumulation and Allocation Among High-Tech Donors."
By Paul G. Schervish, Mary A. O'Herlihy, and John J. Havens, Social Welfare Research Institute, Boston College. Final Report of the 2001 High-Tech Donors Study. 2001.
Through in-depth interviews, The Study sought to pinpoint the executives' motivations behind giving and the relationship between their business success and their charitable work. The Study looked to answer whether their views on giving represented a "new" philanthropy and whether the term "venture philanthropy" adequately captured their philanthropic approach.
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"America's Looming Philanthropic Revolution"
Paul G. Schervish. Comments shared by Paul G. Schervish at the GenSpring Family Offices 2007 Family Symposium. Published 2009. To provide some historical perspective on charitable giving, Paul offers highlights from an essay published in 1930 by John Maynard Keynes, the well-known British economist revered as one of the fathers of macroeconomics. In addition, he frams his comments in the context of the "4 M's:" Money, Meaning, Motives, and Moral Biography.
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“Capacity for Care: Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow”
John J. Havens & Paul G. Schervish. 24 January 2011.
Before we look at the post-boomers, we need to know that the boomers will keep fundraisers busy at least three more decades. They are wealthier in total and per household than any previous generation and are just now coming into prime giving ages. For now and for several decades, these boomers will increasingly become the prime prospects for charitable giving (both inter vivos and testamentary). They will receive the greatest wealth transfer in history. But a substantially larger transfer wealth will be given by them than was given to them.
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"Center on Wealth and Philanthropy Giving Model: Forecast for 2009"
John J. Havens and Paul G. Schervish. In Advancing Philanthropy Magazine. January/February 2010.
For the large diverse populations, such as that of the United States, household charitable giving is most strongly and consistently related to household income and wealth. Most national and state estimates of future charitable giving are based in large part on macro or micro values of income and wealth. Researchers can measure how changes in income and wealth, for example during the 2008-2009 recession, affect changes in charitable giving only when date on financial resources and their valuation become available. Fortunately, some of this financial information becomes available on a preliminary basis each quarter. However, there are no quarterly data on charitable giving. To date, researchers have been unable to generate estimates of household charitable giving (and their relationship to income and wealth) in as timely a way as may be useful for charities. Charities naturally would like to know estimates of charitable giving, for example, for the most recent quarter and to receive projections for the near future.
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The Cultural Horizons of Charitable Giving in an Age of Affluence: The Leading Questions of the 21st Century.
Paul G. Schervish. In this essay, I set out a new approach to philanthropic decision-making that will have the potential to shape the cultural horizon of wealth and philanthropy to the same extent that the forthcoming wealth transfer is shaping the material horizon.
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"Empowerment and Beneficence: Strategies of Living and Giving Among the Wealthy." Final Report of The Study on Wealth and Philanthropy.
Paul G. Schervish and Andrew Herman. Presentation of findings from the Study on Wealth and Philanthropy submitted to the T.B. Murphy Foundation Charitable Trust, July 1988. This report presents the findings of a thematic analysis of in depth interviews with 130 millionaires about their business, spiritual and philanthropic biographies. We review the research design and methodology of the Study on Wealth and Philanthropy; locate the study of wealth and philanthropy within the general framework of the sociology of money; explore the themes of identity formation and world-building; and examine sixteen distinct strategies of philanthropy among the wealthy.
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"Extended Report of the Wealth with Responsibility Study / 2000." Paul G. Schervish and John J. Havens, Boston College, March 2001.
The purpose of the research was to develop a base of knowledge about the attitudes and practices of wealth holders, particularly as they relate to charitable giving and volunteering, attitudes about social issues, socially responsible investing, trust and estate planning, and the transfer of values to heirs. Thirty-minute mailed questionnaires were sent to 400 wealth holders with net worth of $5 million or more. The final report is based on 112 households.
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"Geography and Generosity: Boston and Beyond."
Paul Schervish and John J. Havens. Boston, Mass: Boston Foundation, 2005.In September 2004, with funding form the Boston Foundation, the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College began a two-year study, Geography and Generosity: Boston and Beyond, focusing on individual generosity for regions, states, and metropolitan areas across the United States. This publication reports on the first year of research.
