News & Views

Ellie Gummer

The Sharing Economy is the Next Railroad: Roundtable Discussion at the US Ambassador’s

Earlier this month a good friend of ours, Merilee Karr – founder of UnderTheDoormat, was invited to join the Ambassador of the United States, Matthew Barzun, along with other industry experts to discuss the sharing economy. There were the main talking points:

The next railroad
The sharing economy is transformational for society - just as railroads were over a century ago. It’s a move from a centralized and hierarchical society to a decentralised society BUT at scale. This is a fundamental shift creating flexible opportunities for more people and changing the principles of asset ownership.

Fundamental change
It is not a zero sum game. The new services are part of an ecosystem that is not necessarily a threat to existing competition, but a fundamental change in behaviours. Uber is a threat to personal car ownership rather than black cabs for example or Airbnb means that families will travel more, because homes better fit their needs.

Positive economic impact
It is generating positive economic impact for society. Setting its roots in the economic crisis, it is decentralizing income generation by creating a way to supplement income (renting a room or a home when people are away etc.) and providing income security, reducing the need for welfare. This creates aspirational opportunities for people to plan extra holidays, improve their homes or have money to spend on activities for their children.

It’s important as an industry to tell all the positive stories as traditional industries that feel under threat will always look to highlight what can go wrong with change. Change agents will persevere and the sharing economy will potentially be looked at in the future as another transformational shift in history.

Roundtable discussion led by:
Matthew Barzun, an internet pioneer and the American Ambassador of London, hosted an intimate gathering on the Sharing Economy. He was joined in leading the discussion by Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC and David Plouffe, Obama advisor and Uber Board member.