The sharing economy is rapidly moving from buzzword to legitimate business model. From Amsterdam, the first European Sharing City, to Sharing City Seoul in South Korea, people are able to share everything from cars to empty bookshelves.
Perhaps surprisingly, for a country that’s never had a self-service or DIY culture, it’s also taking off in India. Facilitated by the rise of smartphones and high-speed 4G internet, urban Indians are increasingly commuting to work using ride sharing and pooling services. Fashion-forward young people are now renting high-priced designer clothes, and opening up vacation homes to travellers has emerged as a new way to earn parallel income. Even rural India is turning to the sharing economy to solve long-standing problems, with farmers using smartphones to rent agricultural equipment which they otherwise cannot afford to buy.
In its urban centres, the thriving start-up and gig culture is shunning expensive real estate in favour of co-working and the networking opportunities it provides. WeWork, a global network of collaborative spaces, which has presence across three Indian cities – NCR, Bengaluru and Mumbai, exemplifies this with over 12,000 members across its spaces in India.
Collaborative workspaces such as these may well help smart cities of the future deal with the challenges of rapid urbanisation–demand for space, sustainable growth, and an increasing carbon footprint–through a ripple effect. Glimpses of this can already be seen in the findings of WeWork’s first economic impact report [pdf], which highlights the impact of its co-working spaces on individuals, businesses, neighbourhoods and cities.
For starters, sharing a workspace has saved businesses thousands of dollars on rent, maintenance, and operational costs. This is particularly beneficial for small enterprises who gain a competitive edge with lower overheads. The impact is equally strong on large enterprises. Large enterprises are increasingly looking at moving to collaborative spaces in a bid to attract top, diverse talent and infuse fresh ideas into their day-to-day operations. This environment is especially conducive for enterprises trying to function with the vigour of a start-up.
This impact also spills over into surrounding neighbourhoods. By attracting individuals and businesses, these spaces rejuvenate the neighbourhood with new restaurants and shops. A more direct impact comes simply from its focus on design ergonomics. By being 2.5 times more space efficient than a traditional office, WeWork frees up room for new people, businesses and jobs in the neighbourhood.
Another notable find by the study was a reduction in a city’s carbon footprint by using existing space and reducing the need for additional construction. What’s more, the presence of WeWork in cities has led to the formation of innovation clusters, brought about by the coming together of entrepreneurs, small businesses, and global enterprises. This is having a real impact. For every 10,000 members, 10,000 more jobs are created through indirect and induced spending.
This multiplier effect is visible in the taxes generated in a city. In New York alone, it generates 2% of the city’s GDP. So popular is it that if all of WeWork’s members were considered to be a single company, it would be end up as the largest private sector employer in New York City.
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