Excerpts on the Gift Fund and Gift License
The following has been excerpted from my writing dating back to Autumn of 2014.
Last year I started pulling together a platform for myself called the Good Friend Fellowship. The concept: that I serve as a truly good friend to world changers, supporting them in self care and holistic maturation to better serve their life’s work.
Along the way, a complementary instrument has been emerging, the Gift Fund. The purpose of this fund is to start reclaiming physical assets around us from an economy that tells us everything is a commodity, that anything can be liquidated. These assets are then reforged in a new conception, that of inherent value. Some would call this definancialization. This first economy I speak of we could call the extractive economy. This new economy, with inherent value at its core, could be called the regenerative economy.
How would this fund work? By transforming financial capital into community and ecological capital. In other words, the money has already been made; it’s time to give it away.
The fund would purchase or buy out assets that can be instrumental for world changers on their paths, serving to further their aims and their development. These assets are gifted to these world changers, and held under a “gift license” that permits them to be given away, but never to be sold. This would be done, as much as possible, by feeding on the extractive economy and giving food to the regenerative economy.
This gift fund model could serve as a key catalyst in the transition between, as Charles Eisenstein puts it, the Age of Separation and the Age of Interbeing.
Conception & Evolution
If I were to define a beginning for this project, it would probably be the solo retreat I took in the winter of 2012 at Syzygy Community House in the Colorado Rockies. At the end of my retreat I came up with something I began to call the Regenerative Culture Project.
Over the course of the next year or so, this project transitioned into the Good Friend Fellowship, a self-designed fellowship that would enable me to support leaders in our current transition.
And then this spring an idea called the Gift Fund emerged. This transition happened for two reasons. The first is that I feel as though my work has something to do directly with our culture surrounding money, and this was not reflected in the Fellowship. The second is that the Fellowship just isn’t that comprehensible to most people, when the Gift Fund seems to make more sense to people. It’s something they can wrap their heads around, and understand how there could be a livelihood associated with it. In other words, the Gift Fund is a more culturally-appropriate model.
On the other hand, it’s important to understand that the Gift Fund was born out of the Fellowship. Whatever you want to call it–work on one’s self, maturation, transformation, personal development–at a fundamental level, the Gift Fund requires something special and uncommon from it’s participants. And the mission of the Fellowship–almost exclusively embodying these principles–is a great backdrop to help insure that this venture isn’t just about projects; it’s about people, culture, and transition.
So why a gift fund rather than, say, a non-profit with a revolving zero-percent-interest loan fund? This brings us to an analysis of the nature of money.
Money is formless. It’s chief strength is liquidity. Money can be used for almost everything. Not only that, but money, in the abstract sense, is eternal. As it lives in the world of ideas, it doesn’t degrade with time.
Our world is the opposite of money. Every place, every thing, every being, is unique. Not only that, but everything is ever-changing, caught up in the universal cycles of life and death. In this world, nothing is permanent.
As it turns out, when you combine these two opposing paradigms, you get a lot of problems. To keep it short, let’s summarize these problems as the liquidation of ecosystems and communities for financial profit.
To go back to the zero-percent-interest loan fund, what happens when a loan is given? The entrepreneur goes out and spends this money on the assets they need to be successful in their venture. They build a business model leveraging these assets and, through the global economy, exact payment from their customers substantially exceeding the value of the loan, as they also need to cover all their other cost. To be clear, the money they give back is in no way the same money they were given. The idea of these loans has a certain intellectual elegance to it, but in the real world, there is nothing elegant about it.
Instead, even this structure imparts onto it’s participants the extractive and obscuring nature of money. So what do we do?
On of my mentors, Gregory Landua, was a primary contributor to a model called the Eight Forms of Capital. This model begins with the forms we’ve become familiar with through our extractive economy–social, material, financial, and intellectual capital. Let’s call these the exchange capitals. But then they also include what we could call the nurture capitals–living, experiential, spiritual, and cultural.
Gregory also coauthored a book called “Regenerative Enterprise.” I’ve already used that word, regenerative, in this document. But for us to understand regenerative we must first understand our current economy. The extractive economy liquidates the nurture capitals for profit in the exchange capitals. Social enterprise was supposed to address this issue, and has helped to tie business more strongly back to a set of human values. But social enterprise has failed to make any real difference because it’s embedded in the extractive economy.
For us to have a regenerative economy, we must create an altogether separate economy. “Regenerative Enterprise” suggests that this can only be done through ecosystems of enterprises. Multinationals currently form effective ecosystems in our extractive economy. We need to form ecosystems for the regenerative economy as wall, just focused on a completely different set of operations.
The central mechanic of the gift fund is the gift license. This license is an agreement between the giver and the recipient. So far I’ve envisioned it to be written on the first page of a handmade book, signed by both parties. The book would serve as a journal for the recipient to record the presence of that gift in their life. They could share this story however they see fit. You can read the first draft of the license in Appendix A.
When contemplating how I spend my time, I can’t think of a better way than on the gift fund. Sometimes I’m a little taken aback that people aren’t more enamored with the concept. To me, the project is both elegant and pragmatic. It combines pretty much all of my skill sets and areas of interest. And it’s a product of a global context that, from my perspective, is asking for something just like this.