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"Giving in Today's Economy"
John J. Havens and Paul G. Schervish. Trusts & Estates. Published January 2009. Given the economic turmoil the United States is facing, this article seeks to articulate how the current economy will affect the philanthropic sector.
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"Gospels of Wealth: How the Rich Portray their Lives." Paul G. Schervish, Platon Coutsoukis, and Ethan Lewis. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 1994.
Twelve first-person narratives by the wealthy about their lives drawn from the interviews conducted for The Study on Wealth and Philanthropy. In addition to the transcripts, the book contains an introductory essay on "The Wealthy and the World of Wealth," a short thematic introduction to each narrative, and a concluding essay on interpreting autobiographical narratives.
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"Major Donors, Major Motives: The People and Purposes Behind Major Gifts." Paul G. Schervish. In New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising: Developing Major Gifts, edited by Dwight F. Burlingame and James M. Hodge. 16 (Summer1997): 85-112.
In this paper I attempt to explain what motivates the charitable giving of the wealthy, or more succinctly, the major motives of major donors. My research over the past twelve years has enabled me to distill an answer that is both simple and complex. The simple part is that what motivates the wealthy is very much what motivates someone at any point along the economic spectrum. The complex part about the charitable motivation of the wealthy is that those who hold great wealth and consciously direct it to social purposes invariably want to shape rather than merely support a charitable cause.
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"Making Money and Making a Self." Paul G. Schervish. In Principality and Individuality: The Moral Careers and Moral Biographies of the Conscientious Wealthy by Paul G. Schervish. Under contract with the University of Chicago Press, 1990.
I analyze entrepreneurship as a moral career, a joint venture of making money and making a self. Drawing on intensive interviews with 49 entrepreneurs, I discuss how entrepreneurs move through four stages of world-building and self-construction.
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"Migration of Wealth in New Jersey and the Impact on Wealth and Philanthropy"
In the first half of the decade 1999 - 2008, the net effect of migration for New Jersey resulted in a substantial increase in both household wealth and charitable capacity. In the second half, the direction of flow was reversed. The net effect of household migration resulted in a loss of substantial household wealth and expected amounts of charitable giving. The change was due mostly to a large decline in the number of wealthy households entering New Jersey between 2004 - 2008 and a moderate increase in the outflow of wealthy households leaving New Jersey. The result of the net loss in wealth was a net loss in charitable capacity, making it more difficult for charitable causes to raise money from New Jersey households.
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"The Mind of the Millionaire: Findings from a National Survey on Wealth with Responsibility."
Paul G. Schervish and John J. Havens. New Directions in Philanthropic Fundraising, Understanding Donor Dynamics: The Organizational Side of Charitable Giving. Edited by Eugene R. Tempel. Number 32, Summer 2001, pp. 75-107.
In this paper, we present some new findings on the intersection of wealth and beneficence, empowerment, and moral direction derived from the Wealth With Responsibility Study / 2000 carried out over two years from March 1998 to March 2000 for Bankers Trust Private Banking and, now Deutsche Bank Private Banking. The sample was 112 families worth $5 million or more. 28% were the extremely wealthy worth $50 million or more. The paper discusses the implications of the findings. What conclusions can fundraisers, nonprofits, estate planners, financial advisors, and other practitioners draw about how they can better help high-net-worth clients translate their financial wherewithal into an expression of their values in a way that responds to society’s needs?
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"The Modern Medici: Patterns, Motivations, and Giving Strategies of the Wealthy." Paul G. Schervish. Paper presented on the panel, "The New Philanthropists," at the inaugural forum, "What is 'New' About New Philanthropy," of the University of Southern California Nonprofit Studies Center. Los Angeles, January 20, 2000.
This paper addresses three aspects of the relationship between wealth and philanthropy that can serve as foundations for understanding and influencing what I consider to be a forthcoming golden age of philanthropy: the large and exponential growth in wealth, the motivational array that inclines wealth holders to contribute to charity, and the array of strategies they use in carrying out their philanthropy.
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"Money and Hyperagency: The Worldly Empowerment of Wealth."
