GIFTING ECONOMY - A Grassroots approach to new economies
The Gifting Economy has found a resurgence in popularity, as people are again beginning to freely offering their time, skills, and products to others through Gifting Circles without the expectation of receiving. This phenomenon is not a new concept, but in an age of commodity systems, gifting is proving to be a complementary method for brokering trust and connection in an often disconnected and fragmented world.
As seen in the indelible rise of the Sharing Economy, with publications from Wired magazine to The New York Times hailing the benefits of peer-to-peer sharing, bartering, renting and lending, there is a growing trend to creating a change in economy at a grassroots level. Similarly, the Gifting Economy is growing as an option for many looking for alternatives to exchange instead of meeting their needs solely through the monetary system.
Unlike bartering which is providing a product or service in exchange for a product or service of equal value, the gifting economy is centred on providing something of value without any expectation of something in return. Gift economies are historically prevalent in many cultures and societies and among family, neighbours and close-knit communities. Some more recent examples of the expansion of the Gift Economy include loyalty and point programs, free shops, and the gift economy that emerges at the annual Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert.
GIFTING CIRCLES: The gift that keeps giving
It was an article in The Vancouver Sun newspaper which introduced me to the Vancouver Gifting Economy group and inspired me to participate in my first Gifting Circle experience.
One of the participants, local Vancouver Sun reporter Tara Carman noted of her experience in the gift circle, "I give you something, you give me money. End of story. But in a gift economy, I give you something, you are grateful. You start thinking about ways you can help me. Or maybe, you pay the gift forward to someone else. Relationships form, and communities grow. The cash economy grows by monetizing transactions that used to be given freely."
Brice Royer founded the Vancouver Gift Economy Facebook page after being diagnosed with stomach cancer at 27 years old. This life changing diagnosis led him to explore the impact of the economy on our health. “A group of strangers read a news article about me from the Vancouver Sun, the one where I paid a stranger's rent for a year. They were surprised and wanted to know why an unemployed cancer patient like myself would do that for a stranger.” This group was so inspired by Brice’s story, that they then created the Gift Economy Vancouver website to spread the concept of gifting.
LINKS BETWEEN COMMUNITY HEALTH & THE MONETARY SYSTEM?
After interviewing doctors for answers as to the cause of his diagnosis, Brice Royer then began researching examples of communities that implement gift economy principles into their daily lives, and he found some surprising results.
“It turns out 90-95% of cancers are caused by environmental factors, such as diet, stress, lifestyle, pollution, etc, and only 5-10% are genetics. So I asked myself another question: Where are the world's healthiest places with the least cancer? All these places have high unemployment rates, are isolated from our market economy, and have a gift economy.”
Brice notes that, “The surprising negative setback of the gift economy is high unemployment rates and lower GDP. The world's healthiest communities like Ikaria in Greece and Okinawa in Japan have notoriously high unemployment rates and are isolated from the market economy.” His observations of these communities indicate that these communities move away from a focus on accumulating money or focusing on trade, and simply share their surplus with the community. “It's bad for the economy, but it's fantastic for your health, community belonging, and the world at large.”
This connection between the high levels of mobility in urban centres can make it difficult to maintain the face-to-face connection he says is vital to maintaining the gifting community. Brice Royer states, ”It's difficult to maintain a gift circle community if its members move often, are busy working, and are away from their family. Unfortunately, our cities aren't designed for people or gift circles; they're designed for cars and economic activity. Urban areas tend to prevent these types of economies because there's more mobility and economic activity than a rural community.”
IS THE GIFTING ECONOMY SUSTAINABLE?
While Brice’s analysis does not reveal a conclusive link between negative health affects and the market economy, it does bring into question whether there is a causal correlation between stronger communities and involvement in a gift economy.
Brice has this to say about the future of gifting: “About 3 months ago, I didn't even know what a gift economy was. I didn't have time to wait for the system to change because I have cancer, and I didn't want to move to the world's healthiest places like Ikaria Greece. So I wanted to experience the change myself. All I did was start a gift economy group and invited a friend. I only started this 2 months ago and there's already over 1,000 members, and 8 people started a gift economy group in their cities too. The problems in Vancouver affect everyone else in the world. The Earth is our home. So we all need to work together. There's hope because if it's possible to live in a gift economy in the world’s healthiest places, and if I can live 100% on the gift economy for a month in Vancouver, then maybe others can too. “
Visit the website Gift Economy Vancouver here
To join the Vancouver Gift Economy Facebook group or create one for your city, request to join here.
View the recent video from the Vancouver Sharing Circle here
Ami Muranetz is a Vancouver writer, One Earth Associate and a guest editor for Cities for People New Economies theme.