Editor’s Note: The Sharing Economy is about a profound shift in consumer values from ownership to access. Together, entire communities and cities around the world are using network technologies to do more with less by renting, lending, swapping, bartering, gifting and sharing products on a scale never before possible. A wide variety of sharers are involved, from Tool Libraries and Maker Faires through to Car-shares and the open government movement. Organizations like Collaborative Consumption, Peers and Shareab
Seoul is gaining recognition as one of the world’s most developed sharing economies. Accounting for half of South Korea’s 50 million people, Seoul has become a unique launch pad, with the Mayor of Seoul, Park Won-Soon, working hard to promote the broader agenda of social innovation:
“As the mayor of Seoul, I have striven to create innovative ways of governing that are based on cooperation and collaboration. I have made a point of soliciting greater citizen input and getting citizens more directly involved in decision-making, fostering social enterprises that use innovative approaches to tackle social problems, and expanding collaboration between government, the market, and civil society.” (SSIR Summer 2013 insert Innovation for a Complex World entitled Forging Ahead with Cross-Sector Innovations)
Specifically, in 2012 Mayor Park created the Sharing City initiative as part of the Seoul Innovation Bureau’s goal to tackle social, economic and environmental problems in innovative ways. The city is supporting the start-up of new sharing companies and pioneering its own sharing programs (e.g. those range from making city facilities available in off-hours, to a car sharing service, and a program matching seniors who have a spare room with students needing accommodation.)
The national government of President Park Geun-hye (no relation to Park Won-Soon) has a signature policy to catalyse the “creative economy”. The Korea Herald summarises its goal as “creating new business opportunities, industries and jobs through the fusion of information and communication technology, culture and others realms.” President Park says the existing economic model cannot address high unemployment and widening economic inequalities.
By taking a day just before the start of Social Innovation Exchange’s 2013 Summer School in Seoul, I had a chance — together with Michael Lewkowitz, the founder of socialsca.pe — to visit several exciting sharing economy start-ups: Dream Bank, My Real Trip and Kozaza. Each boasts stories that illustrate the value of the new national and municipal policies enabling the sharing economy.
In 2012, twenty South Korean banks came together, pooling nearly $75 million, to create and fund Dream Bank, a new foundation. It was born out of the preoccupation that current tough economic times meant that the economy was unable to generate sufficient employment opportunities, especially for young graduates entering the labour market. Dream Bank explains that it “was formed in order to nurture a successful startup community and consequently create high quality jobs through emerging enterprises.” In fact, Dream Bank hopes to help South Korea become Asia’s number one hub for the new economy.
As a first step, Dream Bank set up D.Camp in 2013 in Central Seoul (facing the spectacular Seolleung Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site of two Royal Tombs). D.Camp is a 1,650 square metre, multi-storey, co-working space for young entrepreneurs. Those preparing to launch a new venture receive three months free rent and stay longer if they have made progress on their venture. Besides providing state of the art co-working space and dozens of monthly curated networking and educational opportunities in their large hall, D.Camp is also developing an online financing platform to connect ventures with investors. D.Camp is both a sharing economy platform and seeks to help strengthen ventures that feature collaboration and sharing business models. Dream Bank’s start-up Operation Manager, Seokwon (a.k.a. ejang) Yang who previously founded the co-working space CO-UP, is a well-known leader in the sharing economy space and a member of The Collaborative Lab’s Global Curator team.
Following my exploration of D.Camp, I made my way to another inventive sharing economy venture, My Real Trip, which will be featured in part II of this series on Seoul’s Sharing Economy.
In a field of rapid innovation, public policy can either slow the advance of disruptive innovations (e.g. New York City fining Airbnb) or help them take root and evolve like Seoul is doing. The sharing economy appears headed to become the most impactful vector for scaling social innovation in urban settings.
Author’s Note: Thanks very much to April Rinne, from The Collaborative Lab (TCL), who introduced me to two Seoul members of TCL’s Global Curator Team, DaYe (Diane) Jung and Seokwon (ejang) Yang. They in turn connected me with our indispensable guide Seokjoon Choi. Seokjoon navigated us through Seoul with great aplomb.