Paul G. Schervish and Andrew Herman. Presented at the Conference on Money: Lure, Lore & Liquidity, Hofstra University, Nov. 1991.
This paper examines money in the form of financial wealth and moral capital. Our purpose is to articulate the distinctive characteristics of the wealthy as individual agents in contemporary American capitalist society. We argue that the wealthy are uniquely endowed with material resources and cognitive dispositions that enable them, both as a group and as individuals, to shape the rules, practices and positions of social structure.
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"Money and Magnanimity: New Findings on the Distribution of Income, Wealth, and Philanthropy." Paul G. Schervish and John J. Havens. Nonprofit Management & Leadership 8, no. 4 (Summer 1998): 421-434.
In this paper we address several additional empirical questions about variation in the level of charitable giving across and within categories of income. We interpret the findings to mean that the roots of generosity reside in an array of social-psychological factors that are more profound than the fact that people are rich or poor.
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"The Moral Biographies of the Wealthy and the Cultural Scripture of Wealth." Paul G. Schervish. In Wealth in Western Thought: The Case for and Against Riches, edited by Paul G. Schervish. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994. 167-208.
In this paper I seek to make sociological sense of how the wealthy make moral sense of their wealth. The leading questions are firstly, how the autobiographical narratives of the wealthy take shape as moral biographies in which the wealthy recount their exercise of virtue to make more of what is given them by fortune? And secondly, what this reveals about the underlying social meaning of wealth in American society?
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"New Findings on the Patterns of Wealth and Philanthropy."
Paul G. Schervish and John J. Havens. Working Paper. (1) An update on the patterns of wealth and philanthropy using the 2001 Survey of Consumer Finances and reporting in 2002 dollars; (2) An update on the patterns of bequests using 2000 IRS data updated to 2002 dollars; (3) An update of the wealth transfer projections in 2002 dollars; (4) 20-year and 55-year projections for total charitable contributions (bequests and inter-vivos giving in 2002 dollars).
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"The New Philanthropists."
Paul G. Schervish. Boston Sunday Globe's Big Idea Page, March 03, 2002.
With so much wealth in play, more and more individuals come to recognize at an earlier age that their financial resources exceed the material needs of themselves and their family. Our studies reveal that these wealth-holders are joining their older peers as the new philanthropists. They seek out rather than resist greater charitable involvement. They approach their philanthropy in the same entrepreneurial spirit with which they made their fortunes. And they are making philanthropy a key element in the financial morality they pass on to their children.
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“Philanthropy's Indispensable Ally” Paul G. Schervish, John Havens, and Albert Keith Whitaker. Philanthropy. Volume XIX, No. 3, pp. 8-9. May/June 2005.
Most observers now recognize that lifetime giving understandably increases as people move up the economic ladder. CWP research also suggests that it's not just the objective size of people's pocketbooks that matters but also their subjective sense of financial security. Financial security means trusting that, even in the face of major economic downturns, one's means will support one's desired standard of living for the indefinite future. For people who feel such security, philanthropic decisions really are different.
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"Philanthropy's Janus-Faced Potential: The Dialectic of Care and Negligence Donors Face."
Paul G. Schervish. Published in Taking Philanthropy Seriously: Beyond Noble Intentions to Responsible Giving. Edited by William Damon and Susan Verducci. Indiana University Press, 2006.
Wealth-holders are capable of both extraordinary care and extraordinary carelessness in carrying out their philanthropy. This Janus-faced potential of philanthropy is explored as the dialectic of care and impairment, negligence, or dominion. This chapter explores this dialectic, drawing on intensive interviews with wealth-holders about their lives and philanthropy.
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"Recent Trends in the Timing and Allocation of Charitable Giving."
Paul Schervish and John Havens. Philanthropy Magazine. Published September/October 2007. Examines recent trends in the field of philanthropy and their effect on charitable giving.
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"Religious Discernment of Philanthropic Decisions in the Age of Affluence"
My focus here will be on a religious discernment process as a wealth holders in the allocation of their wealth. The hope is that religious discernment – as a key element of religious giving – will shape the spiritual horizons of wealth and philanthropy to the same extent that findings on the ongoing wealth transfer are shaping the material horizons…
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“Social Indicators of Philanthropy by State 2008 Release”
John J. Havens & Paul G. Schervish.
