Janelle Orsi

Ashoka Fellow
Oakland, CA, United States, North America
Fellow Since 2014
My work: Developing the legal infrastructure necessary to support a new, resilient sharing economy in the US.


This profile was prepared when Janelle Orsi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Over the last decade, experimentation with new economic models has been accelerating across the U.S. and the world. Often referred to as the “new economy” or the “sharing economy,” these models include cooperatives of various kinds, community-owned enterprises, time banks and more. This economy is based on shared ownership and community control, and aims to stabilize local economies while also supporting environmental sustainability. Its advocates point to the new ways of organizing ourselves as producers and consumers as an antidote to many of the social and environmental ills that plague modern capitalism.

However, the sharing economy lacks the legal infrastructure to go mainstream. This is because our laws and regulations – and even how lawyers are trained – were shaped by conventional economic models, with promote and preserve separation between producer/consumer, employer/employee, landlord/tenant, and so on. When conventional laws are applied to initiatives that create community-controlled sources of food, jobs, and housing, for example, the projects face immediate legal barriers to launch.

In 2009, Janelle co-founded the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) to develop an entirely new legal infrastructure and legal expertise that provides a foundation for the new economy to grow. SELC focuses on key interventions that will enable the widespread creation of new economic models, ranging from direct legal support to communities all the way to drafting new legislation for cities and states. She and her team are building networks of legal practitioners and changemakers across the U.S. and beyond with the goal of establishing a new field of transactional law practice meant to directly support new economic activity. SELC was the driving force behind drafting and passing the 2012 California Homemade Food Act, which removed key barriers to home-based food enterprises and triggered the creation of 2,000 new businesses in the first year after the law took effect.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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