After 20 years working as a journalist making documentaries for the BBC, Leeds-born social entrepreneur Benita Matofska decided to quit her film production company to change the media narrative:
“I found it increasingly difficult to get positive stories commissioned, being told they’re ‘too worthy’. I left television because I got fed up of banging my head against a wall, when all I wanted to do was improve lives and show the good in the world.”
Benita believes her Jewish upbringing had a major influence on the charitable outlook that shaped her path to become a leading expert on the sharing economy: “I grew up in the heart of the Leeds Jewish community, where charitable giving was part of everything we did. At the age of eight, I was running jumble sales raising money for St Gemma’s Hospice and Leeds Jewish Welfare Board, so I’ve been brought up with that whole idea of considering your impact on the world around you.”
Benita abandoned broadcasting to work for Enterprise UK, a social enterprise guiding young people towards entrepreneurial success. As head of global entrepreneurship, she was invited to speak at events across the world, the most prestigious being The One Young World congress.
“When I asked who else was speaking, I was told ‘we’ve got Bob Geldof and Desmond Tutu’, which I couldn’t quite believe. Sure enough, I found myself sharing a platform with Tutu – the most humbling experience of my life. After the event, the word ‘sharing’ wouldn’t leave me.
“The following morning, I woke up and the first thought that popped into my head, was there was a shortage of sharing. I knew we could fix that, because we all have an unlimited capacity to share, and if we could unleash that, there would be no end to what we could achieve.”
It was in this moment that her social enterprise, The People Who Share, was born. It led to Benita leaving her role at Enterprise UK to travel the world as a public speaker, working with businesses to look at how they can change to create the social impact she believed sharing could make possible.
“The sharing economy emerged from the global financial crisis of 2008, as a system built around the sharing of resources, not just physical, such as clothing and housing, but intangible goods, such as skills and knowledge. It can be enacted through borrowing, exchanging, renting, repairing, recycling, collaborating and of course, peer-to-peer, which we have seen explode over the last decade. “
For Benita, another key factor behind the burgeoning sharing economy has been the escalating environmental crisis: “As climate change becomes top of the agenda, we realise our resources are finite – but our potential to share is unlimited.
“1.3 billion tonnes of food, that’s about a third of the planet’s food is wasted globally each year. We have enough surplus to feed the 10 billion starving worldwide, meaning a sharing infrastructure could end world hunger. There’s a phenomenal UK social enterprise called Fairshare, which last year diverted 35 million meals from surplus food to those living in food poverty.”
Fairshare is just one of the pioneering businesses celebrated in her book, Generation Share, published for global sharing week to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the sharing economy. The result of over 200 interviews conducted over a three-year period travelling the world – aptly funded from the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter – the book tells the inspiring stories of global entrepreneurs transforming lives.
“The media has presented the sharing economy as Silicon Valley venture capital-backed companies such as Airbnb and Uber, but I wanted to show that it’s far more wide-reaching, as extraordinary changemakers across the world save lives through the power of sharing.”
Benita hopes to quash the myth that a socially responsible company simply can’t survive in a cut-throat marketplace:
“There’s a piece of research by Deloitte that companies adopting sharing economy principles have been shown to double their profits within a year. This is down to the rise in ‘activist-preneurs’ who understand that businesses can no longer continue creating solely commercial value – seen as unacceptable by consumers making purchase decisions based on the knowledge products have been ethically sourced and workers have been fairly-paid. You only have to look at the numbers of people turning to vegan food and sustainable lifestyles.
“We have a very vocal millennial generation coming up, encapsulated by the likes of Greta Thunberg, who see the world around them and refuse to stand by while their ‘house is on fire’. We’re starting to see global corporations ranging from Microsoft to Virgin being pushed into adopting sharing economy principles. The businesses that don’t get on board will just be left behind.”
In the same way Benita believes the sharing economy is given narrow coverage, she believes Israel is presented from a similarly myopic perspective, and is keen to highlight the positive:
“We hear a lot of negativity in the media, but we don’t get to hear about the social entrepreneurs and the things people are doing to create peace and positive action.
“There’s a renewal project led by the Muslala collective based out of Jerusalem, which has seen an abandoned shopping centre become a thriving creative hub of cooperatives that put community at the heart of everything they do – their slogan is ‘another city is possible’.
“We also visited a peace school in east Jerusalem, a joint Palestinian and Israeli initiative teaching kids to plant, hoping to prove that if you’re learning to care for your environment, you’re going to start caring for each other.
“We also have a phenomenal story of a woman who came to Jerusalem to set up an urban kibbutz in one of the most impoverished districts. The kibbutz is one of the original forms of sharing and has historically been a symbol of its potential. Though she wasn’t a wealthy woman, she had a lot of passion. It was so polluted, there were no birds there, but after a lengthy battle, she succeeded in bringing them back and revitalising a dysfunctional community, mired in drug addiction and crime.
“This book is a call to action, saying if people can make such amazing change in their community with so little, then why can’t anyone. I believe there’s an inner changemaker in everyone and we need to unleash that.”