Who owns the sharing economy?

Silicon Valley start-ups aren't directly funding a new industry-aligned nonprofit, but they are definitely involved

Published August 2, 2013 5:56PM (EDT)

Peers, the nonprofit organization that debuted Wednesday styling itself as a "grassroots" advocate for the "sharing economy," is not directly funded by sharing economy start-ups, Peers director Natalie Foster told me by phone on Friday morning.

On Wednesday, I covered a conference call announcing Peers, and misinterpreted Foster's statement that Peers' 22 launch partners (which include Airbnb, Lyft, Getaround, Taskrabbit, Vayable and numerous other prominent sharing economy start-ups) were "supporting" Peers as meaning that the start-ups were financially involved.

Foster says the bulk of Peers' funding has come from "mission-aligned independent donors" and foundations. Those donors do include investors and executives of sharing economy start-ups, acknowledged Foster. Foster also said the idea for Peers can be traced back to seed money from Airbnb that started a "conversation among stakeholders" at Purpose, an organization that creates "21st century movements."

Foster would not reveal how much money Peers raised before launch. She stressed that Peers' goal is "to build a platform for people to self-organize and have their voice heard" on issues that affect the sharing economy, including, specifically, the question of "smart regulation." Foster said she was pleased that 7,000 people had already registered as members. She emphasized, several times, her personal excitement at the prospect that the sharing economy could make a meaningful difference in people's lives.

I regret misunderstanding her comments during the conference call. But I still think there is a very interesting overlap visible at Peers between popular enthusiasm for sharing economy services, and the clear self-interest that sharing economy start-ups have in "supporting" an independent advocate for their industry niche. Airbnb was intimately involved in starting the conversation that led to the creation of Peers. Investors and executives of sharing economy start-ups are helping to fund it, and a roll call of sharing economy stalwarts are official launch partners. If Peers is where the grass roots intersects with state-of-the-art Silicon Valley capitalism, it's going to be an organization to watch.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Airbnb Natalie Foster Peers Peers.org Sharing Economy Silicon Valley