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The Sharing Economy in Latin America

By Federico Mazzella ,
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The sharing economy can optimize resources, create employment, and contribute to developing the use of new technologies.

The sharing economy is here to stay as a result of the profound economic and social changes that society and the global economy have been experiencing. According to estimates from Forbes for 2014, the sharing economy has grown around 25% globally, reaching a turnover of US$3.5 billion.

In Economía colaborativa en América Latina [The Sharing Economy in Latin America] (publication in Spanish), six journalists who specialize in economics and technology at some of the main media companies in the region examined the sharing economy between August and November 2015 by getting in touch with some of the main sharing economy initiatives in Latin America. The study included a survey of 107 participants that aimed to evaluate the main features of enterprises that form part of the sharing economy. The results of this research were then used in the qualitative analysis undertaken by these experts subsequently.

Some of their key findings are as follows:

  • Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Peru are at the forefront of these initiatives and have young business ecosystems that have existed for an average of five years.
  • The sectors in which these initiatives operate mainly consist of companies that are seeking access to services and space, on the one hand, and individuals seeking more efficient forms of transportation and accommodation, on the other. Training and exchanges, job banks, and alternative currencies play a much smaller role.
  • The main activities in the sector include: the rental of goods that were previously privately owned or provided by a more traditional industry; ideas markets (training, company marketing); and alternative ways of exchanging or selling goods.
  • The sharing economy’s potential for job creation: 64% of the initiatives have at least 10 employees.
  • The limits to the growth of the sharing economy: there is a lack of knowledge and trust on the part of potential users/clients and a lack of investors and access to technology.
  • What do the founders of these initiatives want? Support in spreading awareness of the type of business models they are offering.

Recommendations: Standardization, regulation, and financing.

“Regulation needs to be justified by the presence of market failures such as asymmetrical information or the existence of externalities; we need to regulate, but to do so intelligently.” With appropriate regulation and a form of supervision that have been adapted to the new digital platforms these models use, the sharing economy could become a stimulus for sectors of the traditional economy, driving competition, increasing supply, and promoting innovative alternatives for consumers.

Finally, the authors argue that not only does the sharing economy offer a new and promising learning framework for Latin America and the Caribbean, it also constitutes a space that could enable the region to form part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The sharing economy promotes positive social values around exchange and collaboration through innovation and technology. It also has the potential to reduce the underlying negative externalities that are inherent to the traditional economy, such as in relation to transportation (environmental pollution), or underutilized goods, which imply an inefficient form of consumption.

The authors argue that by fostering an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit, some of the region’s major social, economic, and environmental problems could be solved. In this sense, they are optimistic about the future.

Economía colaborativa en América Latina [The Sharing Economy in Latin America] (publication in Spanish). 2016. Washington: MIF and IE Business School.

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