Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Author Interview: Benita Matofska, Generation Share

Benita Matofska is the author of Generation Share: The Change Makers Building the Sharing Economy, a new book from Policy Press. The book features stunning photographs by Sophie Sheinwald and interviews highlighting 200 case studies of the new worldwide sharing movement.

Benita talked with Rose City Reader about the sharing economy, Generation Share, and COVID-19:

What is the "sharing economy" referred to in the title of your book Generation Share: The Change-Makers Building the Sharing Economy?

The Sharing Economy is much more than a collection of new types of Silicon Valley backed ventures, it is wide-reaching and changing society as we know it. It is at once an economic system built around the sharing of human and physical resources and a mind-set. The media has presented a very narrow perspective of the Sharing Economy, one that doesn’t represent its wide reaching impact and the spectrum of sharing that is life-saving and is happening around the world. Generation Share evidences this.

I define the Sharing Economy simply: A Sharing Economy is a way of life, where we share available resources, however we can.

With the COVID-19 crisis, we are seeing how the Sharing Economy is enabling us to live and survive this pandemic. From peer-to-peer community food relief efforts, to volunteering support for essential healthcare and emergency services, to online collaborative tools or platforms enabling people to safely work from home and maintain livelihoods, the Sharing Economy is proving to be vital.

Your book is based on interviews with 200 people around the world dedicated to building a sharing economy. What was your process for finding and interviewing these people?

As a global expert and leader in the Sharing Economy since its beginnings in 2008-9, the Founder of non-profit The People Who Share and creator of Global Sharing Week, I have met many change-makers worldwide through my work in this field. The starting point for Generation Share was to draw on my global connections, networks and research conducted over the last decade. I have long been a collector of inspiring, positive stories of sharing and change-making. My process was to organize these into demographics and categories, to represent the breadth of the Sharing Economy, ensure broad coverage, a diversity of people and types of stories. For each destination visited, I identified a strong "feature story" and then contacted key organisations, social entrepreneurs, community activists and change-makers in those locations who have a focus on sharing, sustainability, community, social enterprise to unearth further stories. These organisations in turn connected me to change-makers. UnLtd India, for example, introduced me to several change-makers in their network including Ashok Rathod, our Football Sharer and Inir Pinheiro, our Village Sharer. The reality is that I uncovered a tsunami of change-making and inspiring people transforming society, many more stories than I could possibly include in the Generation Share book.

Selection was difficult and I made decisions based on the following criteria: the passion of the change-maker, the social impact of their work, how they represented a part or aspect of the Sharing Economy, whether their work propelled wider, sustainable systemic change, the potential visual impact of the story and the diversity of people, representing a broad range of demographics. For each change-maker in the book though, there are thousands of others who I could have featured. The 200 change-makers who appear are really a taster of who is out there. Each person interviewed for the book was asked a simple question: "What does Sharing mean to you?" The result is an array of different perspectives, that each make up the whole and demonstrate the broad spectrum of the Sharing Economy.

The photographs in the book capture the energy and excitement of your message. Tell us a little about Sophie Sheinwald, the photographer you collaborated with on this project, and how you came to work with her.

Several academic books have been written about the Sharing Economy and I wanted to do something different. I specifically chose to write a book that contained powerful visual messaging, in order to reach and resonate with broader audiences. I had known Sophie Sheinwald for several years both personally and professionally and saw in her work an ability to capture human emotion and the power of sharing or connection. I invited her to join me on this journey because I knew she would be able to make these incredible change-maker stories visible, in a deep, impactful, human way. The response has been extraordinary; a frequent comment from readers worldwide is that they feel they "know these people," that the stories speak directly to them and inspire change.

What is your professional background and how did it lead to your involvement in the sharing economy movement?

I had a successful 20-year career in broadcasting and journalism. I worked for BBC Radio, then television in the UK before relocating to New York for 8 years in 1995. I have always been a speaker, a storyteller, fascinated by creating positive societal change by showcasing stories of transformation and community. In 2009, I moved into the charity sector in order to help inspire positive impact on people and planet. As Head of Global Entrepreneurship for a (then existing) charity called Enterprise UK, I led a worldwide campaign inspiring young people to be entrepreneurial for the benefit of the planet and society at large. In 2010, I was invited to be a "counselor" for the One Young World Congress and had the very humbling experience of sharing a platform with world-leading human rights activist Desmond Tutu. Inspired by this experience, I realized, that although our planetary resources may be finite, our potential to share is unlimited and if we could unleash our unlimited potential to share, there is no end to what we could achieve. I pledged that my mission would be to build a worldwide movement based on the sharing of human and physical resources and campaign for a caring, sharing economy. In January 2011, I launched The People Who Share, a charity that cares for the planet and people in need by promoting and enabling the sharing of human and physical resources. Our flagship campaign is Global Sharing Week, which takes place each June and reaches and inspires over 100 million people worldwide to care for the planet and share resources with people living in hardship.

Who is your intended audience for your book?

The target audience for Generation Share is young, millennial, educated, socially conscious, English speakers. That said, the book showcases stories from 30 countries worldwide from a variety of demographics, cutting across age, financial status, urban, rural, developed, developing countries, gender and disability. The narrative, the visuals and the presentation are accessible and consequently, Generation Share is resonating with a broader audience from a variety of diverse backgrounds. In addition, given that this book is sustainably produced from 100% waste materials with each copy sold helping to educate a girl in the slums in Mumbai and plant a tree, audiences are able to ‘share’ in the positive impact created and make a difference with each purchase.

