Engaging in the Gift Culture as a form of activism

Debora T. Stenta

Reflections and examples of the culture of gift, to reclaim our sacred role of donors in the web of life.

“Gift culture is the key to sustainable living and real happiness on the planet. By witnessing and appreciating our own gifts and the gifts of others, we open the possibility for the organic unfolding of our whole beings and for accessing our deepest humanity to ensure the collective well-being of all life on the planet” (Source: Jain, M., 2008)

Sarita kare na paan
vriksh na fal chaakhe kadi
khet na khave dhaan
parhit neepjey sekhra.

Rivers never drink their own water
trees never taste their own fruits
fields never consume their own harvest
they selflessly strive for the wellbeing
of all those around them.

Saying from Mewar (Rajasthan, India)


I have been travelling for almost four years around the world with my family of a child, a teenager, and two adults. Up until now, after having given up our house and belongings, we have received hospitality in about two-hundred homes.

We have been offered shelter, food, water, clothes, books, tools, everything we needed to feel not just alive, but abundant, happy and healthy. At some point, the feeling of prosperity and fun reached such a degree that my partner and I decided to give up the idea of even asking for a fixed amount of money in exchange of our services, and we started working on a free donation basis.

Of course, the more we surrendered to this flow, the more everything in the world converged to support it! So it happened that while living in India, we bumped into a big gift culture movement, attending week-long events, taxi- riding, eating in restaurants, living in a flat… all based on free donations, moving along a web of generosity-based services, shops, bars.


I had been receiving all I needed for my whole life, since conception, and the Earth had never asked for something in return for her wonderful gifts

Such experiences, and many others, completely transformed the way I dealt with people, material wealth, the Universe. This consciousness made me realize that I had been receiving all I needed for my whole life, since conception, and the Earth had never asked for something in return for her wonderful gifts. As it is perfectly described by Manish Jain’s words, the gift culture inspired me to see my “resources and relationships as part of the larger commons that is accessible to all and nurtured by all.” And he continues by saying that, “…engaging in the gift culture transforms our self and world understanding, by reminding us that we are being given gifts all the time from many known and unknown sources. […]. This is critical for […] re-asserting our dignity as diverse co-creators of learning and life. The gift culture also challenges the core underpinnings of the Global Market and the Development Project which are built on extraction and concentration of wealth and power and the spread of violence.”

(Source: Jain, M., 2008).

Joining the gift culture has been one of the most powerful, freeing and opening acts in my life; it has made me realize that being and feeling “rich” has little to do with how much money I have at my disposal, and a lot to do with how connected, loved and loving I feel.

Being and feeling “rich” has little to do with how much money I have at my disposal, and a lot to do with how connected, loved and loving I feel

I enjoy to cross-pollinate small actions of gift-culture around, so here is a couple of them for you to explore:

1. Open a “Generous Shop”

When you are attending either an event, a training, a gathering, if you run a venue, or simply in your house, you can set up a table before it begins, decorating it with a nice fabric, flowers, colourful ornaments, loving words and so on.

Then, when people come, invite them to find the most valuable thing they have carried in their pockets or bags, and put it on the table for other people to take. They put something they love to let it go and live a new love story. At the same time invite them to take freely what they need from the table.

The table can go on for the whole duration of the event, or forever, in your house/venue.

2. Spread Kindness Cards around

This is how it works: imagine you order something in a bar and pay for your order. Instead of just taking your food or drink, paying for it and leaving, you pay double the price for an item, leaving one already paid for the next person who orders it. While paying, you hand the cashier a KINDNESS CARD, asking that they give the card to the next person when she or he comes to pay, to let them become aware of the initiative. This simple act will have a profound impact on that person and in your own life. The card serves as a reminder and a vehicle to be contagious.

What makes you truly feel rich and prosperous here and now?

What is it that you do not deserve? Observe what comes up to your mind.

Write down a list of 50 people who have added value to your life.

Want to read more?

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Selected articles in other languages:
Czech, German, Italian, Latvian

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Innovative approaches in learning for Sustainability
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