TEDxBerkeley – Nipun Mehta – Designing For Generosity

Translator: Alina Siluyanova
Reviewer: Denise RQ Thank you. I am happy to be here. I really want to explore the question
if we designed for generosity. if we designed for generosity. This is a cover
of Time magazine, May 11, 1953. It features Vinoba Bhave. Vinoba Bhave was named by Gandhi
as sort of his official successor; big shoes to fill in. A post independence in India, we know Vinoba did something incredible. He realized that there was
a lot of inequity in the country, and he wanted to solve it. Sounds a little familiar. And he goes around, so he decides
to go on a walking pilgrimage. He goes from village to village. And in each village,
he tells the rich land owners to donate 1/6 of their land,
to the poor land owners. No coercion, no compulsion, just purely for the spirit of generosity. And he appealed
to their inner transformation. He ended up walking 70,000 kilometers. And through those 70,000 kilometers, more than 5 million acres
of land were just donated. 5 million acres, that is bigger
than the size of Kuwait. That is twice the size of Lebanon,
that’s almost as big as Israel. And all he did was
he would go through a village, and inspire these people,
and go on to the next. He ended up being the largest peaceful
transfer of land in human history. But, how? What was the force? What was the underlying inner
transformation that allowed him to do it? A lot of us have been thinking
about these kinds of questions, and there isn’t really a word. So, we came up with a word. We call it “giftivism”, the practice of radically
generous acts that change the world. Now, giftivism is different. What you see over there: Gandhi,
Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Dalai Lama, Cesar Chavez,
you go on down the list; they are all practicing giftivism. And the marker of giftivism
is that is for the 100%. There is no enemy, there is no opponent, because, ultimately,
our inner transformation is tied to the outer manifestation. All these people recognized that. And that is giftivism. So, how can we bring it about naturally? We asked this question:
how can we have more of this in the world? So, the key question for us was: what designs emerge if we assume
that people want to behave selflessly? By design, it is institutions,
systems, projects. What would emerge
if we turn this question on its head? By “on its head” I mean,
you know, if you look at economics, it is built on the premise
that people aim to maximize self-interest. That’s the basic, fundamental
building block of all economics: that we are selfish. What happens if you turn
that around and say, “Well, actually, maybe
people want to be selfless.” So, few of us, back in April 1999,
went to a homeless shelter. And we said, “We want to give,
just for the love of it.” We don’t know what we want to do,
but we want to help. We came back, and we ended up
building them a website. It felt great. So, we told all our friends about it. Says, “Hey, this generosity thing?
There’s really something to it.” And all of a sudden,
they are like, “OK, sounds good.” And they came in, and they experienced
the same thing, they told their friends, and it started growing;
it was very counter-cultural at the time, because we easily
could have made money doing it. But we were saying,
“We were not just looking for money. There was this inner transformation which is actually beyond money
and almost priceless.” So, we then looked at it, and we had
a very interesting thing happen, there was a dotcom that went belly up. And when it went belly up,
they came to us and said, “Hey, can you keep our product alive?
Because it is doing a lot of civic good.” We said, “Sure.
We’d be happy to. We can try.” We were bunch of volunteers, we didn’t know if we could actually
run an organization like that. In three months, we doubled
all our numbers. We scratched our heads, we said, “Oh, man! We’ve got institutional capacity!
We could do stuff!” So, then we said,
“Well, what should we do?” What should we do is what
none else is willing to do. Like what? Well, we should do things like good news. CNN doesn’t put any good news, but if you
don’t have any good news in the world, you’re constantly going
to be stuck in the fear narrative. Why doesn’t CNN have good news?
Because it is very hard to monetize. Then we said,
“Maybe there are other things?” So we started a portal for good news,
and then we said, “What about kindness?” Again, very hard to monetize,
doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have systematic efforts to promote
that kind of stuff in the world. So we started a portal to do that. And we started a whole bunch
of different projects. And then at some point
we said, “Why not go offline? What happens if you run
a restaurant in this way? What happens if you run
a ricksha in India in this way? What happens if you run
an art magazine in this way?” “In this way”, by which I mean
the power of generosity, the power of inner transformation. So, what ended up happening was that we actually created
a whole ecosystem called Service Space around this kind of an idea. Now, all innovation, if you look at it, is bound by this creative constraints
that you put on yourself. We had three very interesting
curious constraints. The first was we decided
that we’re going to be all volunteer-run. And you say,
“OK, well, that’s interesting.” So instead of having five staff
working 40 hours a week, we said we are going to have
40 volunteers contributing 5 hours a week. So, the same amount
of output at the end of the day, but an incredible amount of energy, right? What we started unleashing
was the power of compassion capital. The second big thing
was that we didn’t fundraise. We saw a lot of amazing projects. You know, they start off
with noble beautiful intentions, but by the tenth year
they all are bogged down in fundraising. By the twentieth year,
it’s like before you do something, you’ve got 20 photographers
showing what you’re going to do. And that was
just the sad truth of organizing. We said, “Is there another way?
