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What if sharing isn’t always caring? Problematizing the sharing economy

 In February, CCEC was honoured to have Hilary Henegar of Modo Car Co-op give the opening address to the Member’s Forum after our Annual General Meeting. Hilary inspired us with a whimsical tale of building a garden bed using the power of the sharing economy. Muscles were flexed, free wood was hauled, friendships were made, beers were drunk, and ultimately, plants were grown.

 It was beautiful. And that’s the point of the sharing economy: people-to-people connection circumvents commercial places of exchange. “Getting things done” becomes cheaper, more accessible, and more human.

 But does the “sharing economy” actually redistribute resources, or merely circulate them within the middle and upper classes? Last month, Ross Gentleman directed us to a blog post examining how we might ensure distributive justice in the sharing economy. Participating in the sharing economy is circumscribed in many ways: it may require having pre-existing social networks of people who have access to space, tools, time and know-how. It may require having “stuff” of your own to share. It probably requires access to the internet, since many sharing platforms (think Craigslist or Shareable) are online.

 In an age when Vancouver’s mayoral candidates promise things like city-wide wifi, this may not seem like a problem.

 But it can be, according to Roundtable participant Richard Marquez, a Chicano hailing from San Francisco’s Mission District and working as residential co-ordinator with Vancouver’s Lookout Emergency Aid Society. “In the Downtown  Eastside,” he explained, “it’s a digital divide here, it’s actually digital darkness for most of the people in our buildings –  few residents have laptops or can afford private access to the internet.” Herb Varley, a DTES resident, grassroots organizer, and longtime peer/advocate for Indigenous youth, also pointed out that many people in the DTES lack access to cell phones or any phone where they can make more than a two-minute phone call. If that makes government bureaucracy nearly impossible to navigate, it certainly shuts those people out of online sharing networks.

 If CCEC’s mandate is to be a leader in “economic change,” how can we help bridge that digital divide in Canada’s most stratified city? Many roundtable participants imagined CCEC harnessing the passion and skills of our membership and channeling them toward those who are disadvantaged. We heard about possible volunteer programs around financial literacy, ID card access, consumer counselling, and indebtedness.

 Emma Sutherland, director of Red Fox Healthy Living Society, put it this way: “People are asked to give their money all the time, but what people want to do often is to see that they’re making a real difference, and have that relationship. I know for a lot of our youth, if they meet somebody from CCEC, especially if they’re introduced by someone from Red Fox, they’re going to feel comfortable. Because people here [at CCEC] get class, race, poverty; they understand it.”

Would you participate in a financial literacy initiative at CCEC? Let us know! This option will be explored over the coming months, as CCEC’s Board of Directors drafts a new strategic plan.

 Nat Marshik is a writer, sauerkraut maker, and visual artist currently working for CCEC as a community engagement organizer. You can also find Nat’s blogs all in one place here

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