UA prof discusses sharing economies, new app for sharing culture

“Don’t Buy, Share!” is the Confluencenter’s Show & Tell presentation for the month of November, introducing its viewers to the idea of sharing and loaning goods instead of purchasing in order to save money, live sustainably and strengthen the community.

Dr. Anita Bhappu, the chief scientific officer and co-founder for Sharing Tribes who received her doctorate in business management and organization from the UA, will share the story of her company during the free presentation today from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Playground Bar & Lounge downtown. Bhappu will discuss her research into sharing economies and Sharing Tribe’s development of an application aimed at their facilitation.

A sharing economy revolves around the concept of sharing more expensive, less commonly used items through renting or borrowing from others. The idea is a growing movement in the business world.

Although not a Confluencenter-funded research project, Bhappu’s work meshed with the Confluencenter’s mission in promoting the collaboration between multi-division faculty from the arts, humanities and social sciences areas.

“The Confluencenter supports and advances creative, collaborative research and then shares it with the community through Show & Tell,” said Jamie Manser, the communications and events coordinator for the Confluencenter.

Bhappu is currently a professor in the retailing and consumer sciences program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She said she was inspired by of one of her students in spring 2013 to delve into sharing economies and eventually found Sharing Tribes.

“[A student] had a really insightful comment in the context of one of our class discussions, and I remember leaving class … wondering how I could do something about it,” Bhappu said.

That summer, she began talking to consumers and exploring who among them participated in the sharing economy, why they did or did not and what their experiences were like.

As Bhappu continued her research and began thinking about creating an application to aid in this sharing process, she found business partners in David Sebastian, Sharing Tribe’s chief executive officer, and William Kasica, the company’s chief technology officer. With Bhappu’s research, the team began developing the Sharing Tribes application.

Sharing Tribes was created to facilitate sharing among groups of colleagues, neighbors, students and the like in local areas. Instead of hosting a large platform of strangers, a group can purchase a membership with the app and form what the company calls a tribe, building a sense of community and alleviating some of the worries that go along with lending out goods to people that users may not know well.

“We’re creating private networks for people to then borrow and lend in,” Bhappu said. “One of the key insights from [my research] was that people are more likely and more willing to share … when they have some implicit trust in the people that they’re sharing their goods with.”

Along with the issue of trust, Sharing Tribes aims to rid sharing economies of the hassle of retrieving goods that people have lent out. Bhappu said that many of the research subjects she spoke with recounted bad experiences with lending out their things because of the time it would take for their item to be returned.

Sharing Tribes helps to avoid this struggle by providing notifications on lending out and returning items and by facilitating easy ways to contact others in the sharing community. Bhappu said her team designed the user interface of the application to resemble that of traditional online shopping to provide users with a more relatable format, as well.

“It kind of harkens both to sustainability and simplicity, … moving the focus from the good to meeting people and being connected to your community,” Bhappu said. “It shifts the focus from the object to the experience.”


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