We don’t know! But let’s experiment. Let’s not fundraise.” What that meant was
that instead of showing value we would just focus on adding value. We’re doubling down on adding value. And that allowed us to discover all kinds
of untapped, undiscovered capital. And the third thing was
that we were honoring the process, which meant honoring small acts. And small acts were great, but when they really
got connected to each other, we’ve realized that there was
this synergy that was happening. Where 1 plus 1 was greater than 2, the whole was greater
than the sum of the parts. And you have two things,
by themselves there are two things, but when you put them
together, there’s a bond, and that bond actually means something,
that bond actually has value. So, we started seeing synergistic capital. So, we had these three constraints, but it ended up allowing us to flourish with all kinds of different abundance,
if you want to call it that. So, these small acts of giftivism,
when they get connected, it rekindles a gift economy. A gift economy is, of course,
very different to a traditional economy, because in the gift economy
it’s the circulation of these gifts that leads to the vitality of society,
not hoarding, not accumulation. Such a gift culture
is marked by these four key shifts. A first one is a shift
from consumption to contribution. An average American sees
3,500 adds a day, mostly unconsciously. So, 3,500 adds a day that are telling
you are incomplete as you are, you need my product, you need
my service before you can be complete. So, it is very hard to come out
of this consumption conditioning. But what if we flip it? What if we open each door
and say, “What can I give?” Instead of saying,”What can I get?”,
“What can I give?” If you start with that,
it really changes the whole game. To encourage that, we started
a little game called “Smile Cards”. “Smile Cards” is
this business size wallet cards, you have them in your pocket, and you do
a small act of kindness anonymously and you leave a Smile Card behind. It tells the recipient
that you don’t know who did this for you, but keep the chain going,
you can do that for someone else. Sure, the classic example is paying toll
for the car behind you, and that’s great. But what happens
when you are that car behind you? Do pay forward for the person after you? So “Smile Cards” becomes an invitation. And imagine if we spread this
in all corners of the world. There were these two fellows,
these New York consultants, great, very successful guys,
they travel a lot. And so, they ended up getting
upgraded to the first class one time. And what they decided to do is they said,
“Hey, let’s practice generosity!” And so, they went to a couple
in economy and said, “Sir, ma’am, you’ve just been upgraded!”,
and they traded seats. And these guys were, like,
“Oh my God! I get to be in first class.” And these guys were saying,
“Wow! We made somebody smile!” Everybody won. What happens, when you start
to look at the world in that way, we look at all things that we receive
and ask the question: how can I pay forward
and keep the chain going? That’s the shift
from consumption to contribution. The second shift
is from transaction to trust. You can’t shake hands
with a clenched fist. So, to experiment with this,
we started a little project that perhaps lots of you know about, because there is
a restaurant here, in Berkeley, that I’m going to talk about;
it is Karma Kitchen. You walk in a Karma Kitchen, and you have a meal,
like you do in any other restaurant, but your check at the end
of the meal reads zero. And it is zero, because someone
before you payed for your meal, and you get to pay forward
for people after you. And you can imagine
the business school folks scratching their heads saying (Laughter) “Wait a second,
how the heck can that work? You mean, you just trust people? You know, it is not
that we were taught in school!” And we ourselves didn’t know
how long it was going to continue, we just started it as an experiment,
“Let’s see how long the chain continues.” It’s been four years, 26,000 meals,
people continue to pay it forward. It spread to DC and Chicago,
and actually all over the world now. So, there was a very interesting– I mean, amazing things
happen at Karma Kitchen. But there was a very– there was a professor right here,
at the High School of Business, Leif Nelson, he says,
“We have to study this. There is something going on, you know.” (Laughter) So, they decide to do an experiment:
they go to a cartoon museum, it is a dollar to get in
to the cartoon museum, and they said,
“Today you get to pay what you want. But put whatever you want in that box.” People, on average, gave
1,23 dollars. Pretty amazing. But then they went one step further, and they said, “Instead of putting
what you want in that box, pay directly to the cashier,
but still whatever you want.” Now, all of a sudden,
it humanizes the whole interaction. People, on average, payed 2 dollars. Then they said,
“Let’s do Karma Kitchen style.” And that awoke their interconnections:
someone before you has payed for your tab, and you get to pay forward for people
after you, these people who’ll never even be able to look at you
in the face and say, “Thank you.” How much would you pay?
On average, people gave over 3 dollars. Remarkable. So, we have to count
on people to be generous. When you count on people to be generous,
all kinds of beautiful things can happen. The third shift is the shift
from isolation to community. Community isn’t just people
coming together, it is how our people are coming together. Contacts really matter. You take a look at a piece
of graphite and a piece if diamond made of the same carbon atoms, but the only difference is
how the carbon atoms are configured, how they connect, how they bond. That makes all the difference in what the product is,
what the manifestation is. We have to really start
to cultivate these deeper ties. This is a photo of my 10-year-old cousin. Neo on his tenth birthday party
decides to throw some Super-Soccer party they all have fun in the back, and then, in the afternoon
he does something different; he says, “I’ll invite all my friends, and we will do a free car wash
for the community.” They had their board and their jingle, and all these strangers
pulled off on a driveway, they split up up in the prerinse team,
and the soap team, and the rinse team, and the tire team,
and they are just going at it. Now, imagine if you’re pulling up
in one of these cars. The people come out of the car,
and they’re completely bowled over: “What are you doing this for?
