Beyond profit, the social value in the collaborative economy


You suffer a cardiac arrest in London on your way to work. A passer by calls 999. An ambulance is dispatched, making its way through the rush hour traffic. At the same time, an alert is automatically issued to the three nearest qualified first aiders. One responds and is at the scene in two minutes.


Congratulations. Your chances of surviving have just gone up 50%.

What just happened? You were the beneficiary of a collaborative economy that can make a real difference to people’s lives. You drew from an invisible, connected network of people who had something you needed, and were nearby when you needed it. You didn’t need a drill or a bed for the night or a car ride; in this scenario you needed someone who had the skills to save your life – and you needed them quickly. GoodSAM is now live in London, and Nesta is very proud to have supported its development.

This is an example of what we mean when we talk about growing the collaborative economy to generate more social value and public benefit.

The commercial sector has been highly creative in thinking about applications for the collaborative economy, with billions being pumped into platforms and marketplaces to share and rent a thousand different things. (Five years ago, who knew there would be a market for sharing dogs?)

But there are also a thousand different ways that digital infrastructures and platforms could be used to tackle very different kinds of needs: the needs of people, families, communities and local governments. And not just in times of crisis.

Despite some social enterprises and local governments coalescing around this idea, and some existing large scale platforms showing how their networks of users can deliver social value (such as Airbnb’s Disaster Response), the opportunity remains vastly underexplored. We think that needs to change.

To draw attention to  the potential of the collaborative economy to drive social and environmental value, in November Nesta will be hosting ShareLab, a one-day event bringing together over 200 policymakers, entrepreneurs, innovators and researchers to better understand how public services, civil society and the private sector can engage with, develop and harness collaborative platforms for good.

Joined by politicians and practitioners from across the UK and Europe, ShareLab will highlight the key opportunities, showcase exemplar initiatives, and debate some of the challenges and questions. Here is a taste of what we’ll be exploring…

Read more on Nesta

Picture from Pexels