The core premise of the collaborative economy is that the world is full of underutilised resources – skills, time, money, homes, pets, boats, parking spaces, even energy, transport and tools – that could be freed up or shared to enable access by more people and in doing so, enable both the owner, and the prospective user, with mutually beneficial return.
Previously, the difficulty of making privately owned goods available to others was too high an overhead. Digital technology changes that. We can now connect people who need or want something with people who can offer that service or product quickly, easily and (if the scale is right) cheaply.
Nesta has been examining the collaborative economy and its impacts since 2013. Insights from this research, along with our work on Digital Social Innovation, led us to believe that the collaborative platforms underpinning commercial giants like Uber and Airbnb could be used to specifically address social needs.
Nesta’s ShareLab Fund was established in 2016 to test and explore this idea and since then we have awarded nineteen grants to early stage innovators addressing social needs such as homelessness, transport poverty, breast milk donation and social care.
In October 2016 the ShareLab conference brought together people from around the UK and beyond to present the most exciting examples of collaborative platforms for social impact.
At the event we announced the first round of the ShareLab Fund which aimed to gather ideas and create connections between innovators.
This initial ShareLab Fund supported eight early stage organisations to develop and apply collaborative digital platforms to tackle real world challenges and create a positive social impact. The selected projects were provided with funding of up to £40,000 along with non-financial support to help them develop their ideas further in collaboration with the programme team.
These first eight social ventures were aiming to address a breadth of needs that range from helping the elderly access the care they need to live independently for longer, to community transport coordination, to increasing the accessibility of donated human milk to premature babies.
In Spring 2018 the second round of the fund supported six projects with grants of between £17,500 and £30,000. This cohort was selected to understand how collaborative digital platforms can be used to relieve pressure on public services and addressed areas including homelessness, social care and community transport..
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government were keen to act on the recommendations of the Scottish Expert Advisory Panel on the Collaborative Economy, as published in their paper in January 2018. In response, a third fund was developed in partnership to explore how Scotland could take advantage of the opportunities of the collaborative economy and learn from the previous two cohorts.
ShareLab Scotland issued grants of £15,000–£33,000 to five early stage projects working in the fields of transport, energy and community resources, with a specific focus on supporting the most vulnerable communities.