In November 2005 the Boston Foundation Released its report, Geography and Generosity: Boston and Beyond, prepared by the current authors of this report, John J. Havens and Paul G. Schervish from the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College (CWP). One of the primary objectives of the 2005 report was to present three social indicators of charitable giving relative to financial capacity for the entire population of each state and the District of Columbia. This current repoty updates the 2005 and 2006 reports. Its indicators are for giving relative to income in the 2005 calendar year.
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"The Sound of One Hand Clapping: The Case For and Against Anonymous Giving." Paul G. Schervish. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations 5, no. 1 (1994): 1-26. (Republished here by kind permission of Voluntas.)
The paper draws on intensive interviews with 130 millionaires to explore the case for and against anonymous giving, to indicate a number of key findings about anonymous giving among the wealthy, and to describe the potential of anonymous giving to raise both the level of care and control in philanthropic relationships.
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"Taking Giving Seriously". Paul G. Schervish with essays by four philanthropists (Obie Benz, Peggy Dulany, Thomas B. Murphy, and Stanley Salett). Indianapolis: Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, 1993.
In analytical essays and personal narratives about having and sharing wealth, the contributors reveal clearly the two sides of philanthropy--its obligations and opportunities. Useful as a guide for active or potential philanthropists, as well as for scholars and fundraisers, this publication gives valuable insight into the motivation of the wealthy to give and the moral and philosophical elements of giving.
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"Is Today's Philanthropy Failing Beneficiaries? Always a Risk, But Not for the Most Part"
Paul G. Schervish, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Volume 36 Number 2 June 2007, pages 373-379, edited by Wolfgang Fielefeld and Dwight Burlingame, Sage Publlications. This paper is a commentary on a paper written by Ostander regarding the supply or donor-led character of philanthropic relationships.
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"Today's Wealth Holder and Tomorrow's Giving: The New Dynamics of Wealth and Philanthropy."
Paul G. Schervish. Journal of Gift Planning. Vol. 9, no. 3. 3rd Quarter 2005. Pp. 15-37.
Increasing numbers of individuals are approaching, achieving, or even exceeding their financial goals at younger and younger ages. A level of affluence that had been rare has come to characterize large groups and even whole cultures. In the context of an ongoing intergenerational transfer of wealth, the author examines demographic and spiritual trends that are motivating wealth holders to allocate an ever-greater portion of their financial resources to charity.
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"Towards a General Theory of the Philanthropic Activities of the Wealthy."
Paul G. Schervish, Andrew Herman, and Lynn Rhenisch.Annual Spring Research Forum of the Independent Sector, New York, NY, Mar. 13-14, 1986.
The most important theoretical point to be made about the distinctive contribution of wealth to an understanding of philanthropy is that wealth affords individuals the means for moving from being simply consumers of the social agenda to being producers of it. In economic terms, philanthropy helps translate those needs and preferences into effective demand by providing the means by which individuals or organizations can engage in concerted efforts to achieve their goals.
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"Varieties of Philanthropic Practice Among the Wealthy."
Paul G. Schervish and Andrew Herman. Annual Spring Research Forum of the Independent Sector, New York, NY, Mar. 19-20, 1987.
In this article, the authors provide a tentative answer to a vexing statistical question about the level of charitable giving in the United States: Why does the Independent Sector's (IS) Survey of Giving and Volunteering consistently estimate personal contributions to nonprofit organizations to be 65% to 75% lower than corresponding estimates reported by the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel (AAFRC).
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"Wealth and the Commonwealth: New Findings on the Trends in Wealth and Philanthropy." Paul G. Schervish and John J. Havens. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, vol. 30,no. 1, March 2001, pp. 5-25.
Drawing in large part on the1995 Survey of Consumer Finances, we describe the pattern of charitable giving by families at the upper reaches of income and wealth, as well as across the income spectrum. The overriding empirical motif is that the distribution of charitable giving is more highly skewed toward the upper end of the financial spectrum than previously documented, and that there appears to be a trend toward its becoming even more so.
