Europe’s unique opportunity to capitalise on the crowd economy: 4 considerations

The crowd economy (aka sharing, gig or collaborative economy) which is seeing both global adoption and resentment, is a new crop of innovative business ideas that connects people through digital platforms and of course, billion-dollar company evaluations.

The disruptive models that have emerged have shaken up laws, policies and rendered older systems obsolete. It is remarkably impressive that an emergent model is making a large economic impact in different sectors across the globe, including Europe.

While the region is seen as a huge proponent of the mindset we are also witnessing some of the most pushback to sharing economy services. While world economies are still trying to get their swagger back after the Great recession, Europe is at the cusp of realising its potential on the tailwind of the collaborative or crowd economy.

Here are 4 considerations to broaden Europe’s sharing economy manifesto:

1. Sharing economy is about building a community (not building an empire)

The sharing economy is getting big. Projections of global revenues reaching $325 billion by 2025is staggering. So where is this money going? It may be fair to say that the naysayers of the sharing economy are wary of filling pockets of startups in Silicon Valley at the cost of restructuring the local ecosystem that is unfavourable to many citizens. What if we flipped this equation?

So, Seoul, a top sharing city, has moved away from Uber, not because taxi unions are opposing it but because they wanted to build their own infrastructure and community. Europeans have largely embraced the sharing and collaborative economy and here is an opportunity to imbibe this thing into the core DNA of work and living.

Can Europe create a robust local ecosystem that builds sharing economy systems from the grassroots while building communities? 

2. Regulation to aid innovation not protect old models

The sharing and collaborative economy is demanding new workers policies, insurance and finance regulations that have been relatively untouched in decades. Web 2.0 gave us technological advances but the rules remained unchanged. With web 3.0 and beyond, the operating framework has changed. But regulation does not mean protecting older models, simply because they were the norm and disruption is uncomfortable. Good regulation should involve key stakeholders – the people, almost no one asks citizens what they want.

In Europe, for two-sided market communities to thrive (service provider and buyer), regulatory hurdles must be dealt with instead of hiding them under the carpet. Instead of resisting the government and policymakers, innovators must encourage them to understand these new technologies that can help in building smart and efficient cities. Platforms must create a mutually-beneficial system that will foster strong communities and deepen human interactions beyond the convenience and affordability they provide.

The solution is not opposing new connected technology but to adopt it strategically and even regionally. This mindset can present an incredible opportunity for Europe – one of the most urbanised continents in the world.

Can Europe support the emergence of a uniform civil code for the digital economy?

3. Collaboration can jumpstart the economy not just startups

The unfortunate part of the sharing economy is that all news and attention is focussed on the next billion dollar sharing economy startup. To grow a robust economy in Europe, innovation must reach businesses already operating within frameworks, by which they can evolve, train and get competent in the connected ecosystem. There is an imbalance here as you are leaving majority of the stakeholders behind.

Can the European focus realign to help older businesses and workers to adapt and adopt the collaborative ecosystem?

4. Solve exponential problems through collaboration

A powerful quote comes to mind, “Don’t build a mission statement for a business, rather build a business around a mission- Unknown.” The collaborative aspects of the new digital economy has the capability to solve exponential societal problems like unemployment, resource overuse, climate change, extreme poverty, lack of access to finance- we cannot simply afford to think of this advancement as merely a business idea.

European cities are the hubs of innovation, creativity, art and more. However, as the region progresses, poverty and unemployment is plaguing some of its members states. How can sharing economy platforms address this issue and contribute to Europe’s economic growth while fostering entrepreneurship? Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and the gig economy needs to be recognised as key opportunities to tackle youth employment in Europe and a holistic adoption strategy will take place at the grassroots level. By localising platforms and making them fit for market they want to cater to, citizens can be empowered.

Can Europe focus on the sharing economy as a key pillar for solving unemployment and fostering entrepreneurship?

As we all still try and understand the complexities of the sharing economy, I think we can agree that:

  • The sharing economy is still in its infancy. The opportunity, capability and promise of well-meaning networks hasn’t been explored fully yet.
  • The new collaborative economy could make communities more intimate and our world smaller and more meaningful.
  • We are on a cusp of unexplored transparency as we rely more on each-other and our hyper-local communities that has both resulted in and is a result of social capital and new reputation order.

While the sharing economy was set in motion to solve problems at the onset of the great recession and beyond, some of the core meaning of “sharing” has been lost in the pursuit of the next billion-dollar unicorn. But beyond the buzz and headlines, how can we truly capitalise it at its core?

With all the hype, let us keep in mind—we are a cusp of creating a wide-scale impact like lowering resource dependencies and improving access to better and sustainable living conditions. As we move forward to the age of connectivity and transparency (thanks to the Internet), now is the time to become missionaries of innovation and change across Europe and beyond. As Elon Musk puts it, “We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t.”


Crowdsourcing Week’s European Conference, CSW Europe 2015, taking place in Brussels from Oct 19-23 will stir the pot on the above topics. Join us and follow all the action on #CSWEurope15.

Originally posted on PwC’s ‘World in Beta’ blog.


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