Last month I spoke with Rachel Botsman, founder of the Collaborative Fund and author of What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. Botsman’s work explains how our traditional relationships of mutual assistance – things like sharing, trading and renting – have been entirely reinvented and scaled with the help of new network technologies.
Last year, as part of a Knight Foundation study on social networks, we talked about how various initiatives are trying to catalyze mutual support in communities. They seek to connect residents with one another, encourage them to discover latent assets in their community and build trusted, reciprocal relationships. Through our Technology for Engagement initiative, Knight has supported a number of projects that help neighbors connect with each other to exchange information, goods and ideas, including CommonPlace. Recently, we supported FavorTree, an online platform that allows community members to share, lend or swap goods, services, and information, and as a result, the community increases its social capital. Favor Tree is led by Micki Krimmel, the founder and CEO of NeighborGoods.net, a site that allows users to save money and resources by sharing stuff with their friends.
Four insights stood out from my conversation with Botsman that are relevant to efforts to build mutual support networks in communities.
1. Rethinking Proximity: Transactions of goods or services in a collaborative consumption setting tend to happen physically, even if the introduction is done remotely. This means that people have to be in the same space. We tend to think about proximity in terms of where people live, but there are a range of different places that end up being useful exchange points that fit into someone's everyday life, such as where they work, where they drop their kids off at school and where they go to church, etc. For example, FavorTree, , an online forum for sharing goods between community members, allows users to create a group for their small business, religious organization, or sports team in addition to their entire neighborhood.