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"Wealth in Western Thought: The Case for and Against Riches."
Edited by Paul G. Schervish. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994.
A series of seven essays by scholars from a range of disciplines analyzing the varied cultural consciousness of wealth from the vantage point of scripture, ethics, classical and Reformation literature, history, economics, and sociology. Each essay explores an aspect of the complex and often contradictory cultural inheritance of economic sentiment, feeling, and belief that frames the culture of wealth in contemporary America.
“Wealth Transfer in an Age of Affluence: An Interview with Paul Schervish.” Interviewed by Pamela Gerloff. More Than Money Journal. Spring 2003. pp. 5-10.MTM: You have written elsewhere that, “The leading cultural and spiritual question of the current era is how to make wise decisions in an age of affluence.” Is that what you’re suggesting—that people in our society now have so many choices that wisdom is needed in making them?
Schervish: Aristotle understood that the goal of life is happiness—you could also say love , unity with the divine presence, or a whole range of things, but let’s just say that his term is one working definition of the goal of life. Happiness is achieved if you can close the gap between where you and those with whom you identify and care about are and where you and they would like to be.
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"Wealth with Responsibility Study/2000."
This study sponsored by Bankers Trust Private Banking was supervised by SWRI in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts at Boston Center for Survey Research. The purpose of the research was to develop a base of knowledge about the attitudes and practices of wealth holders, particularly as they relate to charitable giving and volunteering, attitudes about social issues, socially responsible investing, trust and estate planning, and the transfer of values to heirs. Thirty-minute mailed questionnaires were sent to 400 wealth holders with net worth of $5 million or more. The final report, based on 112 households, is available for download.
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"Wherewithal and Beneficence: Charitable Giving by Income and Wealth." Paul G. Schervish and John J. Havens. In Cultures of Giving II: How Heritage, Gender, Wealth, and Values Influence Philanthropy. New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, edited by Charles Hamilton and Warren F. Ilchman. 8 (Summer 1995): 81-109. Previous research that addressed the giving patterns of rich and poor has been based on data about income rather than net worth. The Consumer Finances Survey enabled us not only to extend the income analysis to the highest brackets but also to provide, to our knowledge, the first systematic findings on wealth and philanthropy.
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About a year ago, a weather-beaten, middle-aged man asked me for money on the platform of the Mountain View Caltrain station. I gave him three dollars. He thanked me, and asked what I did for work. I introduced myself, learned his name, Jeff, and we shook hands. I pulled out a card from my computer bag, and handed it to him as I told him that I publish an online magazine about sharing.
Jeff lit up, “Oh I get that – when you’re homeless, it’s share or die.”
That got my attention. I asked him to explain. Jeff said that a year earlier, his girlfriend drank herself to death alone in a motel room. He said she wouldn’t have died had someone been with her. For him, isolation equaled death.
Jeff explained his perspective further, that he had no problem giving his last dollar or cigarette to a friend, that it comes back when you need it. But there are those who just take. You stay away from them.
I asked him about the homeless in Mountain View, which is in the middle of prosperous Silicon Valley. Jeff said there are 800 homeless people in the city, and that each has a similar story.
That conversation got under my skin. I shared it with Malcolm Harris the next day on a call about this book. Half-joking, I suggested Jeff’s phrase, Share or Die, as a title. At the time, I thought it was over-the-top. I wasn’t serious. But, thankfully, Malcolm began using it in correspondence about the book. It stuck.
My conversation with Jeff marked a turning point in my thinking. I had thought of sharing as merely smart because it creates positive social, environmental and economic change through one strategy.
But Jeff ’s story and the directness of his phrase – share or die – broke through my intellectualization of sharing. Jeff helped me see something that I was blind to, even though I knew all the facts – that sharing is not just a smart strategy, it’s necessary for our survival as a species. This has always been so, but today our condition is especially acute.
