Neal, you are one of the founders of Shareable. What is your platform all about?
Shareable is a nonprofit with a mission to empower everyone to share for a more joyous, resilient, and equitable world. We publish an online magazine with sharing news, guides, and how-tos. In fact, we have the largest collection of sharing how-tos on the web, everything from how to host a clothing swap to starting a worker cooperative. We serve more than 50,000 people per month through our site. And we strengthen the sharing movement through events and community organizing.

Please tell us a little bit about your background!
I’m a refugee from the corporate world. I earned a Master’s degree at Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture & Technology program, which helped me understand the impact of the internet on society. Later on, I worked as an analyst for an investment bank and as a strategy manager for DHL. In 2004, I had an epiphany and decided that I wanted to live a different life; a lifestyle based on sharing. By that time, sustainability was about to go mainstream in San Francisco, but no one was talking about sharing. For me, the people and community aspect was missing, so I started to organize projects and through this met those who would later co-found Shareable with me.

Logo of Wikispeed,  photo: Wikispeed
Logo of Wikispeed, photo: Wikispeed

Why is sharing so important?
Sharing is not a trend – it has always been around. We are social beings and sharing is an ancient form of producing, of living together. What we are facing now is a re-invention, a revival. More people than ever live in cities and are connected by cell phones and the internet. Sharing is being re-defined for the times we live in and represents an incredible opportunity to remake our society. In the western world, there is a hunger for meaning and purpose. Consumer culture doesn’t offer this. The shareable lifestyle is not a protest. It’s a practical, constructive, and creative way of building new institutions. Right now, we are confronting a convergence of crises: economic, social, and environmental. Sharing is a strategy that addresses all of these simultaneously.

So, what is the status quo of sharing in the US? Could you compare it to other countries?
The sharing movement is a global one; it is visible in nearly every sector of society. It has a very broad base and people from all walks of life are exploring it right now. At the moment, there are more than 200,000 open source software projects and Creative Commons has made it easier for creators to share their work. Since 2002, they have licensed more than 130 million creative works in 50 countries. Meanwhile, internet start-ups that help us share resources are booming. Airbnb is the largest virtual hotel on the planet and co-working, car sharing, or bike sharing are experiencing their own global booms. When it comes to the tech side of the sharing economy, San Francisco is probably the center of things while France catalyzed the global boom of bike sharing with the success of the Velib system starting in 2007.

Analog coins (analogico monedas), photo: Goteo
Analog coins (analogico monedas), photo: Goteo

Where do you see the latest tendencies in collaborative consumption?
Crowdfunding platforms are a big thing. Platforms like Goteo or Kickstarter attract more and more supporters and are really powering the movement. You can find all kinds of projects to support, be they civic, tech, design, or architecture-oriented. The new culture that is emerging is no longer about judging and competition. It revolves around questions like: What can we create together? How can we help each other? That, in itself, is an amazing development.

What open source platforms should we keep an eye on?
There are many interesting projects going on right now. For one, there is Wikihouse, an open source residential home construction kit. It aims to allow anyone to design, download, and print CNC-milled houses and components to be assembled with minimal formal skill or training.

Wikispeed is also interesting – a volunteer-based, automotive-prototyping company. Their aim is to create safe, low-cost, ultra-efficient, and road-legal vehicles using new open source production processes. Arduino is an awesome open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software – a hugely successful open source project.

WikiHouse, photo: WikiHouse
WikiHouse, photo: WikiHouse

Where should people head for valuable inspiration and information on sharing? How do you bring the movement together?
On our website, we have this very useful how to share guide with all kinds of advice on how to connect, how to save money, or how to inspire. Furthermore, we have set up a global calendar with all kinds of sharing events, conventions, and conferences. Now, the next step of the sharing lifestyle is to make the shift from the digital sharing to the real world sharing.

Neal, thank you very much for your time and all the best for the future!

For more inspiration, check out Neal Gorenflo’s book Share or Die and explore Shareable.

Interview: Romy Uebel
Header image: Construction of a WikiHouse, photo: WikiHouse