5 Minutes with Mel O’Young from Airbnb & Let’s Collaborate, NYC

By now you hopefully know something about our 2015 Distinguished Speaker Rachel Botsman and the phenomenon she coined as ‘Collaborative Consumption’ as we have introduced you to the concept in our last two blogs;

‘An Idea that Will Change the World’ and ‘The Sharing Brothers’.

But let’s hear from someone who works, studies and lives the Collaborative Economy – Australian raised, NYC local Mel O’Young. Mel knows our DSS Speaker Rachel Botsman well, and she is the United States East Coast curator of CollaborativeConsumption.com (Botsman’s comprehensive online resource for collaborative consumption worldwide), so who better to get some insight from?

5 Minutes with Mel from Airbnb & Let’s Collaborate, NYC

Melissa O’Young is an Australian living in New York who is fascinated and passionate about the collaborative economy. She is the founder of Let’s Collaborate!, an organisation that is connecting and promoting the sharing economy movement in New York and also the Head of NY Community for Airbnb. Prior to joining Airbnb, she was building community for Virgin Unite, the non-profit arm to the Virgin Group.

Melissa O'Young Headshot

Melissa O’Young, Collaborative Consumption convert, former Community Curator at Virgin Unite and current Head of Community for Airbnb, NYC.

Her passion for the sharing economy started when she studied it academically through her thesis, and then worked in an advisory role with the UK Government.

  • How did you come across the collaborative economy and what made you decide to focus on it?

A journalist called Rachel Hills once interviewed myself and two other girls for a magazine article on “luck”. When I moved to London, Rachel reached out and invited me to Rachel Botsman’s launch of her book What’s Mine is Yours, the Rise of Collaborative Consumption, which turned out to be a very lucky encounter.

I was studying at that time and Rachel’s book made me realise there was a gap in academia in examining the potential of the collaborative economy. I researched it for my thesis, and now the collaborative economy has evolved to be a major component of my life.

  • Tell us the top 3 ways your discovery of the Collaborative Economy changed your daily life.

My passion for the collaborative economy resulted in me starting Let’s Collaborate! in 2012, an event series where I gather sharing economy thought-leaders to discuss trends and issues in the sharing economy. This has changed my life through meeting a beautiful network of people who have similar values and a vision for a more sustainable, equal, and collaborative world.

Let's Collaborate!_Horizontal_Color (1) copy

It has also changed my daily life through the services I use – the collaborative economy has provided many alternatives from buying handmade pieces on Etsy to obtaining unique fashion items through clothes swaps to trying new ways of eating on Feastly.

Lastly, it has also changed my life through the work that I do. I am very lucky to work for a sharing economy company that is making a significant impact on the way people travel and interact with each other. When using Airbnb, people of all different backgrounds, races, religions are meeting each other in each other’s homes, and I’ve heard from many people in the community that it has turned them into better people. It’s pretty amazing spending your workday knowing that your work will have a positive impact on others.

  • For students who are inspired by the collaborative economy, what would you suggest beyond getting rides from Uber?

This is a hard question for me as there are so many interesting sharing economy services out there!

In health care, there is Cohealo, which allows for medical equipment to be shared. This makes perfect sense to me when expensive medical devices are unused 60% of the time. Health care specialists can rent the equipment and owners of the medical devices can profit from their machines, which sit unused most of the time.

In food, La Ruche qui dit oui (also known as the Food Assembly) is an interesting model for what the future of food might look like. The Food Assembly allows you to order fresh produce online, and then collect it at a local venue where you can talk with neighbours and meet local farmers. It is a scalable food marketplace with a business model that allows for local farmers to receive four times more than what they would get at supermarkets. You can read more about how it works here.


I also love sharing economy organisations that creatively tackle social and environmental issues. The Good Gym is an organization that believes that going to the gym is a waste – they gather people to run together to do good things from running to work on a community project to running to visit an isolated person each week. On the environmental front, Revivn remove out-dated electronics from companies, wipe out the data, and then give these electronics to communities that need them. This makes total sense when we have such a problem with e-waste yet there are communities out there that need access to technology.

  • Why should Global Leadership Program students be excited about hearing from Rachel Botsman this October?

Rachel Botsman is one of the original and early pioneers in the collaborative economy – she has done amazing work to help advocate, describe, and spread the collaborative economy globally. She is a major thought-leader in the space and someone that I deeply respect for her ability to explain a somewhat complex movement, and incredibly inspirational in showing how revolutionary the collaborative economy can be. She’s also a very nice person and a deep thinker full of interesting thoughts – you should all definitely hear her speak in October!

GLP thanks you for your time, Mel!

Chloë Spackman, GLP Manager

Make sure you’ve marked the evening of Wednesday October 7th in your diary so you do not miss GLP’s 2015 Distinguished Speaker, Rachel Botsman, inspire you with her vision for Collaborative Consumption. Not only is the event compulsory, but it will be of great benefit to your development as a Global Leader. You have been automatically enrolled in this event on Thrive. Please refer to your emails for further information as sent out by GLP staff last week.


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