Sharing Vouchers: Simple Way to Share Anything

Imagine going to a café or other business and easily connecting with people sharing goods or services. That’s the idea behind Sharing Vouchers.

Imagine going to a café or other business and easily connecting with people sharing goods or services. That’s the idea behind Sharing Vouchers.

I magine going into a coffee shop, conference center, library, or business and easily connecting with other people willing to share goods or services. That’s the idea behind the Sharing Vouchers, a no-tech, neighborly way to create a culture of sharing.

The brainchild of Juul Martin, a social entrepreneur and public speaker in the Netherlands who is working to create a sharing society, Sharing Vouchers are pieces of paper that people write what they are willing to share on. The vouchers are for single use and have been used to share a variety of things, including dog walking, cooking a meal, telling Viking stories, german lessons, and guided tours.

Shareable connected with Martin to learn more about the inspiration for the project, some of the most interesting offers, and his vision to put Sharing Voucher Hotspots all over the world.

Shareable: What was the inspiration for the Sharing Voucher project and when was it started?

Juul Martin: I have been working on quite a few sharing initiatives since 2009 and, time after time, place after place, person after person, I see and hear a lot of similar difficulties—whether because of cultural rules or moral issues—people experience in sharing. Some of these are, ‘I can’t ask for help, that’s egotistical,’ and ‘When someone helps me, I need to pay back. Quid pro quo.’

At the same time, nearly everyone I meet loves to help someone out with something they like to do themselves. The source and potential of what people like to help with is nearly inexhaustible.

So the rules we think work best, or the common ones like ‘quid pro quo’ and ‘look after yourself’ are outdated and just not helping. I want to change these rules and the mindset and heartset. That is why I do what I do.

My rules for a sharing society would be: Decide what you want to share and what you don’t. Make whatever you want to share findable and usable on an imaginary infinite ‘sharing table’. Take whatever you need or like from this table, there is plenty. No need to ask—it is there for anyone to use, a kind of global voluntary commons.

The sharing vouchers are a means to help create this ‘table’ or society. These rules are made explicit on the voucher. The voucher is for one time use only and the vouchers exist in the real world alone. You can really smell them and hold them if you please.

With these vouchers, I hoped to have a lot of people trying out sharing with strangers, sharing from [a place of] wanting to and abundance. It is a safe way, no accounts or logins needed. Furthermore, I think it is good for our bad news infected societies to be able to see and feel that there is this massive surplus of goodness around.

How many Sharing Voucher Hotspots are there and how many vouchers have been shared?

We started with the vouchers in my sharing shop in Nijmegen, Netherlands, and people were immediately fond of it. So I asked a printing company if they could help by printing some extra vouchers for us to let this initiative grow.

One printing company was so smart to have the vouchers printed on the paper that would be cut away and discarded when printing other things. So all of a sudden we had 10,000 vouchers. Within a week, we opened 30-plus Sharing Voucher Hotspots all over the Netherlands. They are in bars and cafés, libraries, gas stations, big corporations that use the vouchers with their staff and guests, coworking places, and even some city halls.

I cannot say how many vouchers have been used, but I am out of vouchers right now. Some places have asked for new ones and others still have enough. It seems to work best in public places where the staff is fond of the idea and shows the vouchers to their customers.

There have been Sharing Vouchers for guided tours, dog walking, cooking, and telling stories. These are all based on services and time shared rather than goods. Is that your intention with the project or can the Sharing Vouchers be used to also share goods?

People are free to share what they want to. Some people use the vouchers, indeed, to offer their goods. What we see is that the most popular vouchers are fun and interesting services like making food, telling stories, being a guest in someone’s house, or behind the scenes at some event like a fashion show or so.

What are some of the most exciting or surprising things people have shared with Sharing Vouchers?

A full weekend’s stay at someone’s house with guided tours in Amsterdam. The hospitality! Wow. Our mayor in Nijmegen shared ‘everything but his wife’ and gave me his necktie with the voucher. A bakery that is a Sharing Voucher Hotspot noticed that someone wrote a voucher with ‘homemade bread,’ so the baker took it and got a loaf of bread from one of his customers.

Are there any challenges with getting communities to adopt Sharing Vouchers?

It does not work when people use the vouchers as a means to get some traffic or business to their place. It does not work either when the vouchers just lie somewhere. You need to really want to have people to share and put a little effort into it to have your hotspots working. And if you do it with a smile and start offering gifts, it works fantastically. When people see the abundance, they see their own.

How do you introduce the program to businesses or organizations that could potentially be hotspots?

As a public speaker, I am invited a lot to talk about what you, your business, or community can achieve by sharing. I end my talks usually by handing out Sharing Vouchers to the audience and they immediately start to use them…Usually, after such a talk people want to start using this voucher in their networks our places. When I want a place to be a Sharing Voucher Hotspot, I just go there or call them and ask. They usually say yes.

You’d like to see this become an international project. How can people who aren’t in the Netherlands get involved and bring Sharing Vouchers to their communities?

We are setting up a website, We invite anyone that wants a hotspot in their place to visit the site and sign up. We have a team of designers ready to restyle the vouchers and logos in any language and color. So tell us what you want and provide us with translations in your language and we will make the vouchers, logos, and posters for you. All you have to do is print them somewhere and start using them.

We will show all hotspots on a map and would like to hear stories resulting from the vouchers all over the world to publish and inspire more people to share. We hope to connect hotspot owners so they can share tips and tricks to make a success out of it for themselves.

What would you ideally like to see with the Sharing Voucher project? What’s your big picture vision?

It would make me so happy to have Sharing Voucher Hotspots all over the world. Imagining all these people sharing, changing their hearts and minds a bit globally would help a little for world peace, individual happiness, more relaxed societies. In the end, I want the hotspots and vouchers to be unnecessary. Because enough people will understand and share.

This post first appeared at Shareable.

By Cat Johnson

Cat Johnson is a freelance writer focused on community, the commons, sharing, collaboration and music. Publications include Utne Reader, GOOD, Yes! Magazine, Shareable, Triple Pundit and Lifehacker. She's also a musician, record store longtimer, chronic list maker, avid coworker and aspiring minimalist.