September 12, 2014 Rainmaker

The Heart of Sharing and Caring

Hand holding a heart

Written by Valerie Anderson

The emerging Sharing Economy sparks new ways of approaching age-old problems. However, if the Sharing Economy settles for simply monetizing the things people own, without capturing the essence of our desire for connection, then it offers us nothing more than the utilitarian value offered by tools such as eBay, Craigslist or even the Pennysaver newspapers of decades past.

This concern is by no means new. Rachel Botsman holds on to a years-old post-it note with the simple word “HUMANNESS,” reminding her – and us – to not let this new space lose or dilute its power to humanize the ways we live.

A trifecta of values gives power to the Sharing Economy: collaboration, community and connection. These three hold within them a capacity to re-imagine and re-shape the world. At their best, these values enable us to nurture our deepest human desire for knowing and being known, caring and being cared for.

In Southern Africa, this is articulated in the African philosophy of Ubuntu. This beautiful Zulu phrase sums up the heart of our shared human-ness: Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu, which means, “A person is a person through persons.” In other words, I find the fullness of my being human in the ways I interact with those around me. My humanity is reflected back to me through your humanity. We become fully ourselves through what happens in the spaces between us.

Through recognition of the value of what happens in the spaces between us, the Sharing Economy can transform how we produce and consume, and how we solve social problems. It has already begun to reclaim the ways we

coexist – be together
communicate – speak together
collaborate – work together
cohabit – live together
co-create – make together
commune – eat together

But it can do more.

What is the next frontier for the Sharing Economy? Perhaps it’s the way we contribute – how we give together. Reciprocity connects people to each other and to themselves. It is through simple acts of giving and receiving that we connect most deeply with our shared humanity. What if the heart of sharing began to inform how and why and where we give? What if our benevolence flowed organically from our desire for collaboration, connection and community? What if we gave within our community to people we know and with whom we have an ongoing connection?

The old models of professional third-party brokering of charitable giving have been unable to keep pace with the technological advances of our society. Despite the fact that Americans spend an average of five hours a day online, only around 6% of individual benevolent contributions last year were given online.

Why is it that we still do so much of our giving through the age-old mechanisms? We still predominantly give by writing checks, dropping a few coins in a bowl, or filling out those lick-and-post envelopes and mailing in our donations. We often have no idea who, exactly, our contributions will help. We settle for an uneasy hope that our generosity will find its way to a needy recipient with a minimum of overhead cost scraped off in transit.

We’ve used technology to revolutionize the way we eat, get around, share and borrow things, get news, connect with friends and communicate. Why not allow it to change the way we give? How can we marry the power of the Sharing Economy with the power of technology?

In all likelihood, many of us have at one time or another desired a way to give that connects us more intimately and personally with where and how our resources are being used. We seek the confidence that our contributions are going directly to where they are most needed—to the person or family or community in need —rather than to overhead costs. As Angela Eikenberry notes, people are increasingly “seeking more engaged, transformative and unconventional modes of giving.” What if there was a frictionless way for us all to collaborate in giving generously to the people we care about? What if we could transform the painful economic realities we see in the lives of the people around us into stories of success and strengthened bonds of friendship?

The social media explosion underlines the importance we place on our interactions with each other. Unfortunately, technology is a double-edged sword. Increasing hyperconnectivity is driven by phenomenal technological innovation, but too often we are left with a concurrent sense of deep fragmentation. More connected than we have ever been, we still long for the face-to-face, for unmediated interaction. We yearn for the personal reconnection of our disconnected world.

We desire personal connection with those we give to. We want to know who we are helping. And we want to help those we care about – family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. The closer the connection between the giver and the receiver, the more power there is in the gift and in the act of giving.

At Common Change, we believe our value is found less in what we have to give, or share, and more in our relational connectivity. Countless organizations have served the common good through service and benevolence; few have got to really know those in need. The way we give should follow the trends of “de-organization” which underpin the Sharing Economy. For too long, our benevolence has been dominated by third party organizations that act as brokers of charity.

At Common Change, we seek to be not so much an organization offering services as much as a community offering practical care and friendship. We believe the gift of greatest value is giving of ourselves relationally. At some point, we all know neighbors, friends and families members who could use a little help: insurmountable medical bills, car troubles, natural disasters, the loss of employment, or any number of unexpected curve-balls life throws our way. We know we can do more together than we can alone. And we want to tap into our time, talents and treasure in helping those we care about. What if we individually and collectively had something to offer those we love during their time of need?

In our society, money is tied up with complex power dynamics. We believe it is vital that we work to eliminate the deep power dynamics that exist in questions of money: where our worth and our voice is tied to our economic status, where the value of our gift is tied to the monetary size of the gift, and where only those who have much are able to give meaningfully. By giving together with people we trust and by giving of our time and talents in addition to our treasure, individuals of less wealth are able to participate in benevolence at a more significant level.

We believe that there is enough, but the old economy of sufficiency has been skewed by the pursuit of more. Over-consumption, dissatisfaction, greed, and a short-sighted view of creation care has led us to a world that looks like it operates out of principles of scarcity. When we shift perspective and begin from belief that there is enough, we are emboldened to live out of a sense of satisfaction and security versus fear and desire. We can look boldly into the lives of others, realizing that we are not limited by scarcity or competition for limited resources or crippled by mindsets and notions of lack of resources.

We need no longer be driven by a need to monetize all we have. We can respond generously to those around us. We can hold all we have – our stuff, our time, our resources, our expertise and networks – with open hands. We no longer look for what we can get back. We pursue what we can give back.

Who we give with is as important as who we give to. The time is ripe for a relationally-connected, easy way to give with people we know, to share with people we care about.

Common Change is using technology to pave the way for this revolution in giving.

Through Common Change, users create giving groups and invite others to join them, pool money by contributing to the common Group Fund, and ultimately present, discuss, and meet needs of people they know personally. Common Change groups are user-funded, and need requests are user-presented and user-met. Giving is simple. The structure and procedures are easy to maintain, and there is no overhead nor any administrative responsibilities (or fees).

When we invite others to join us in coming up with holistic solutions together, through a process of democratic decision-making, we end up with richer solutions than we could on our own. We get to leverage our shared resources – our time, our energy, our skills, our knowledge and our personal and professional connections and networks – to make a greater impact together than we could alone.

As President Obama said at Nelson Mandela’s funeral late last year, “We achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others and caring for those around us.” Let’s change the way we give: person-to-person, hand-in-hand.

Common Change allows you to pool money with people you know, to share with people you care about. We believe that who we give with is as important as who we give to. The platform allows you to contribute in a collaborative way so that your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers are not economically isolated when they face hard times. We allow you to share not just the money you contribute but your voice, experience, wisdom, time, talents, and connections in helping people around you. Common Change allows you do it all via a platform that engenders trust and ensures transparency and accountability, supporting your desire to spend your time and money on what matters most—the people you care about.

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