What’s in it for me? Do you dare to share?

Ian Tennant

08 January 2014

Do people really just want everything for themselves at the expense of others? Or is the desire to share and give back as strong as it always has been?

I sometimes feel gloomy when I walk through my local high street. The frenzy of shoppers convinces me that we’re more stressed than ever. A generation of bargain-grabbing consumers running the fastest rat race in history. 

Western countries raise children that understand but don’t value sharing, according to author and academic Professor Julian Agyeman.

But reassuringly, evidence shows that people are doing huge amounts of sharing and giving around the world. The emerging Sharing Economy is now worth over £310 billion globally, reports research agency Opinium.

People are sharing – just in different ways than they used to. Social media and the Internet combined with the recession are considered the major driving forces for this. 

We only have to look at video sites like YouTube to see how much time people of all ages are giving to sharing their knowledge and skills. Or look at the huge uptake in use of platforms such as Just Giving to see how much people are willing to give to support their friends or favourite charity.

Greeniversity – free skills for all

Early in 2012 the Cabinet Office awarded funding managed by the National Endowment of Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta). The funding benefitted over 50 projects that are helping to transform  how people give and share in the UK.

Working on one these projects, called Greeniversity, has helped me think a lot more about what sharing means, how it differs to giving and what the challenges are to stimulating more of it. 

Greeniversity is a free skill-sharing platform which encourages people to get together in small groups and learn anything from how to identify wildlife and cook from scratch, to fixing bikes, insulating lofts and making natural beauty projects. 

It’s growing into a UK-wide project where ordinary people with skills to share run classes for other people who are keen to learn.


Cooking home-grown mushrooms, by Greeniversity


Greeniversity also relies on businesses and other organisations to share rooms in their premises as a space for classes to he held. 

Peterborough Environment City Trust (PECT), created Greeniversity knowing there are lots of people in the community that know how to be green.

PECT believes that skill sharing plays a vital part in any city’s plan if they want to become truly sustainable. Indeed – in its mission to identify a path that will lead us to well-being for all – Friends of the Earth’s Big Ideas Change the World project champions sharing as one of its top three solutions for democratising our cities and living with dignity.

Sharing versus giving

From working on the project I’ve learned the power of sharing over giving when it comes to building community. I discussed this with my dad recently and we agreed that it’s often easier and more practical to give than share.

Think of the difference between donating to a Foodbank compared to inviting a homeless person home for dinner. Of course giving can be rewarding and should be congratulated. Although sharing leads to more new connections and relationships – we have seen this though the knock on effects of people learning together through Greeniversity.  


Sharing skills for free, by Greeniversity


Opinium’s research shows that the UK lags behind other European countries when it comes to sharing so there’s lots more we can do. We know that the biggest barriers for Greeniversity are lack of time and a lack of cultural understanding of sharing skills face-to-face.

Volunteer Greeniversity teachers tell us that they get as much back as they give away – despite working hard to learn skills they do not begrudge sharing them for free.

They are motivated by helping others and enjoy the boost in confidence of being a teacher. So if you’re stuck for a 2014 resolution maybe dare yourself to share a little more.

You can check out the range of upcoming Greeniversity classes on www.greeniversity.org.uk.

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