Shareable Mechelen fosters a well-organised and socially engaged sharing economy in the city, on the basis of libraries for tools, laptops and plant seeds.
Many consumption goods are expensive and are on average only used for a short period of time. Think about a drill which is only used for 13 minutes in the entire lifespan.
With this in mind a citizen collective called Shareable Mechelen started a tool library called Klusbib in April 2017. For a fixed price of 30 euros for the first year and 20 euros the years thereafter citizens get a yearlong membership. With this they are able to lend up to five tools at once during a period of two weeks, which can be used for home renovations or gardening and may be reserved online. It's run by volunteers, who keep it open, repair the gear and keep the online inventory up to date. Mechelen supported the collective with subsidies, donations of materials as well as promotion. In 2020, the city boosted the promotion of the library within one neighbourhood in which citizens were offered a free membership. Mechelen also funded a pilot to deliver the tools at people’s homes.
In 2020, “the library for laptops” idea grew. Because of COVID-19 there was suddenly a huge demand for laptops since children were schooled online. Many vulnerable families don’t have access to laptops and the internet. In cooperation with the schools the families can lend the laptops. Mechelen donated 200 used laptops. The volunteers of Deel-IT make sure the devices are ready for use.
They also created a free seed library for flowers, vegetables and fruits. People who take seeds can donate seeds after their harvest.
Klusbib started with a big set of donated second-hand tools. The subscriptions combined with the city funding and continued donations allowed them to expand their inventory.
Annual city funding: +-5.000 euro, yearly working costs 7.800 euro. Deel-IT has 20 volunteers, Klusbib has 7 volunteers.
Evidence of success
Deel-IT has around 420 laptops, of which 400 are lent to students. For some families, this is the only laptop in the family. There's always a spare laptop available to replace a broken one.
In Klusbib, there are 207 tools available. Currently, there are 252 users and this number is increasing. In 2020, 614 tools were lent. There are about 86 different seeds in the plant library.
The practice keeps running on voluntary basis, there aren't full-time employees and thus it is always easy to coach the volunteers. This is also part of the reason why the scaling up isn't going as fast as expected.
Potential for learning or transfer
Other regions can learn from Shareable Mechelen that finding a team of dedicated volunteers is necessary for a successful project and its social mission.
The subscription model with a low entry cost is also a great way to get more people on board while still ensuring enough revenue.
Furthermore, education is essential for children and access to laptops and the internet is crucial even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the most fragile families are not always able to provide laptops to their children. This is a global problem and this practice will help reduce the negative impact on education of less affluent children.