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For a “Responsible and virtuous” collaborative economy

By Thomas Busuttil (founder of Imagin/able)

For several months, the collaborative economy has been unleashing passions, commensurate with the upheavals caused by the digital revolution and its disintermediation of multiple sectors - from transport to the hotel industry, including insurance and real estate.

In the wake of the Terrasse report, which points to the necessary adaptation of the legal and tax framework to ensure a minimum of competitive and social fairness, it seems relevant to question the criteria of a responsible and virtuous collaborative economy model.


Let's start with what defines this new economy: collaboration, which is based on community and social ties.


If the collaborative sites all work thanks to the creation of a community, we can distinguish those which place at the heart of their mission the strengthening of the social link. A site like Blablacar has since its origin put this subject at the heart of its model: the level of social interaction (blah, blah blah or blah blah) that the user can choose for his journey is an excellent example of this, when Airbnb is oriented conversely, towards a “servicialisation” of its model. This first criterion therefore clearly shows the importance of the primacy of the relationship over the transaction, maintained and developed by the social bond.


The second criterion to take into account concerns the response to societal challenges.


Take the example of Heetch. This application, which connects non-professional drivers, exclusively between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., responds to at least three societal challenges: the opening up of the suburbs, the flexibility and safety of night travel, and the (non) driving of young people in poor condition. of drunkenness. With an economic model allowing to be at the same price as a public transport ticket, Heetch responds to a real societal need for mobility, completely complementary to taxis and night public transport. Conversely UberPop, which was a competitor of Heetch before being banned, was certainly thought of as a more economical and more flexible alternative to taxis, but without bringing real societal added value. In the latter case, the exchange value constitutes the first key to designing the model, whereas for Heetch, it is primarily the use value of the service provided that takes precedence over this exchange value.


Third relevant criterion: the governance and influence of contributors who sell, rent, barter or exchange their goods or services...


On this point, few sites allow their contributors to set the price of their goods or services, for example. Uber thus decided on a 20% price reduction a few weeks ago, completely unilaterally. In more hybrid systems, the example of Blablacar, which regulates the prices of journeys to avoid abuse by certain owners, is particularly interesting. Finally, La Ruche qui dit Oui goes even further by letting producers set their prices freely, proximity to the end customer and the strength of social ties guaranteeing “self-regulation”.


Fourth criterion: the distribution of value within the economic model.


It is in particular on this criterion that Michel Bauwens distinguishes in his latest book "the sharing economy" from the "economy on demand" (Save the world: Towards a post-capitalist society with peer-to-peer , Editions Les liens qui liberante). The first, like the Ruche qui dit Oui, brings together companies that have designed their model so that it guarantees a fair sharing of the economic value of the various contributors within their ecosystem. Conversely, platforms like are in a vision that could be described as ultra-liberal insofar as they seek at all costs a monopolistic status and capture most of the value created. This ultra-liberalism is accentuated by the last two criteria of our analysis. On the one hand, the opening of data and their possible remuneration, because it is clear that the billions of “data” collected by these sites have and will have an increasingly essential financial and extra-financial value. Again, most of the best-known sites do not share or pay for the provision of data. This is also one of the arguments that Accor chose to launch its reservation platform, accorhô, and thus differentiate itself from by allowing hoteliers and restaurateurs to retrieve customer data. On the other hand, risk-taking, yet one of the foundations of the entrepreneurship of current liberal models, is not or hardly assumed. Aided in this by what Jérémy Rifkin called zero marginal cost, platforms such as Airbnb, Uber or Booking bear almost no risk of developing their business, having no employees directly linked to their activity (except those used for the development of the platform) and not being the owner of the goods or services that they market. Conversely, sites like show the way by structuring a health coverage system for the self-employed.


This analysis thus shows the diversity of collaborative models and their desire to integrate, to varying degrees, criteria of economic but also societal responsibility. It could therefore allow customers or contributors of these platforms to better choose those they want to prioritize in terms of these criteria. But also for entrepreneurs of start-ups or already established companies to understand the differentiation criteria on which they can rely to create new, sustainable and virtuous development opportunities. Because collaboration is inseparable from the notions of reciprocity, sharing and equity. These new collaborative models are real sources of opportunities, provided that while developing, the new companies embodying these models do not forget the fundamentals.

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