While initiating the Wellbeing Movement, we heard again and again from other movement builders — don’t fundraise from institutions; live with what you have; unleash other forms of capital. I was surprised when we received this advice, but my team and I decided to trust their wisdom as we initiated the Wellbeing Movement. After over a year of work, I understand why people asked us to choose differently regarding funding, and I wanted to share my realizations with you.
Had we followed the traditional fundraising approach, we may not have seen the emergence that unfolded before our eyes over the last year and a half. It may have pushed us to think about questions of ‘scale’, even though it seemed counterproductive to our intentions. We may have been forced to put together a theory of change that told an illusionary story of certainty and control while attempting to shift minds and hearts in our volatile, uncertain and complex world. And then, with the pandemic coming our way, all of these plans would have been rendered useless, requiring us to go back to the drawing board.
More than the aforementioned barriers, it is the possibilities arising from choosing the alternative that excited us. In this post, I share a little bit about why we chose to keep the gift economy as one of the core pillars of the Wellbeing Movement’s work and the many possibilities arising from this strategic choice.
We intend to weave together a thriving, interdependent ecosystem where individuals find learning, connection, and support to improve the well-being of self, others, society, and nature. I have framed the possibilities in the context of this intention.
Possibility 1: Greater Wellbeing
Think of times when you received an act of kindness or compassion. It could be something big, like the relentless support of a friend during a crisis, or something small, like someone offering you a piece of cake when you least expected it. How did you feel? Now, think of another time when you did something kind or compassionate for another being. Again, recall how you felt.
I am sure you felt a positive emotion — maybe gratitude, connection, love, or care. Intuitively, there seems to be power in acting with kindness or compassion.
Research after research demonstrates the value of kindness and compassion. They enhance our sense of happiness and wellbeing, improve social connection, build resilience, and strengthen our physical and mental health. The best part is that both the giver and receiver experience these positive effects.
In the Wellbeing Movement, we have multiple opportunities to offer and receive kindness and compassion. This, in turn, creates an environment that fosters greater wellbeing for all. It seems one of the simplest ways to realize our intention!
Possibility 2: Greater Initiative
Kindness begets kindness. Compassion nurtures compassion. Creating an environment where people receive kindness and compassion creates ripples that touch many others. When many people receiving compassion and kindness are brought together in a community, these ripples intersect and transform into a fabric of warmth, care, and safety.
I remember an instance from the Wellbeing Movement community where a member reached out sharing her grief on her father's death anniversary. She invited people to do something they love keeping him in mind and to send her a photograph, a video, or a note. She received so many messages from the other members that she shared, “I feel so nourished to be a part of this group. So, so nourished. I want to say it tonight.” As a result of one person’s vulnerability, many others opened up to sharing their storing of love and loss with a group of strangers. (Shared with permission of the person)
These ripples go beyond sharing and caring. I have seen some community members take on diverse roles — facilitating learning spaces, hosting communities, listening to and telling stories of wellbeing journeys, handling our social media — so on and so forth.
When many people identify their roles and learn to play them, the Wellbeing Movement community begins to serve itself. Our thriving, interdependent ecosystem emerges from this collective initiative. Moreover, by giving individuals an opportunity to serve with their strengths in their areas of interest, the ecosystem enables them to find meaning and contribution in their lives in small ways.
Possibility 3: Deeper Relationships
When everybody feels the warmth, care, and support from multiple sources in the community, it shifts how we relate to each other. We understand one another, even if we don’t know each other. We realize that we are all here to seek and advance wellbeing. We all struggle in this endeavour. We all need help, some more than others. We feel it in our bodies and hearts due to our shared experiences. Therefore, we offer our time and energy to the community because we care about each other and the cause at hand, not because of expectations of monetary returns.
This realization fosters greater acceptance, safety, and belonging in the Wellbeing Movement community. Over time, the community creates a culture that is self-sustaining and self-organizing. For example, when the community grows, the existing members hold the space for the incoming ones and welcome them into the community. Such community rituals and values enable us to diffuse well-being's enabling conditions without adding managerial layers or resources.
Possibility 4: A Paradigm Shift
As people grow with the community, they realize an alternate way of being, relating and organizing is possible. We inspire other solutions that are not driven by exchanging service for money but by our relationships with each other and with the community. We move the ego-centric narrative to an eco-centric one that taps into our interbeing’s innate value.
In fact, our team’s paradigm shift is inspired by experiencing other communities, like Service Space and Vipassana, that have embodied this model. And if we wind back the clock to our early history, it was relationships that sustained most indigenous cultures. We are far from being pioneers in this thinking!
Before I close, I wanted to mention that realizing all four of these possibilities in the Wellbeing Movement is a work in progress. We have seen glimpses of these possibilities come alive in many pockets of our community. It is these bright spots that fuel our conviction in the gift economy.
We invite you to explore this question with an open mind, heart and will — “What forms of capital will you unleash and why?” — and tell us what you discover along the way.
We are on a journey to moving fully towards a gift economy based approach. All our spaces and communities are offered free of cost to everyone. Much of the work we have done over the last year has been made possible due to the monetary gifts we have received from friends of the Wellbeing Movement.
Until the community grows to become self-sustaining and self-organizing, there will still be an upfront investment of time, effort and resources that we will need to put into it. To sustain our operations in the upcoming year, we are running a crowdfunding campaign. It is a way to ensure even the Wellbeing Movement’s funding remains participatory in nature. We see the campaign as giving people another way to serve the cause of wellbeing.
We see money as a stop-gap tool to realize our mission. Relationships rooted in generosity, kindness and compassion will always remain the primary ingredient of our work.
If this idea excites you and you wish to see it succeed, we request you to support us by contributing to our fundraiser or sharing the page within your network accompanied by your personal endorsement.
If you want to explore alternate forms of capital, Nipun Mehta’s article on multiple forms of wealth is very revealing. Here is his closing proposal:
The question we’re left with is this — what forms of capital do we want to amplify? If we broaden that lens, the possibilities are limitless. If we use our hearts to assume value everywhere, if we use our heads to wisely invest in the greatest of our capitals, if we use our hands to courageously design for the full spectrum of this wealth, we will create an entirely new solution set for a thriving humanity. May our hands, head, and heart continue to stay aligned in the direction of all forms of capital.
Some of you may like to read Brian Stout’s post that beautifully summarizes the role of money and the need for an alternative story. I am capturing a summary in his own words here:
Money is a story we made up; we can come up with a new and better story. I believe that story is a gift economy, a way of living in right relationship with ourselves, each other, and the world. There are three precepts that guide our efforts to construct this more beautiful world: moving from accumulation to flow; from exchange to gift; and from a focus on ‘earning’ to a focus on needs. We can think of money as medicine; its only value is to serve life. Can you imagine such a world?