We’re using 50 percent more natural resources per year than the earth can replace, and the global population and per capita consumption are growing. And despite the overconsumption, countries all over the world are being rocked by social unrest because of how unevenly resources are distributed. The social contract is in tatters, and threats to peace and security seem likely to escalate. It’s now glaringly obvious to me that we need to learn to share on a global scale fast, or die.
But the threat is not only one of biological death. Those like me – who are in no danger of starving anytime soon – face a spiritual death when we act as if well- being is a private affair, deny the influence we have on each other, and gate ourselves off from the rest of humanity with money and property. We can neither survive nor live well unless we share.
The path to this realization has been slow but steady. I started down it seven years ago when I deliberately shifted my life toward sharing. This shift led to co-founding Shareable magazine two years ago, where I’m publisher. I could never have gotten to the place where I realized how fundamental sharing is to the human experience without my work at Shareable. I’ve been able to see how my own personal narrative connects with an emerging collective narrative about how to thrive as a person within a commons-based society. I hope that our work helps many others see how they can be individual successes within a larger collective success through sharing.
While this consciousness is new to me, we understood the importance of storytelling to movement building when we started Shareable. From the beginning, Shareable’s editorial strategy was to affirm those who already share – the sharing community – while at the same time moving sharing into mainstream dialogue through emotionally engaging stories about ordinary people who build rich lives, successful enterprises, and vibrant communities through sharing.
In our minds, the sharing community encompasses all of humanity – though we wanted to speak to influencers in the “developed world” who sensed an impending societal resource crisis or had already experienced a personal crisis and were seeking new ideas about how to provision society or themselves. This bias reflects not only the background of Shareable’s founders, but also the belief that our cohort has an outsized influence on society, whether deserved or not, which it is using to do a lot of damage.
Over time our focus has sharpened. Since we launched, we’ve increased our focus on topics with one or more of the following characteristics: 1) Contexts where more sharing could have profound impacts; 2) Topics that already generate a lot of dialogue; and 3) Domains where there are a lot of interesting edge cases. This has led to more emphasis on three areas: the young people in their twenties who are called “Generation Y”; cities; and “collaborative consumption,” often spurred by technology startups. Together, these focal areas address questions about who, where, and how the developed world might share in the future.
1. Generation Y
If the commons are to triumph, it’s going to need commoners. This is where the next generation comes in. There’s a strong argument that Gen Y is the generation that can bring a shareable world to scale. Roughly 100 million strong in the United States alone, Gen Y grew up on the Internet and brings its values and practices, including sharing, into the real world. In 2009, the marketing firm TrendWatching called them Generation G (for “generous”) and said they are accelerating a cultural shift where “giving is already the new taking.” The people of Gen Y may not reach their full sharing potential until later in life, but there are promising indicators:
- A recent UCLA poll found that over 75 percent of incoming freshman believe it’s “essential or very important” to help others in difficulty, the highest figure in 36 years.
- The same poll found that “working for a cause” was a top career objective, ranking it higher than making money.
- Eighty-three percent will trust a company more if it’s socially and environmentally responsible.
- The Arab Spring, the UK movement against public service cuts, 15-M in Spain, and the Occupy Wall Street movement were arguably spear- headed by this generation.
Business strategist Gary Hamel believes that this massive generational force, which outnumbers baby boomers, promises to transform our world in the image of the Internet, a world where sharing and contributing to the common good are as normal as breathing. William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of Millennials Rising, believes that Gen Y is a hero generation, coming of age in a time of crisis – a crisis they’re already helping to resolve, largely by applying the tools and mindset of sharing.
This possibility inspired Shareable to produce Share or Die, an anthology of personal narratives, analyses, cartoons, and how-tos by Gen Y to help Gen Y thrive as they attempt to remake the world. It’s fitting that the title was inspired by a homeless man, for we are moving toward a condition of collective homelessness through the destruction of our environment.
2. Shareable cities
A revolution is underway in our conception of cities. It couldn’t come any sooner, considering that 2007 was the first year in human history that the majority of human beings lived in cities. Perhaps as a result, cities are becoming the focal point for our collective hopes and dreams, as well as for all kinds of innovation needed to avert worsening environmental and economic crises.
