South Korea is a key country when observing the rising trends in social innovation and social entrepreneurship in East- and South East Asia. The passing of the Social Enterprise Act in 2007 and the election of Park Won-Soon for Seoul mayor in 2011 are only two amongst other milestones that have indicated the embracement of social entrepreneurship as guideline in addressing the societal issues arisen in the wake of the financial crisis in 1997.
Park Won-Soon is the founder of South Korea’s first social enterprise The Beautiful Store and a think-tank known as The Hope Institute (the South Korean SIX Asia partner) and now a strong supporter of the initiative to establish Seoul as a ‘Sharing City’.
AirBnB acts as the most acknowledged example of the sharing economy but there are hundreds of smaller, and growing, enterprises aiming to partake in the movement. The sharing economy, at times also referred as collaborative consumption, cannot fit into one definition but share the same core value of sharing one’s resources.
Some claim that the acceptance of the sharing economy derives in the economic stagnation since 2008, while others argue that the sharing economy is an expression of a more conscious and responsible capitalism. Whatever standpoint, the sharing economy is a growing trend that has caught the attention of entrepreneurial creativity, the acceptance of the customers and is on the edge of shaking up the perception of ownership and consumption.
Seoul’s ‘Sharing City’ aims ambitiously to promote a sharing consumption in the megacity of 10,5 million inhabitants. Seoul’s sharing paradigm initially concentrates towards tangible resources, such as parking slots, spaces or other goods, and does so by supporting 20 sharing programs and launch policies in order to build a solid infrastructure stimulating micro-entrepreneurialism and business opportunities in the quest to tackle the societal issues facing Seoul.
But the sharing economy carries more value then merely the exchange of resources; it is also acts as a force to enhance the sense of community through meetings and communication. One passionate advocate of the sharing economy as a melting pot of people is Sun Mi Seo.
Sun is the co-founder of the first South Korean social enterprise in the sustainable tourism-sector and now working on her second social start-up called PlayPlanet. PlayPlanet is an online platform where travellers and local hosts share experiences offline, while raising awareness and contributing with positive impact. Sun means that the fundamental pillar of the sharing economy lays on trust, without the social trust the exchange of resources would be impossible.
The sharing economy represents thus a localization of interaction where resources are utilized more efficiently. And like in the case of PlayPlanet the sharing economy triggers an innovative model to gather people, change old perceptions and strengthen the peer-to-peer communication.
And though the sharing economy is to a broad extend an online phenomenon, it shall not be forgotten that it is the offline interaction that generates the impact of less waste, decreased consumption and increased social-trust.
Seoul carries the advantageous to have a highly online-connected population but it is the offline enterprises like PlayPlanet (promoting sustainable tourism), Kozaza (providing empty rooms for tourists by local Korean hosts) or GreenCar (car-pooling) that will make the citizens of Seoul to start sharing. Because in the end of the day – what is the need of any sort of economy if its fundaments do not care for social and environmental progress?