By Life Positive September 2007 A gift economy is an economic system in which goods and services are given freely, rather than trade. join up and transform the way we do business by Chintan Girish Modi with Megha Bajaj Gift a Life PositiveIf this piece inspires you enough to want to benefit by the joy of giving, we invite you to consider leaving your old copies of Life Positive at wherever you feel seekers may gather – satsangs, yoga centres, alternative clinics, discourses, and so on. Add a note telling the recipient of your gift that the magazine has benefitted you, and you would like to pass it on. Many recipients of gift subscriptions have told us that it is the best gift they have received in their lives. You could go this route too. Ed Hotline to happinessNipun MehtaEmail: firstname.lastname@example.orgWebsite: www.charityfocus.org Seva CaféShopper’s Plaza, 4th Floor, Opp. Municipal Market, C G Road, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.Pin Code: 380 009 Phone: 079 32954140Email: email@example.com Website: www.sevacafe.org Karma Kitchenhttp://www.karmakitchen.org/ Book Crossinghttp://www.bookcrossing.com/ The Divine life SocietySwami Krishnananda, The General Secretary, The Divine Life Society, P.O. Shivanandanagar, Pin Code 249 192, District Tehri-Garhwal, U.P., INDIA. Tel: (91)-135-430040, : (91)-135-433101 Vipassanahttp://www.dhamma.org With my strong right-brain inclinations, I should be the last person to talk about economics, my friends and acquaintances would testify. But the gift economy is right-brain friendly – it harnesses spiritual and creative forces like kindness, compassion, and surrender. As Nipun Mehta, founder of an organisation called Charity Focus, describes it, “A gift economy is an economic system in which goods and services are given freely, rather than traded. In a market economy, one’s wealth is increased by “saving”; in contrast, in a gift economy, wealth is decreased by hoarding, for it is the circulation of the gifts within the community that leads to increase – increase in connections, increase in relationship strength.” The principle draws energy and inspiration from the good old concept of nishkama karma – acting without expecting a reward. Of course, the reward is there; just that you can’t measure it in terms of cash receipts. Inner netNipun’s Charity Focus is a non-profit organisation in Santa Clara, USA, that he started with friends, to offer voluntary services to other NGOs. Communication for outreach and fundraising is very important for NGOs, but their budgets often don’t allow them enough to spend on websites. Charity Focus volunteers, having the ideal of service etched in their philosophy, develop websites for them. These volunteers believe that it’s impossible to create a better world without inner change resulting from selfless service. So Charity Focus itself has a variety of associated websites to generate inspiration and inspire action. There’s http://www.karmatube.org/, which offers a collection of short videos that urge you to undertake small be-the-change actions that add to the joy in the world. In addition, you have http://www.ijourney.org/ that brings together “compelling individual stories”. Visitors to the website are encouraged to freely share and distribute these stories. Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.org, is another great example of the way sharing works in today’s world. It is a dynamic web encyclopedia contributed to by users themselves. Type any search on google, chances are one of the top 20 pages will be from Wikipedia, started only six years ago. What’s even more amazing is that Wikipedia has 6.8 million registered users, 1.8 million articles, and is available in 250 languages. Meals of loveCloser home, in India, we have the Ahmedabad-based Seva Café, a unique experiment in giving. Patrons of this eatery are not thrust with a menu card laying a price tag on each delicacy they want to relish. They can have their fill, unmindful of what they’ll have to shell out, simply because their meal has been gifted to them by someone who ate there before them, and was touched by the beauty of the philosophy that Seva Café espouses. They get lots of enquiries from people who’ve heard about them – some moved, some baffled that something like this can work today – and want to have a slice of the joy that’s spilling out of every corner. You can come here too, and volunteer to chop vegetables, cook food, serve the guests, or help with the cleaning. “Seva Cafe works on a contribute-as you-wish model. This means that you and only you determines the cost of a meal there.” Seva Café works on a contribute-as-you-wish model. This means that you, and only you determine how much you will contribute to Seva Café at the end of your experience here. It could be Rs. 10 or Rs. 1,000, no