Last October, folks in more than 50 cities around the world sat down to map out their local “shared economies” — goods and services that are available to anyone and that encourage common ownership and investment. Spearheaded by the San Francisco-based Shareable, these “map jams” used a map-making tool kit developed by the nonprofit to organize information about each community’s common resources: parks, libraries, cooperatives, credit unions, community gardens and other assets whose use is not tied to a fixed monetary exchange.
Shared economies are based on collaboration — the belief that collective ownership of resources leads to their most effective use. In such systems, advocates say, individuals don’t have to struggle as much to find what they need or make available what they have to offer. The overall goal is not individual profit but providing the maximum benefit to all with the least amount of waste.
In Asheville, the movement took a big step forward with the launch of the REAL Cooperative’s online SHARE Asheville Community Map, which went live April 2. The inaugural version is the fruit of what 20 local activists set in motion during Asheville’s own map jam last fall.
REAL Cooperative co-founder Tom Llewellyn formally launched the local map at an April 15 Transition Asheville event, pointing out that it’s particularly robust compared with the ones other jams have produced. The Asheville map includes 170 local businesses, organizations and public facilities, grouped under seven categories: commons, finance, food, health, libraries, reuse and services. Each of the listed entities “must provide a benefit to the community and be engaged in the sharing economy,” Llewellyn explained, either by being part of the commons, representing a peer-peer exchange, offering a sliding fee scale, providing a free service, or being a consumer- or worker-owned cooperative.
The new map links Asheville to a global movement that is itself being mapped by Shareable’s Sharing Cities Network. “If you were traveling to one of these cities and didn’t want to necessarily support the tourist economy, but wanted to … support the local sharing economy and collaborative institutions, you can click on any one of these cities’ pages and find out what’s going on,” Llewellyn said.
“Sharing is a practical and logical solution to many of the challenges we are currently facing,” he said. “It simultaneously increases access to wealth, reduces waste and strengthens the social fabric within communities.”
Pieces of the puzzle
While the share map may be a novel development, the nonprofit that it lists are well-versed in the underlying principles of sharing. You see it in these groups’ commitment to making services accessible to people in need, and also in the way that they network with other institutions to expand their reach and form a more connected community web.
Celeste Collins, executive director of OnTrack Financial Education & Counseling, says collaboration is vital to the local nonprofit’s outreach and overall effectiveness.
“I like to envision us as a piece of the puzzle,” says Collins. “We have other terrific nonprofits — the YWCA, Helpmate, Our VOICE, Pisgah Legal — who are working on other parts of clients’ lives, and so the neat thing is that when they run across somebody who has debt, who might need a reverse mortgage, who’s facing foreclosure, they say, ‘Call OnTrack.’”
Asheville, she notes, has a particular need for her agency’s services: The hip, pretty boomtown tourists see doesn’t always reflect the struggle many residents face just staying afloat here. “We are one of the highest-cost housing areas in the whole state,” Collins points out, “and for folks to be able to incorporate the housing costs, they’ve got to be really specific with their budget. You can’t just take these national percentages and plug them in and think it’s going to work in Asheville.”
Many different situations, says Collins, can trigger financial instability, so it’s important to network with institutions that serve those specific niches. “We work with the Goodwill re-entry program, people who are coming back after having been incarcerated; with Mountain Housing Opportunities, putting people into homes or rentals; and we’re doing some really cool stuff with local employers who’ve realized that if they have a stressed out workforce due to financial issues, it’s harder for them to focus on their jobs,” Collins explains. Those connections with other community organizations, she says, add value to OnTrack’s services.
But while providing quality services is vital, making them as accessible as possible is equally so. Highlighting these organizations on the map, says Llewellyn, will help them in two primary ways. “First, they’ll be recognized as supporting the sharing economy aimed at community benefit; and second, they’ll gain further exposure to potential clients, participants and members.”
Reaching for bigger things
Like many people, Erinn Hartley, artistic director of Anam Cara Theatre Company, chose Asheville not for the financial opportunities it offered but because she saw it as a place where she could share her passion: producing avant-garde theater to help build culture and community. Hartley is excited about the SHARE Asheville Map’s potential to help Anam Cara reach its target demographic.
“Community is huge for us,” she says. “One of the common things that people on our advisory board bring to the table is that they’d heard of us but didn’t know how to find us. I think [the map] is definitely a resource for people who are looking for the type of theater that we do.”
Increasing attendance and participation, Hartley explains, helps meet the company’s goals for expression and social impact while also facilitating more diverse funding streams.
Anam Cara recently joined forces with Toy Boat Community Art Space in Biltmore for joint showcase performances. Besides combining both groups’ core audiences, the collaboration has resulted in Anam Cara’s becoming Toy Boat’s fiscal agent.
“It’s a deal that works really well for us both,” notes Hartley. “We work together on some of the things that work with our mission as well as theirs. It allows them to apply for grants, and then those grants count as part of our income as a nonprofit — which helps in a lot of ways, because if our operating budget is a little bit higher, then we can reach for some bigger things.”
Sue Brooks and Mimi Murphy of All Souls Counseling Center also see community connection as vital to their success.
“I’ve had several individuals say, ‘I’m where I am today because of the therapist I saw and the work that I did at All Souls,’” Murphy reports. “That’s a success story, and that’s where you see mental wellness really contributing to the community as a whole and to the workforce community’s health.”
“We see over 1,100 people a year and provide over 8,500 sessions,” says Brooks, adding, “Mental or nervous depression or anxiety is the second leading cause of loss of work in our country.”
The center’s success has always relied on the Asheville community’s sense of common capital, she continues. “The counseling center was set on a model of volunteerism. Therapists are all contract therapists: Some of them are totally pro bono, with others being paid a very small amount.” Client fees, says Brooks, average $12 to $15.
Like OnTrack, All Souls Counseling recognizes that local nonprofits need to team up in order to fill in the gaps in their respective programs. “We’ve worked with AHOPE Day Center, and we partner with the Council On Aging to provide services to older adults who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get them,” Brooks reports.
That kind of cooperation also helps organizations grow, notes Murphy, who is the center’s director of development. And the map, she continues, contributes to that by “allowing residents new to Asheville to easily identify community resources, as well as seeing the collaboration among them.”
All together now
The SHARE Asheville Map, stresses Llewellyn, is an evolving project that will gradually be sculpted by community input. A link in the map’s key enables users to request additions, omissions or corrections. For the Asheville network, participation is the most important form of currency. The more input and involvement there is, the more valuable the map — and the whole shared economy movement — will become.
“With less wealth in our communities, and the global environment in peril, the sharing economy is a grassroots response to a basic economic need to spend less money, and a human need to increase connections with place, community and our peers,” says Llewellyn.
To view the SHARE Asheville Community Map, go to realcooperative.org.