Generosity Entrepreneurs

Gandhi offered a trilogy of "hands, head and heart" and suggested that we, as individuals and cultures, should first align those elements and ultimately learn to lead with the heart. Today, we have many vocational schools that amplify the work of hands, many think-tanks that operate with intellectual capital of the head, but we don't have an incubator that designs projects that lead with "compassion capital”. This is mostly because compassion's effect is distributed -- in time and space -- and hence hard to quantify and monetize. However, by combining the breadth of Internet's "many to many" networks and the depth of an infrastructure that is run entirely by non-financial incentives, ServiceSpace has been able to birth many new possibilities over the last fifteen years. We propose to magnify this capacity by nurturing a new collective of change-makers, Generosity Entrepreneurs, whose work triggers online and offline gift ecologies.

Who are Generosity Entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs are creative visionaries who take considerable initiative and risks to generate new value. Traditionally, this new value has taken the form of monetary wealth; more recently, the "social entrepreneurship" movement has attempted to include social connection as a part of that wealth too. But we can go deeper. In fact, we must go way deeper if we are to address the unprecedented challenges of our time. Generosity Entrepreneurs, then, are love warriors (“Giftivists”) who radically broaden the idea of value-creation to not just include external impact but also their own inner transformation. By leading with compassion, they externalize benefit (as opposed to externalizing costs like some traditional models) and subsequently create conditions for gift-ecologies to emerge.

What is a gift ecology?
In a gift ecology, goods and services are given without any strings attached; here, it is the circulation of the gifts within the community that leads to increase -- increase in connections, increase in relationship strength. For instance, when you walk into a restaurant like Karma Kitchen, your bill reads zero. It is zero because someone before you paid for your meal, and you are trusted to keep the chain of generosity alive by paying-forward for those after you. Such exchanges generate a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance, and isolation to community. Because connections made in that context are rooted in selflessness, it create a collective with deep connections -- a network that can't be paralleled with today's online networks.

How does a Generosity Entrepreneur (GE) create value?
Vinoba, the spiritual successor of Gandhi in India, would invite dedicated volunteers to head into a village with three things: a broom, a book of wisdom, and a musical instrument. In other words, offer service with hands, head and the heart. Nirmala Deshpande, for example, described how she went to South India once: "I had no money, I knew no one, I didn't even speak the language." When she arrived, she started by serving the community -- often simply by sweeping the roads. Being grounded in a personal practice of equanimity, she was ready to handle the uncertainty and initial hardship. Yet, because her service was offered selflessly, connections would inevitably emerge. The locals would offer her a space in the village commons, like a temple, to sleep in. As her daily service deepened, so did the community connections -- and as she assembled those new resources creatively to create new value in the community, a virtuous cycle emerged. Within a short time, the entire village would be transformed and she would continue to another village. This was not an exception. Dozens of people alive today -- from Subba Rao to Dwarko Sundrani -- followed the same model. Monastics like Peace Pilgrim and Rev. Heng Sure in the US or even lay folks like Satish Kumar in the UK have succeeded similarly. Instead of money, they were backed by nature. Money was happily used, but it remained a small part in the broader pie of value.

Is this possible today?
It’s a good question. In today's world, tapping into this regenerative cycle looks very different. Commons are vanishing, community connections are much cheaper, technologies are desensitizing us to the power of generosity. Today's GE's may have to work much harder, but also differently. It's a challenge, but also a creative opportunity. We don't know a model that will work, but we want to ask questions that push innovation in that direction.

What support is provided to GE’s?
Lots of people who engage in "labor of love" projects are forced to give up on their vision simply because of a few missing pieces -- most often, financial sustainability. However, when approached with a lens of various kind of capital, the resiliency of an effort can be afforded a far greater timeline. We, as a collective, hope to provide a backbone of unconditional support that affords a project more time for its virtuous cycle of generosity to kick into gear. To that end, we provide a values-driven processes and frameworks, a like-hearted community of peers pushing similar boundaries, and diverse group of experienced mentors, and some financial resources for personal sustenance.

How can I apply to be a GE?
There’s no application, but you can start volunteering within associated communities. In line with our purpose, we want to ensure that nominations aren’t connected to ambition or short-term outcome orientation. Over time, as you take more initiative and get engaged in the community of dedicated volunteers, that very network of noble kinship will nominate you and cultivate a deeper engagement.

What is a potential rollout plan?
Below is a phased rollout for the coming year.

Phase 1: Synch up on vision, implementation and advisory teams and fiscal instruments.

Phase 2: Create two virtual circles with budding Generosity Entrepreneurs -- like Nicole Huguenin of Wild Dream Walks, or Fran Faraz at Goldenwest Community College or Mark Dubois who pioneered Earth Day, or many such folks from our vast circles. This would be like the ServiceSpace internship program, but for adults and more peer-driven -- and would lend insight into what would kind of support would be helpful for the GE’s. 

Phase 3: Hold a 'Startup Service' event (perhaps in bay-area), which is a three-day weekend event where people come in with an idea, assemble teams, and build a concrete proposal/beta-project to carry forward. This will force us to refine how 'leading with inner transformation' is different from the usual incubation process, create helpful frameworks and start to build momentum around GE idea.

Phase 4: Identify key outcome metrics, and build structure of a one year program that would span selection criteria for GE's, charter for the program, personal practices for inner transformation, value creation frameworks, and holding the question of how do we find, amplify and sustain deeper value.

Phase 5: Launch a pilot program with five GE’s for the full year.


If you have any questions or ideas, we would love to hear from you. Please email us.