Sharing: A Growing Trend – OpEd


Humanity shares much; the Earth for one, the universals of joy and suffering, a similarity in nature and condition, some would say a universal soul, or divine essence. Spiritual Politics, Changing The World From The Inside Out, quotes quantum physicist David Bohm, who “said that modern physics reveals a universe that is “continuous and indivisible, an undivided and unbroken whole” Bohm believed that each of us holographically contains the whole, thus sharing one consciousness.” Sharing is an expression of humanities interconnection, when we share we break down barriers and cultivate relationship. Movements, full of the energy of the young are in the ascendency, the status quo being challenged amongst cries for freedom, justice and demands for the implementation of universally recognised human rights. New systems to better serve that ‘one consciousness’, built upon true democratic principles of goodness that address the needs of the people of the world, the 99% and not merely the desires of the 1%, are being called for.

Emerging with growing momentum amongst the evolving values of the new time, is that unifying principle, sharing. Sharing is hip, as the Economist (14/10/2010) reports “Trendy folk are applauding. “Sharing is clean, crisp, urbane, postmodern,” says Mark Levine of the New York Times. “Owning is dull, selfish, timid, backward.” The sharing craze has spawned new books and sharing initiatives, schemes and groups abound, from the international to the individual. The worldwide Web – the wonder of the age, offers a platform for creative sharing opportunities that many are developing. News and communication are being revolutionised, the sharing of images, film, knowledge, ideas, opinions, etc. is transforming notions of participatory democracy, expanding free speech, and freedom of information. This is of particular value to those living in developing countries for so long isolated. Thanks to improving access to the Internet and the shared information available, these nations are being empowered, connected, interconnected and integrated into the world community, the brotherhood or nations perhaps an emerging possibility.

Sharing in action

The Internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia launched in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger is a sharing phenomenon. There are currently, according to Wikipedia itself “ over 22 million freely usable articles in 284 languages, written by over 34 million registered users ad countless anonymous contributors worldwide, and visited monthly by 14% of all internet users.” [emphasis mine] This is a staggering statistic, in a further sharing initiative Wikipedia states, that “In late March 2012, the Wikimedia Foundation announced Wikidata, a planned universal platform for sharing data between all Wikipedia language editions.” Creating an expanded integrated resource for data and information, freely available to everyone, potentially anywhere in the world.

In a positive sign reflective of the times, the United Nations (UN) has recently established a website for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that champions positive development programmes. As the UN news centre 24th May 2012 reports, (the) “New UN website fosters sharing of successful sustainable development projects” the function of the website is to give local communities in developing countries the skills and knowhow to better manage the natural resource in their environment, and to strengthen partnerships between groups working on sustainable development projects. This ground – breaking forum offers groups working in associated areas the chance to share their knowledge, research and experiences, and, as the news item states those “working on environmental issues in developing countries can submit content, as well as share their expertise and experiences with peers.” In a further move by the UN, their peacekeeping wing, through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department for Field Support is cultivating sharing in their work, as is made clear on their website. “Best practices and case studies from the field are shared with all missions through a dedicated Community of Practice and dedicated training. We also use resources from our partners like UNEP and the Swedish Research Agency.”1 Inspiring examples of the UN responding to the growing need to strengthen all areas of support work through sharing experiences. The UN refugee agency UNHCR is also encouraging sharing in the sector, offering a toolkit for sharing on their website, stating “NGOs may partner with UNHCR in joint planning and information-sharing to ensure coherence in operational approaches.” 2 Intergovernmental ‘burden sharing’ is being applied to the increasingly international issue of refugees, The Journal of Refugee Studies, research paper Burden-sharing during Refugee Emergencies suggests that “such schemes are based on the premise that collective action might lead to better and more enduring resolution of crises than unilateral measures by individual nation states.” Common sense, much under-rated, is we will find at the heart of all sharing initiatives

Shared environment

International, intergovernmental cooperation and sharing of data is most evident within environmental issues and rightly so. The Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change set up by the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988, with 120 countries involved. The panel shares research, data, edits assessment reports concerned with. 1. Human-induced climate change, 2. The impacts of human-induced climate change. 3. Options for adaptation and mitigation. Thousands of scientists work on a voluntary basis, writing and reviewing papers that are reviewed and summarised for key policy makers. In 2007 the Nobel Peace Prize was shared equally by, IPCC and Al Gore.

