10 questions for Marta Nowinska, founder of Swapsity

The easiest way to explain Swapsity is …
a Canadian swapping economy that lives both online and offline. The site enables people to trade pre-loved things, talents and time or share their rarely used stuff. We also stage large-scale swap meets where the community comes together to swap and actively participate in Collaborative Consumption, live and in person.

Live Green Toronto Festival

Swapsity hosting a Movie Music Eco-Swap at the Living Green Toronto Festival in summer 2011. Within nine hours, 3,327 media items were dropped off, 2,352 of which were swapped – totalling more than $18,000 in savings.

We have been working on Swapsity since…
launching a private beta in the fall of 2008, though I had conceived the idea for Swapsity as early as 2005. I thought swapping was awesome even before I heard about Collaborative Consumption!

Swapsity Landing page

The idea came from…
me contemplating how swapping what we don’t want for what we do want creates value for both parties and makes people feel good. I was no stranger to bartering; as a kid I would swap stamps. There are many business barter exchanges in Canada but little or no opportunities for ordinary folks to swap online. The idea for Swapsity was in perfect alignment with my personal values and it addressed compelling market needs. For me, it was a brilliant way to help people and be happy doing it.

I believe it’s the right time for Swapsity to take off because…
the sharing economy is a viable approach to solving and reducing real problems. Many people are living beyond their means both financially and ecologically. We are consuming the resources of one and a half planets when we only have one, and the average Canadian is a whopping $26,000 in debt. What’s more, the rise of social networking is contributing to a decline in face-to-face communication. Swapping is a wonderfully viable way of addressing these financial, environmental and social problems.

My favorite success story so far…
is hard to choose! We have witnessed a $4,000 car traded for kitchen renovations through our swapping site, seen more than 3,450 media items recycled at our largest swap event to-date–with 90% of surveyed swappers leaving very happy and our Green Living Show booth named in the top 1% of the event exhibitors–and we have been featured in over 70 media outlets. Let’s not forget all the happy swappers we’ve met!

Happy swapsity swapper

A happy swapper who scored a laptop through Swapsity.

The biggest challenge to overcome is…
making swapping and sharing mainstream; we need a collective change of mindset. Sometimes it makes sense to use the cash economy, while other times it’s better to tap into the swapping economy. The two complement each other. We need to embrace the spirit of collaboration and make swapping part of our lifestyle.

If I wasn’t doing Swapsity, I would be…
unable to experience the many rewards of social entrepreneurship, such as a chance to make a difference, pioneer new things and meet like-minded people. Or, who knows, maybe I would be a globetrotter, famous chess player or a yogi.

Another Canadian Collaborative Consumption startup I admire is …
the Barter Babes Project is super! Shannon Simmons quit her high-rolling job and spent a year living virtually on barter. She’s awesome, swap-savvy and her story shows that barter boosts personal happiness. Thumbs up for the Barter Babe!

In the future for Swapsity is…
cultivating a thriving and vibrant swapping economy within Canada and making a difference in the lives of individuals on financial, environmental and social levels. Just as entrepreneurship has empowered me, I aspire for Swapsity to empower Canadians. We will continue to lead the swapping movement in Canada and get people involved in Collaborative Consumption.

My one piece of advice for social entrepreneurs is…
building a venture from the ground up requires an incredible amount of energy, effort and enthusiasm. So, love what you do! You’ll have a vast reservoir of energy to draw from and by realizing your big vision you will contribute to a healthier and happier world.

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