In the past, we tended to see cities as dirty, unnatural, and isolating places; today, citizens and urban planners alike are starting to see their potential for generating widespread well-being at low financial and environmental cost. There’s increasing appreciation for the benefits of public transit and urban agriculture. People want the streets to make room for pedestrians and bicyclists, and for civic engagement. The very thing that defines a city – its population density – makes sharing easier, from cars to bikes to homes.
Perhaps in response, there seems to be a boomlet in technology that helps First World urbanites understand their environment, share, and use resources more efficiently. IBM has based a massive Smarter Cities campaign around this theme. But it may be that the most successful innovations will spring from the megacities of the developing world. In the absence of vast financial resources, these cities may do as Bogotá, Colombia, did and prioritize human well-being over economic growth through investing in commons such as schools, parks and public transportation. Can a city become a happiness commons? Former Bogotá mayor Enrique Penalosa, who pioneered a number of public-sector civic innovations, including “participatory budgeting,” knows from experience that it’s possible.
At Shareable, we’re convinced that we need to see cities as places to foster commons, and not just markets. To explore that idea further, we started a 20-part series, “Policies for a Shareable City,” to outline a policy framework to support urban resource sharing, co-production and mutual aid in the context of a developing-world. The regulatory environment should not just support markets, but also commons-based activity involving food, transportation, housing, governance and more.
3. Collaborative consumption and sharing as a lifestyle
The ways to share in everyday life seem to be multiplying like rabbits, but maybe the Great Recession is just forcing all of us to pay more attention these days. There’s car sharing, ride sharing, bike sharing, yard sharing, coworking, cohousing, tool libraries, and all kinds of cooperatives – the list goes on. There are also ways to share power, dialogue and knowledge, such as workplace democracy, citizens’ deliberative councils, “unconferences” (open, self-organized gatherings) and “world cafés” (focused deliberations).
There are also scores of new Internet startups that are helping people meet real needs. For instance, there’s Airbnb (peer accommodations), Thredup (kids clothes), Chegg (textbook rentals), Neighborgoods (general sharing), RelayRides (peer-to- peer car sharing), Hyperlocavore (garden dating), Zimride (ride sharing), and many others.
Taking all of these into account, it’s entirely possible to build much of one’s life around sharing. You could live in a cohousing community, work in a co-op, grow food in your neighbor’s yard, and get to the open space town council meeting via your car share. A shift in emphasis from ownership to access – taking possession of an asset only when we need to use it – can liberate us from the burdens of ownership such as the high costs of maintenance, insurance, taxes, legal liability, storage and disposal.
The positive dynamics of car sharing suggest what’s possible if the economy is restructured for access instead of ownership. Carsharing is the decades-old archetype of the sharing economy, but it has arguably only come of age recently with mature technology, a global footprint, and with the first publicly traded car sharing company, Zipcar. With maturity comes statistics: A 2010 UC Berkeley survey of 6,281 North American carsharing members showed that over 50 percent of households who didn’t already have access to a car joined to get access to one, and that the total vehicle count in the sample dropped by 50 percent after joining. The same study showed that one carsharing vehicle replaces 9–13 owned cars.
A 2011 eGo Carshare study showed that car travel by members dropped an average of 52 percent after joining. The American Public Transportation Association estimates that people save an average of $9,900 a year for each car eliminated from a household. The Intelligent Cities Project estimates that a city can keep $127 million in the local economy annually by reducing the number of cars owned in a city by 15,000.
These findings suggest that collaborative consumption can significantly broaden citizen access to resources, dramatically reduce resource consumption, save citizens big bucks, and strengthen the urban economy all through one strategy – sharing.
While sharing and commons are likely as old as we are as a species, I can’t help feeling that these few examples show that something radically new is afoot. Could it be that the confluence of a new generation, new technologies and a rapidly urbanizing global population are setting the stage for the emergence of a commons- based global civilization? There’s no way to know for sure, but by understanding our roles in the struggle for the commons and the tectonic shifts about us, we have a better shot at meeting the ultimate challenge – sharing the world’s resources. For it becomes clearer every day that our survival depends on increasing our capacity to share. The phrase “share or die” may shock, but it’s the shock of the truth.