Thinking through the giving economy

By @ 07/17/15 in News

from the OPC July newsletter, by Sandhya Jha


I find myself thinking about a longer term issue: how we build what Dr. King called The Beloved Community, and how we do that through the way we engage each other about money.

I know. Money and peace?

But I’ve been learning from OPC partners and allies in the community about practicing “gift economics” in how they run their organizations. It is something that the Oakland Peace Center board is strongly considering for how we structure our budget, our financial reporting, and how we fund our shared work.

I first learned about this model from Judith Katz, founder of OPC partner the Connection Action Project, whose trainings introduced me to Charles Eisenstein. Eisenstein if famous for re-introducing us to this model that has existed for millenia in indigenous and non-western cultures, and in an article laying out its most basic foundations, he comments, “Community is woven from gifts. Unlike today’s market system, whose built-in scarcity compels competition in which more for me is less for you, in a gift economy the opposite holds. Because people in gift culture pass on their surplus rather than accumulating it, your good fortune is my good fortune: more for you is more for me. Wealth circulates, gravitating toward the greatest need. In a gift community, people know that their gifts will eventually come back to them, albeit often in a new form. Such a community might be called a “circle of the gift.””

But what does that mean in practice for a local organization trying to do peace work?

Longtime OPC partner East Point Peace Academy explains how it looks for them: “Gift economics means we do not charge a fee for our work. Working on this model means that sometimes our workshops can end up costing us money. For us, a commitment to the Gift model is also a leap of faith. We operate on faith that if our work is something that the community needs, then our community will come together to sustain it.” It also means that people who contribute to EPPA are supporting people in prisons and jails who cannot contribute financially getting the same trainings, allowing people to invest in their whole community and not only in a fee-for-service transaction.

EPPA learned about this model from East Bay Meditation Center, who do exceptional work to create inner peace and community peace. Here are their principles for practicing a gift economy in their work:
Five Principles of Gift Economics at the East Bay Meditation Center are:

  1. No prices and no fees
  2. Everyone has the opportunity to give
  3. Giving occurs in response to need
  4. Giving is invited in proportion to one’s capacity
  5. There are feedback loops that show whether the need has been met

At the OPC, we’re thinking about what it looks like to practice the kind of community we want to exist around us. This week has reminded us of both the tragic urgency and the beautiful outcomes of modeling a community of loving values and dignity and equality for all. So we hope to practice these same things.

If you don’t belong to a nonprofit, there is an amazing and simple way to practice this value in any group you participate in: gift circles have been one of the most joy-filled things our friends within the OPC network have experienced (thanks again to Judith Katz) and are easy to replicate. Just gather people, let them name their needs one at a time, and then let them name their gifts one at a time. It is amazing what happens as a result. Two links to learn more are here and here.(The second link includes a video featuring Alpha Lo, who has also presented on this issue at the Oakland Peace Center!)

With deep gratitude for the many gifts YOU bring to building peace, and with an awareness of our urgent need to share and receive one another’s gifts now more than ever,

Sandhya Jha, director
The Oakland Peace Center


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