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How Generosity Can Change the World

Escapee Harriet gives her take on a speaker named Nipun Metha and the roots of real happiness.

In an attempt to find some happiness in my life (while I’m stuck in the 9-5 unable to throw it all away just yet) I went to a brilliant lecture run by Action for Happiness recently where I listened to the hugely inspirational Nipun Mehta – founder of servicespace.org, a volunteer run organisation based around generosity projects and a ‘gift economy’ – whereby services are given for free with the trust that people will be so overwhelmed by the kindness that they will return everything you need. (Pretty mind-blowing faith in humanity I think you’ll agree!) Nipun has used this philosophy to create whole host of successful business initiatives.

Not only did this lecture give me food for thought about my own future business practices but also made me realise that small acts of kindness can create not only a powerful new mind-set but positive ripples of change.

Where It All Began

Disillusioned with the greed of the 1990’s in Silicon Valley, Nipun and his friends began volunteering and conducted generosity ‘experiments’ by providing their I.T skills free of charge to non-profit organisations. The venture went so well that by the age of 25 he’d given up his promising career to helping others full time. He even took a walking pilgrimage across India to test the boundaries of generosity and love. (I should note that it was only 10 minutes into the talk and I was already in awe)

What started out as a grass-root community project has turned into a global movement with ‘radical generosity’ at its heart. Some of his initiatives include Karma Kitchen a volunteer run restaurant where every meal is given out for free because each person makes a donation for the next diner.

Flipping Consumerism on its Head

Now I know that there are those of a more capitalist perspective who say that to use the word ‘free’ is wrong because you’re still paying for the meal – all be it for someone else, so what’s the point? The point is the change in mentality – the idea that you’re getting something from someone else and passing it on to a complete stranger. It’s a subtle but huge change in mind-set and the possibilities if it became a more mainstream idea could create a completely different world. This ‘generosity entrepreneurship’ turns our dominant economic paradigm on its head by shifting from ‘consumption’ to ‘contribution’ and ‘individuality’ to ‘community’. Ultimately it relies on the trust that people aren’t going to take advantage.

Nipun quote’s the Dalai Lama’s words ‘be selfish, be generous’ to support his idea that by giving away something we don’t become poorer but actually richer in ourselves. The more you develop your kindness the stronger it becomes. He says that this personal transformation is a powerful tool for social change. It’s about looking for the collective good first and the personal good second.

There are those who argue that people who only ‘give’ will end up at the bottom of the pyramid however there is a whole new collection of successful social entrepreneurs who haven’t had to stand on anyone to the top. This has made me assess my own ambitions in life and the kind of boss I want to be when I finally escape and start my own business.

Think Small

One of Nipun’s key principals is to think small. Small acts are no less worthy than big ones so just begin by doing what you can. He say to stay rooted in the ordinary and don’t worry about the whether you have a bigger picture. Appreciate all that you receive and pay it forward to cultivate networks of generosity and circles of kindness. From these networks you will get back everything you need.

By following Nipun’s advice and not fixating about maximum impact of our actions it is easy to appreciate that your small acts are making a positive ripple – and if we all made small ripples then it can create a much bigger wave.