Is this a fundraiser? That’s amazing! I’d like to contribute.” They say, “No, we’re not
doing this for a fundraiser, we’re actually
just practicing generosity.” (Laughter) “It is my friend’s Neo birthday,
and we’re just practicing generosity.” And that kind of stuff
can really blow you away. All the guards are down,
and all of a sudden, it’s like, “Yeah, I love you, man!” (Laughter) And they’re taking photos,
and these kids– it was amazing to see the connection
between the strangers and the kids, but what was even more amazing
was how these kids bonded, because they served other people together. So, you can be Facebook friends,
and those loose ties have its value. You can go out
to the movies with your friend, and those deep ties have their values. But you can serve others together,
and that creates gift ties, and those are priceless,
those are really valuable. So, we need to cultivate
a network of these gift ties. And the last shift is the shift
from scarcity to abundance. This is really a mindset,
it’s a mindset of tapping into “enough”. Whenever you say “abundance”, people look at that and say, “Well, do you really think
there is plenty for everybody?” And I think Gandhi tackles this
spot on in one sentence, “There is enough for everyone’s need,
but not enough for everyone’s greed.” So, how do we tap
into this mindset of “enough”? What you see on the photo
at the top over there are two giftivism warriors,
love warriors, if you want to call them. They live in East Auckland. You might have seen the photo;
this is occupied Auckland, they went to jail for meditating,
they were completely peaceful. And these guys actually do
a lot of amazing, interesting stuff. They have a house on the border
of two gangs in East Palo Alto, one of the worst places in the country. Most people say,
there is a lot of scarcity: they have scarcity of safety,
they have scarcity of resources; all kind of scarcities. These guys are saying,
“Look, we have enough. Let’s look at this with new eyes,
and see what we can give to other people.” They live on Fruitvale Avenue;
lots of fruits there, still. And they decided they would connect
with their neighbors and they’d say, “Look, you have all these amazing fruits,
they’re going to waste, can we just pluck them and give them?” Neighbors say, “Yeah, sure!
You guys going to do that? That’s great!” They become friends.
They go out to people and say, “Here is an organic, fresh,
ultra-local orange for you. (Laughter) And it’s a gift from your neighbors
in East Auckland.” These are not just people
on the receiving end that just need to get,
they’re now contributing. They reframed the whole equation. And like that they’re doing
so many different activities, all because they’re tapped into
this mindset of abundance, of “enough”. So, if everyone can share their gifts, we’ll start to really discover
new forms of value. So, in conclusion– I mean, you know,
here are the four shifts. When we move
from consumption to contribution, we appreciate what we receive,
and we pay forward. When you move from transaction to trust, you really start to rely
on our interconnectedness in a very deep, profound way. When you go from isolation to community, you start to cultivate
this network of gift ties. And when you move
from scarcity to abundance, you really start to discover your gifts, and start to experience
this generative power of gratitude. It’s very generative. So, that’s really giftivism, it’s the practice of radically
generous acts that change the world. But it’s not just reserved
for the Gandhis, and the Mother Teresas, and the Dalai Lamas in the world. In the bottom right over there, there is this man that most of you
may have heard of, his name’s Julio Diaz. Everyday Joe. He lives in New Jersey,
every day he takes the subway back home. One day he is getting off,
and this kid comes after him with a knife, and he says, “Give me all your money.” He says, “OK, well,
here is my wallet”, gives it to him. Kid is about to run off,
and then he yells out at the kid, “Hey, kid! It’s a little cold.
Do you want my jacket too?” (Laughter) The kid is blown away,
he hadn’t learnt this in Robbery 1.0.1, so he comes back (Laughter) and he says, “Hmm, OK, yeah, all right!” But now, when he comes back,
very different energy. They start to connect, they start to bond. And Julio says,
“I’m about to go to have dinner. Do you want to join me?” Also not in the Robbery 1.0.1. (Laughter) So they go to dinner,
and they have this profound conversation. At the end of the dinner Julio says, “I’d love to treat you,
but you have my wallet.” (Laughter) So, the kid naturally takes out
his wallet and gives it back to Julio, and at that point Julio says,
“Can I ask for one more thing? Can I have your knife too?” And very easily, very naturally
he gives it back to him. And that is giftivism, because Julio tapped into
that spirit of inner transformation says, “This is not a guy
who is taking stuff from me. I just want to blow him away.” And that capacity
bloomed away with generosity, underneath that generosity
is an inner transformation, and once we tapped into
that inner transformation, all kinds of new possibilities
are available to us. As we say in Service Space,
our tagline says, “Change yourself and change the world.” If we make that inner change, outer change is bound to come
in a very different way; if it comes from the inside out. Thank you. (Applause)

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