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Photo: Patrik Rastenberger

Published November 11, 2012

Who shares, wins

To share or not to share? According to Sitra’s Lari Rajantie, the increasing scarcity of resources will eventually mean that we won’t have a choice.

Sharing has become something of a mantra in the modern, globally connected world. We are invited to share our photos, our videos, the newspaper articles we read, our most trivial daily moments, and even our innermost thoughts. For those whose lives are approaching share saturation, the idea of the “sharing economy” might sound like a share too many.

But according to the convincing arguments of Sitra Leading Specialist Lari Rajantie, the sharing economy is something we are all going to be involved in eventually.

“It represents a huge promise,” he says. “By sharing, we can increase well-being with no more cost and no increased use of natural resources. It is a pure human-centric market economy solution to the increasing scarcity of natural resources. It will be a major phenomenon internationally, and all businesses must understand how it works in order to survive.”

In practice, the most obvious and familiar existing manifestations of the sharing economy include vehicle and accommodation sharing. On a recent visit to San Francisco, for example, Rajantie was able to stay in a private apartment made available for rent through an agency during its owner’s temporary absence. He then got around town using a car also made temporarily available while not needed by its owner.

Dare to share

Finns are famously possessive and territorial about their cars and cautious about renting out their property. But Rajantie’s visit to San Francisco opened his eyes to the potential variety of the sharing model. San Francisco, of course, is known for its receptive and open attitudes, but he believes that the foundations are in place in Finland to develop the sharing economy.  “The business environment in San Francisco is different from that in Finland, so the sharing economy is likely to be shaped differently in Finland. Finland’s strengths include a high level of trust between people and in the public sector – essential for a sharing economy.” 

He points out that there is also a tradition of sharing, most notably in cooperatives and public libraries, as well as good skills and infrastructure in technology, especially mobile services. There is also a stronger likelihood in Finland than in the USA of public sector funding and involvement. On the other hand, the existence of a good public transport network in Finland makes car sharing, for instance, less attractive – at least in the short term.

“The sharing economy requires a good level of trust among people – otherwise you won’t want to let others use your car,” says Rajantie.  “Current developments are based on the internet, mobile devices and location-based services. So good technology infrastructure is an advantage, but clearly not a requirement.

“Sharing takes place informally in local communities with no advanced technology. Sharing economies also appear in response to scarce resources, so they are not natural where there is abundance. However, in the future resources will be scarce everywhere,” he says.

Finland like other countries, has work to do to increase understanding and acceptance of the benefits of the sharing economy. The Finnish capital is notable, for example, for the absence of an affordable city-bike scheme such as those available in Copenhagen, Paris and London – another example of the sharing economy in practice. But Rajantie is optimistic: “Being a first mover creates a huge competitive advantage, and Finland currently has all it takes to be a first mover.”

Tim Bird