Over the past few weeks, I've received a handful of emails from sharing economy companies—Vayable, Getaround, Lyft—inviting me to sign something called the Peers Pledge: "I believe the sharing economy should be the biggest economic movement of the 21st century—by building an economy that benefits everyone. I pledge to be part of this movement by working to grow and protect the sharing economy, whenever I can."
At first, cynically, I assumed that Peers must be some sort of lobbying effort to help these companies (especially the transportation ones) battle regulation and government affronts. They are, after all, facing daily challenges from angry established interests, like the hotel industry and taxi industry.
But Peers, a new nonprofit founded by Natalie Foster (the cofounder of advocacy group Rebuild the Dream and the former head of Obama's digital team at Organizing for America), also represents the members of the sharing economy—not just the companies behind it.
The nonprofit's mission is threefold: to grow the sharing economy; to tell the stories of sharing economy participants to media, policymakers, and everyone else; and to protect the sharing economy with a platform that lets people self-organize around whatever they think is important. "We won't be hiring lobbyists and going in and doing the inside game. It's all hypothetical right now, but I imagine our members saying to mayors 'Hey, I really want bikesharing in our town, let's get it here,'" says Foster.
Right now, there isn't much for Peers members to do on the website. But Foster hopes that will soon change as people start sharing stories and organizing meet-ups. Presumably, the next time a sharing economy company is hampered by regulations, Peers members will rise up and protest—probably a more effective approach than having companies alone doing the same thing. (To some extent, this has happened on its own as fans of Uber have joined the fight to keep the company running in their cities.)
Peers is funded by "mission-aligned individual donors, foundations, and our membership," according to Foster. Sharing economy companies aren't contributing money directly; instead, they're promoting the platform through their considerable networks and email lists. Since launching more than two weeks ago, Peers has collected 2,000 members who have signed the pledge.
People of varied backgrounds have incentives to fight for the sharing economy. Foster cites a few: Katrin, a single mom in Europe making money from Airbnb; Greg, an academic in the U.S. who wants to see more research on the phenomenon; and Francesca, another U.S. resident who organizes the local Etsy community in her city. The sharing economy is thriving in certain areas—like densely packed coastal cities—more than others, however.
Foster has an idealistic view of what the sharing economy will look like 10 years from now: "A thriving bottom-up economy where technology helps facilitate person-to-person economic interactions around everything in our daily lives—around food, shelter, childcare, and cars—where we've figured out how we take the assets we have and use them as efficiently as possible." In this future, "cities embrace the economic model. They don't fear it, they embrace it." Having an advocacy group to speed things along can't hurt.