What will readers learn from your book?

Generation Share evidences the power of Sharing to save and transform lives. I believe that to change the world, we need to change the narrative. By showcasing these trailblazers and bringing their stories of positive change and activism to life through remarkable photography and first-hand interviews, readers are being inspired to create their own projects of change and know that change is possible. We all have change-maker potential and Generation Share is about unleashing this inner change-maker in order to positively impact society and the planet. Generation Share has also been dubbed "the big yellow book of hope," it’s a "dipping-in" book that readers can sample when they are in need of some hope and positivity, particularly relevant with the current COVID-19 crisis. We need connection (albeit mostly virtual) in these challenging times and I believe people are now seeing that the Sharing Economy has come of age.

Do you think there will be more interest in the sharing economy because of the COVID 19 pandemic?

Currently, we are seeing people turning to the Sharing Economy to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of necessity, people are having to come together (virtually) to help stop the spread of the virus, to support each other often with basic necessities, to reach out to those who are isolated and to help save lives. We are seeing a new kind of active, collective citizenship (sharing) emerging. From COVID-19 mutual aid groups, to community food drives, delivering food to those in quarantine or at risk, to support for vital frontline healthcare workers and virtual check-ins with family and friends. The Sharing Economy technology and platforms that have been developed over the last decade are providing lifelines across the world. From on-demand delivery services, to apps that identify surplus food and divert it to the most needy. Children and young people are benefiting from online teaching and collaborative classroom technology, remote working from home is possible, PPE is being designed and manufactured using the latest technology; pop-up hospitals are being built in under a week to answer intensive care demand; the whole economy has become reliant on cooperation, collaboration and innovative ShareTech. The Sharing Economy over the last 10 years has to a degree been a test-bed for how this pandemic is now being handled. We have seen partnerships across sectors, public, private, charity; groups of all types finding ways to work together virtually to handle the crisis. The Sharing Economy has a lot to answer for. At its heart is the desire to put people and society center stage.

Can you recommend other resources or organizations for people who want to join or learn more about the sharing economy?

The People Who Share has an online resource called The Share Guide. Albeit in need of updating, it has over 7,000 platforms, apps, sharing projects. Shareable has the largest source of online content about sharing. They have a great guide 10 Ways to Share During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

What did you learn from writing your book that most surprised you?

I learned that our collective potential to share is unlimited, world-changing and life-saving. Sharing has the potential to solve world hunger, climate change, and poverty. We have all the resources and capabilities, we just need to share. The coronavirus crisis is already demonstrating the positive impact we can have on the planet by dramatically reducing our consumption, international flights, transport etc. In a matter of weeks, we are seeing the planet breathe again; blue skies in China, fish in Venice…
I set out to discover who were the change-makers building the Sharing Economy and this is the conclusion from the book.

"This is a pan-generational, pan-geographical, pan-economic, pan-gender group. They demonstrate explicitly that Sharing knows no boundaries. Generation Share, rather than a demographic, is a mind-set, a lifestyle that we can choose to adopt. It represents a new consciousness that is emerging, an awareness that consumption doesn’t lead to happiness or wellbeing, but that through Sharing and harnessing the power of technology for good, we can create a more equal, human, happy, healthy, resource efficient, connected and sustainable economy.

What’s apparent is that Sharing is everywhere, if we look for it. It’s in our homes, our communities, our schools, our businesses, our cities, our villages. It’s within each of us, in unlimited supply. Sharing isn’t an age thing, a gender thing, a culture thing; it’s simply, a human thing. As Generation Share shows, to share is to be human."

What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an expert on the sharing economy?

The most valuable advice was given to me at the start of my journey over a decade ago. A fellow social entrepreneur told me to find my purpose and once I had identified that, use that to solve any problem or challenge I encountered. To this day, when faced with a challenge, I ask myself – "what difference would ‘sharing’ make to that situation / challenge?" It’s incredible how that serves me.

What else would you like people to know about your book or the sharing economy?

The production of this book is important. We deliberately sought out a brave, change-maker publisher, aligned with the values of Generation Share. Policy Press has been incredibly collaborative and has worked with us to produce a high quality, ethical product, made from 100% waste materials. Each copy sold educates a girl in the slums in Mumbai (via Aarti Naik’s Sakhi school for girls) and plants a tree (via the Eden Reforestation Project). The inks used in the book are organic and every aspect has been mindfully considered and fairly produced. The book is also designed and presented in a very accessible way, so people can easily read and connect with it.

What’s next? What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on COVID-19 Food Relief – a mass participation, emergency food campaign and call to action, to ensure that we let nobody in the UK go hungry in this crisis. The campaign is run by The People Who Share. We wanted to ensure that our most basic need is met and that anyone anywhere can help or be helped. Rather than duplicating what is already being done, we will act as an amplifier for the multitude of food projects and initiatives that are helping the most vulnerable. As The People Who Share, we will do what we do best by sharing information, ensuring a mass, collective effort to help as many people as possible survive this pandemic. Nobody should go hungry, especially not now.

I have also started a blog called Love in the Time of Corona, sharing positive stories of hope, social action and kindness at this extraordinary time. This may become a bigger project in and of itself. In terms of my public speaking all live events are obviously cancelled for now, but I’ll be doing online events, webinars and masterclasses over the coming months, focusing on change-making, inspiring positive social action and creating value for people and planet.



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