Sticking with the environment, ‘carpooling’ is a brilliant travel scheme based on sharing. People travelling to the same destination share a vehicle and the travel costs. An idea that began in America, where in 2009 around 10% of commuter journeys where shared. It is another Internet based scheme, functioning via websites and smartphones, is one of the largest, operating throughout Europe. They claim to “transport a million people every month.” The idea is beautifully simple, as most sharing schemes seem to be, explains the benefits, “by sharing a ride, people save gas and money, reduce auto emissions and meet new friends. Pollution, traffic, parking and road maintenance are reduced. People can share experiences and help each other.” There is even a British charity – Carplus, working exclusively in this area, they promote car sharing and car club schemes throughout the country. Following on from Velib, the successful bicycle sharing scheme started in 2007, Paris is the first city to set up a car sharing scheme, as The Guardian 2nd October 2011 reports, “Annick Lepetit, in charge of transport at city hall, “We’re moving into another culture, the culture of car sharing.” We could perhaps expand this and say the culture of sharing is upon us!

Shared education

Sharing between pupils/students and teaching staff is finding a place within many educational institutions of all types and levels. Group work within schools is the model increasingly being employed, helping to build relationships, encourage cooperation and balance somewhat the divisive effects of competition. Communication between educators sharing methodologies and experiences, like Wikispaces, that offers opportunities for interaction, collaboration and sharing, form social platforms connecting students to debating chambers for teachers. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its teacher evaluation report 20093, concludes “The expectation is that teachers engaging in reflective practice, studying their own methods of instruction and assessment, and sharing their experience with their peers in schools, becomes regular a routine part of professional life.” As sharing becomes the norm in schools children will increasingly adopt the habit of sharing, that will naturally grow encouraging broader social responsibility.

Economic sharing

The breakdown in the current, unjust economic system, based on competition and separation has led to some radical experiments in social living, with sharing a key ingredient. Heidemarie Schwermer is a 70-year- old German ex schoolteacher, who after seeing large numbers of homeless people in Dortmund where she lived founded in 1994 “Give and take central”, Germany’s first exchange circle. Two years later she gave away all of her belongings and has lived without money for the last 16 years. A remarkable achievement, made possible by various demonstrations of sharing. In an interview with Share International April 2012, she explains the idea, “Anyone can participate in ‘give and take’ – even if one has no money. In the interim there are many such centres where people can exchange services without money playing a role: a haircut in exchange for a car repair, babysitting for window cleaning, counselling or office work for baking, and much more.” This extraordinary story has been mirrored in a more modest fashion in Britain by Mark Boyle aka ‘the moneyless man’. Mark lived for a year without any cash at all and founded the ‘Feeconomy Community’ and the online sharing site just According to Wikipedia “The Freeconomy Community has over 25,000 members in over 150 countries… allows people to share, moving away from exchange economies towards pay it forward philosophy.” Freeconomy functions through individuals offering skills and support to other members of the community for free, or in exchange for help they need. The community is completely open and operates through the Internet. Pay it forward describes the process of having received a good deed one performs an act in kind to someone else, not paying the deed back but paying it forward. Thereby sharing generosity of spirit through an act of gratitude expressed as kindness. This is a central idea within the freeconomy philosophy, based as it is on sharing.

Sharing stuff & Democracy

Anyone who has spent time in developing countries and returned to the west recognises the waste and overconsumption that has driven capitalism for decades entrapping the human sprit in the process. As a result many in the (so-called) developed world are simply awash with ‘stuff’. Instead of throwing away things no longer needed websites like Freecycle and Freegle offer a mechanism for reusing unwanted items, by passing them onto someone else. As the Freegle site says, “Don’t throw it away – give it away” they have around 1.5 million members in Britain and around 350 ‘reuse groups’ as they call them. The Freecycle Network, originated in Tuscon Arizona USA in 2003, and is now in 85 countries worldwide with almost nine million members in 5,000 communities. It is the Godfather of the reuse world! The first Freecycle group in Britain was set up in London in Oct 2003, there are now 540 groups with 2,500,000 members. To reuse is to share. It is an example of the pay forward economic idea, based as it is on the virtue of generosity.

Another brilliant example of community generated sharing is Food Swap, founded in America by five women, best described in their own words, “A food swap is a recurring event where members of a community share homemade, home-grown, or foraged foods with each other. Swaps allow direct trades to take place between attendees, e.g., a loaf of bread for a jar of pickles or a half-dozen backyard eggs.” Starting in the US, there are now food swap groups in Canada too. At a slight tangent, yet connected is ‘Couchsurfing’. People with a spare sofa, or bed even, offer it to travellers on the understanding that one fine day the traveller may return the favour. The Economist (14//10) again, “There are 2.3m registered couchsurfers in 79,000 cities worldwide.”

