The Collaborative Economy – The New Globalisation?

New organisations, new social media platforms, great connectivity – all of these are expanding the wealth of knowledge and skills that individuals have access to. As this continues, are we looking at a shift in the nature of global trade?


Ten years ago, I sat in a business lecture debating why globalisation was a good thing, and why organisations needed to be alive to the possibilities of being able to source any item, at any time, from anywhere in the world. Although I won that argument, I couldn’t have known how the world would change in the intervening decade.

Globalisation and Trade

At the time, I was young, idealistic and thought large, dominant global organisations couldn’t be a bad thing, no matter what my debate opponent said about local economies and global trade. I should say that this was also back when I drank coffee from the red, blue and green chain companies, before realising local, independent providers had them beat…

Now, reports are suggesting that traditional globalisation, the trade between countries, is decreasing. Some forecasts show that, for a third consecutive year, growth in global trade will be lower than overall economic growth, while others highlight that international capital flows are worth 10 per cent of what they were in 2007.

While it may be true that globalisation in a traditional sense may be on the wane, there is a new form of globalisation on the rise.

The Collaborative Economy

Cross-border trade is changing thanks to technological advances and increasing interconnectedness of subject matter experts and those who require specific skill-sets that they don’t already have access to. This is the Collaborative Economy.

Sites like Upwork (a combination of two pioneers of the collaborative economy, Elance and oDesk) allow organisations to ‘hire’ independent talent for one-off or short-term jobs, filling a requirement or skills gaps, without having to hire a full-time employee.

The difference in this case is that the individuals offering their expertise to meet business requirements are frequently in a different country or in a different time zone, but able to leverage technology to provide a service.

There are an estimated 80 million ‘sharers’ in the collaborative economy in the USA, as well as over 23 million in the UK and over 10 million in Canada. And with conservative estimates of investment totalling $25 billion, it appears that we are just scratching the surface.

Procurement Professionals without Borders

Procurement is very much at the start of its journey when it comes to the Collaborative Economy, but the potential is enormous. Asset sharing and transfer of knowledge could enable procurement to work across borders and access knowledge, all while reducing costs associated with travel and adding value through accessing best practice and reducing risk.

Online sharing platforms, such as FLOOW2 can assist with supply chain transparency and reduce overheads by facilitating the sharing of assets. And could we end up seeing this go one step further, with procurement professionals themselves being shared between organisations? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think.

This isn’t consultancy – this is freelance procurement. When asked about my ‘Big Idea’ for procurement, I voiced the opinion that in the next decade people wouldn’t work for one organisation or in one place, but on multiple projects and in many teams, dependent on the required skills for the job.

It has taken less than 6 months for others to talk about the same subject – how long before talk becomes reality? I’d be interested to hear what you think and if you would set yourself up as a procurement freelancer. Let’s start a debate – maybe someone else will win this time!