questions will be asked, no snide remarks made. The food received is truly intended as a gift – without demand for exchange. “We do not want ‘contribute’ to simply be taken as a clever substitute for ‘pay,’ says their powerfully positive website. “‘Contribute’ to us implies participation, involvement, and support. You contribute to our mission just by sitting at our tables, showing your support for locally produced, wholesomely prepared food, and allowing us the opportunity to serve you. Your financial contribution at the meal’s end signifies your willingness to be a part of this community, to participate in this experiment.” Seva Café is full of heartwarming stories – of people who sauntered in for something nice to eat, but left with that and something more precious. Not too long ago a family of 15 people visited the Seva Café to have dinner. That night, four kids aging from 8-12 belonging to the family, got up after dinner and offered to help wash dishes in the kitchen, while their mother finished enjoying her meal. To make their job more fun, one of the kids decided to create a little dance while washing the dishes. After one hour of laughing, conversing, and cleaning, the kids finished the work, but said they wanted to do more. Says their website, “We asked them to bring old pencils, erasers and clothes for poor kids, and they actually did that, proving to us that you don’t need to be of a certain age to help better the world.” Karma Kitchen in Berkeley, California, works on a similar concept. It was started by Viral and Pavi Mehta. They say, “Karma Kitchen is an experiment in bringing that spirit of service further into the mainstream community, and in inviting everyone to join together in a circle of giving. Most of the workers at Karma Kitchen are freely giving their time to serve you. In the process, they are intentionally cultivating their personal ideals of selflessness, grace, and generosity.” Isn’t it fascinating to note that so much good cheer is spreading in the world, all over food? But the most astonishing instance we’ve come across is that of 26-year-old Krishnan, a man in Madurai who spends several hours a day cooking for the homeless, and distributing meals to them. A few years ago, Krishnan, a gold medalist in catering technology, was at a well paying job in a leading luxury hotel in Bangalore. On a vacation, he had come home and was cycling around the Madurai roads when he saw a man, sitting under a bridge, shamefully eating his own waste. The stark desperation of the sight shook him profoundly, and drastically altered the course of his life. He resigned from his job, and came back to an anxious family to declare, “I intend to feed people who cannot feed themselves.” He began buying packets of food from the money he had saved and started feeding all the people he came across, including the man under the bridge. Krishnan opted to remain unemployed, but continued feeding a steadily increasing number of people on the streets. With diminishing savings, he stopped buying food packets and began cooking each meal himself. This was a familiar territory due to his short stint with the hotel. year into this unique service, a family friend donated a Maruti van for transport and distribution. The next year a young man, Mani, left his job in a local hotel to join the cause. Financial support started trickling gradually from people who began hearing about Krishnan’s service. With donations pouring in, Krishnan realised the need for a proper system that ensured accountability. In June 2003, he founded a non-profit trust called ‘Akshaya’, after that wondrously inexhaustible vessel in Hindu mythology. His parents built a separate kitchen for him in their home. Preparing the food himself gives Krishnan the added advantage of being able to maintain quality standards. “Just because they are on the streets is not an excuse to give them poor quality food,” he says firmly. “I serve what I myself eat.” Today, over a hundred people are being fed three meals daily. Akshaya has a firm policy of not feeding able-bodied people who beg for a living. It focuses on people who are mentally unwell, have other forms of disability, or have been abused and abandoned. Maaji, Bhaiya – he addresses even the nameless with respect, often slipping out of his sandals before serving them food. Because of their condition, many are incapable even of demonstrating gratitude. But Krishnan is not looking for any of this. “Serving them is a privilege. These are not ordinary people but special souls,” he believes. Read and releaseBook Crossing is another interesting concept that links up with the gift economy. The basic idea is this: you love reading a book, and want to share it with someone else, so you leave the book in a public
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