The Women’s Forum addresses the sharing economy
Monique Leroux is President of the International Cooperative Alliance, Chair of the Board of Investissement Québec, and Chair of the Quebec Economic and Innovation Council
The Women’s Forum is unique, and its origins are well worth mentioning. In 2005, a French businesswoman, widely known for her forums and exhibitions, Aude de Thuin, was denied attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Her application to register was very simply ignored. She checked the list of participants only to find that women made up no more than 5% of that list. Faced with what she saw as an inequity, she decided to found the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society, which the press hailed as “Davos for Women”. Now a worldwide event, the Women’s Forum Global Meeting has achieved such a following that the Financial Times ranked it among the top five most influential forums worldwide.
But just because the Women’s Forum originated as a result of its founder’s discontent does not mean that it has become a political tool. At least not directly. In fact, its very existence is a political statement, because women, joined by more and more men, use the Women’s Forum Global Meeting to talk about business and economic development. Indeed, that more prosperous world to which we all aspire will only become a reality when the other half of the world’s population, women, are free to make a full-fledged contribution.
An inevitable phenomenon
I will have the pleasure of taking part in this year’s Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Deauville, along with a large Canadian Delegation. We will delve deep into an economic phenomenon that is changing everything: the collaborative economy, commonly known as the sharing economy.
Uber, Autolib, Getaround in personal transportation, Airbnb in accommodations, Kickstarter in start-up funding, TaskRabbit in providing labour, Zaarly in food services, Snapgoods to rent anything… These are but a few of the rising stars in this new economy.
The revolution is upon us. Take heed. A study by PWC covering five areas in the sharing economy (travel, transportation, funding, labour and streaming) estimates that spending in these sectors will rise from $15 billion in 2014 to $335 billion by 2025.
The answer to dehumanized globalization?
The phenomenon is irrefutably modern in its approach and in its design. In its approach, this economy, also referred to as peer-to-peer, is made possible through technology and the connectedness of individuals. In its design, this collaborative economy involves people, namely women, taking charge of their economic life. The term empowerment is often used. To some it means the chance to deal directly, and to others, control over financial assets (a car, a house, bank loans…).
It is not insignificant that this collaborative economy has emerged just as globalization is being challenged. Weary of being dislocated, of growing inequalities, of being removed from where decisions are made, many women and men around the world are demanding a more human economy, one in which they can have their say. Even Brexit and the protectionist overtones of today’s economic discourses reflect—at times awkwardly—a real malaise.
Virtues and questions
While this liberating, autonomous and local economy may appear virtuous, it also raises questions – about working conditions, about consumer protection, for starters. New economic paradigms appear so quickly the regulatory authorities can have trouble keeping up. And behind that appealing peer-to-peer curtain, some giants are already showing up. Fortune magazine estimates Airbnb’s value as being at least $30 billion! According to Forbes, Uber is worth $68 billion. These are hardly mom-and-pop enterprises.
For the so-called traditional businesses – hotel groups, financial groups, travel agencies and the like – this is a new form of competition, one that is difficult to pin down. These businesses are being overtaken from all sides. They will have to adapt quickly to avoid losing contact with young consumers, those millennials who are so keen on these new business models. Those businesses will also have to innovate if they are to remain relevant and current. For many of those with a long history and at many levels of decision-making, the challenge now lies in organizational agility, in becoming more dynamic, able to react more quickly, less bogged down by traditional ways of doing business.
The sharing economy is here to stay. Of that there is no doubt. Its qualities are incontestable. They include the fact that this type of economy appeals to many women. Women make up more than 50% of the supply and demand for Airbnb. Women are at the root of the success of collaborative enterprises such as Rent the Runway, in the fashion sector. Women are also more likely than men to submit projects on crowd funding sites. But the collaborative economy also raises questions that need to be answered.
For a sustainable collaborative economy
As president of the International Co-operative Alliance, and as president of a government-run investment company (Investissement Québec), I look at this phenomenon with a longing for a more sustainable economy that would allow for sound competition among different business models – call it a “plural economy”.
I believe it is essential to achieve a balanced approach that could foster entrepreneurship, in the greatest interest of the community – and of women. This should not simply be a facade for another variant on the concept of wealth concentration. It is also important to me that this collaborative economy be rooted in sustainable development. To this end, the propensity to favour local buying is noteworthy.
In this spirit, I cannot help but see a natural connection between this collaborative economy and the co-operative movement, which is grounded in strengthening the local economy and in meeting the needs of people and communities. Co-operatives and the collaborative economy share goals and principles that augur well for a close connection. This is a call to innovation by co-operatives and a challenge for social justice under this new business model.
The outlook is hopeful for some exciting discussions at the 2016 Women’s Forum Global Meeting.
Meet Monique F. Leroux at the 2016 Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Deauville, Wednesday, 30 November at 15:00