Sharing skills and goods, knowledge and techniques, ideas and views, exchanging services and materials. Platforms of contemporary barter, homemade jam, for freshly baked bread, lunch in payment for cleaning, Schemes generated by economic necessity the cynic may say, well perhaps. The effect – worldwide seeds of social transformation and one feels it’s simply the beginning. Seeds of a new and more just economic structure perhaps, that clarifies action through the purification of motive. Benjamin Crème in The Art of Cooperation advocates the “principle of sharing” as the foundation for a new and just global economic system. An idea it seems whose time is dawning.

Sharing the road to peace

The visionary Brandt Report (BR) published in October 1981 made various proposals based around sharing referred to in The Brandt Equation 21st Century Blueprint for the New Global Economy, “the BR called for international codes of conduct for the sharing of technology… global safeguards against restrictive business practices, and a new framework for the activities of multinational corporations.” As yet these measures have not been responded to in any meaningful way, and the economic divisions between and within North- South countries highlighted in the Brandt Reports have widened. The report states that the failure to implement the recommendations in the BR has caused the “Missing out on vast possibilities for international peace and development through sharing with poor nations the benefits of the information revolution, 90% of technology ownership and use remains in developed nations, creating a global ‘digital divide’”

Peace and sharing are connected, a relationship made clear in the Brandt Report, whish stated in 1983 “A new century nears, and with it the prospects of a new civilization. Could we not begin to lay the basis for that new community with reasonable relations among all people and nations, and to build a world in which sharing, justice, freedom, and peace might prevail?” Look closely, with an open mind and the early signs of such a world are perhaps to be glimpsed, for within the fogs of conflict and suffering there is hope and cause for optimism. The growing sharing initiatives are a herald of the new; they are to be welcomed, championed indeed. Professor Frederico Mayor Zaragoza, a former director of UNESCO, in an interview with Share International, makes the case for peace through sharing, “We (the UN) exist to create, physically and intellectually, the conditions for peace. This implies real justice and sharing, not a simple distribution of aid and political patch-up.” ‘Real justice’, is concerned with the implementation of universally agreed human rights, with participation, consultation and crucially equality, the fair distribution of the Worlds resources. All are democratic ideals and all will be realised through expressions of sharing.

Sharing equitably the world’s resources, many of which are to be found in developing countries, would be a giant step in establishing justice and dissipating tensions between wealthy countries and the developing nations. Benjamin Crème makes the point in The Art of Cooperation, “Sharing the world’s resources will restore sanity to the world. It will make life happier for most people.” furthermore, “Through sharing alone will justice be confirmed.“ Clearly it is unjust that 70% of the worlds natural resources, food, water etc. are usurped and wasted by 30% of the worlds people, as is currently estimated to be the case. The USA e.g. with just 5% of the Worlds population, consumes 25% of the resources – is this just, sane even? Sharing of the world’s resources equitably among the people, based on need, would be a giant step in establishing justice. Professor Zaragoza goes on to say “since the end of the Cold War, the United Nations has been eroded because it has been forced to divert from its essential core work – peace through justice, meaning real sharing, co-operation, development, health, housing and education.” Perennial values of goodness, justice, freedom, peace are the aspirations of men, women and children everywhere; a key element in their realization is it seems sharing, for without sharing justice remains simply a dream, peace a fantasy. In a world which has been saturated with violence and suffering for ages long, mankind cries out for peace, sharing is crucial in fulfilling this long cherished ideal.

Sharing unites people and helps us to recognise our universal nature, it is to be cultivated in all areas of life, The Brandt Equation states. “Caring, mutual respect, generosity, and sharing begin at home after all, and should be expressed no differently in global economic relations. It is, in fact, that simple.” It is a fact simple indeed that is gaining ground. Let us harken to the call for sharing, within the home, the community, the nation and throughout the world, and witness the dispelling of that 21st century epidemic – stress, the flowering of justice and maybe, just maybe the realization of that long longed for jewel; peace on Earth.


Graham Peebles

Graham Peebles is an independent writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in India, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia where he lived for two years working with acutely disadvantaged children and conducting teacher training programmes. Website:

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