One argument I might site is that, regardless of whether we’re talking about thousand-acre GMO corn farms in the midwest, or the five-acre organic vegetable farm run by my friends outside of Boston, food production isn’t a self-sustaining “business.” The industrial farm is supported by direct and indirect subsidies, for corn and soy, for diesel, for milk; the list goes on. And small-scale sustainable agriculture is supported by land conservation trusts, grants from foundations, and gifts from supportive community members.
And yet it seems that the mainstream assumption is that farming as a business can “make money.” This assumption isn’t supported by the facts. And if you start talking about ecological or regenerative food production, that’s even less compatible with conventional business models.
So, in other words, tools like this gift fund are necessary if we’re going to continue the civilization project. We need new models. And if not, we face the choice, as John Fullerton puts it, of our economy or our environment. And obviously, if we choose the economy [which we have thus far], we’re approaching the end of the civilization project.
On more of an ethics level, as Terry Mollner would put it, moral behavior throughout human history has been “freely choosing to give priority to the common good.” I can’t think of a better example of this concept than the gift fund.
A second argument might highlight the dynamic that essentially everything in this world flows through gift. Take, for example, a traditional Native American Thanksgiving Address. This address gives gratitude for the people, the earth mother, the waters, the fish, the plants, the food plants, the medicine plants, the animals, the trees, the birds, the four winds, the thunderers, the sun, grandmother moon, the stars, the enlightened teachers, and the creator. Everything we have in our lives could be said to arise out of this foundation. Laying claim to the yields of this world at the expense of others based on the mindset of “earning” seems out of touch with reality. The gift license attempts to bring us back to the natural flows of this world.
Placement of Funds
Angel investors spend a lot of time researching potential deals. And once an investment is made, they spend a lot of time supporting that enterprise.
I would like to take a similar approach to the gift fund. Before I give a gift, I’d like to spend anywhere between a few days to a month with the potential recipient, working along side them, getting to know their work and their enterprise.
And then once funds are placed, not only would I continue to support these people through my attention and my networks, but we would come up with a support structure for recipients. Just as I formalized some of my mentorship relationships in the infancy of this project, the gift recipient might do the same in their existing mentoring relationships. Also, some of the funding they receive could be used for ongoing education and psychological and spiritual development, such as taking a holistic management course, or going on a retreat with Animas Valley Institute, or spending some time at an ashram, whatever equipment–whether physical, conceptual, or relationship-based–is necessary for their success.
Risks & Challenges
The most common question I get about the fund is, “yeah, but don’t people usually just do things for themselves? If they don’t have a stake, why would they take care of these assets?”
I have multiple answers to this question. First, I’m not looking to work with “normal” Americans. I’m looking to work with the cutting edge of the permaculture and new economics movements. These are communities that care deeply about personal development and are willing to try things differently, even down to the point of challenging what some might call human nature.
Second, Charles Eisenstein would point out that the problem isn’t that people are too selfish, it’s that they’re not selfish enough. Would a CEO spend eighty hours a week negotiating the next heartless buyout if he was spending enough time eating health food, communing with family and friends, and immersing himself in nature? No. Because he’s not selfish enough. To be truly selfish is a bold act, and what people commonly call selfish behavior ignores context. Take the example of the selfish child, eating all of his Halloween candy in one sitting. The parent could prevent the child from doing this, only to find the child grows up into an adult that binges on junk food. Or the parent might let their child indulge, and the child would feel really sick. Learning their lesson, next Halloween they might be even more selfish by giving their candy away to their class. Now isn’t that progression? Gurdjieff would say you must first be an egoist before you can become an altruist.
Three, it’s not like people aren’t getting a great deal out of this project already. Let’s take the example of a permaculture house with a mortgage on it. The fund comes in and pays off the mortgage, with the stipulation that the house needs to be given away as opposed to sold when the owners decide it’s time to move on. But it’s not as though the money to pay off the mortgage is coming out of their pockets; that’s what’s the fund is for!
Four, relationship is deeply embedded within the structure of the fund. There isn’t an application process. There isn’t an overarching organization with a big staff. It’s just me, my advisors, and the people and communities I get involved in funding. As this isn’t a profit-seeking venture, there’s no reason to move forward with any particular gift until all concerns are ironed out. And if something can’t be resolved in finding the right team, or something just feels intuitively wrong, that potential gift can just be dropped. Instead, a primary motivation for people following through with the spirit of gift is the friendship that holds the contract, and the community surrounding the recipient. And isn’t this a much better motivator than things like fines or jail time anyways?
And most importantly, five, this enterprise is centered around an ideal of inherent value. In other words, the fund is about bringing us back to a world ruled by the essential attributes of elements in our environment. Where as conventional accounting might tell us the story of the $1,000,000 farm and or the two-million-gallon/minute river, the paradigm of inherent value tells us the story of the farm where your daughter grew up or the river that last summer had it’s first salmon run in fifty years. Authors like Wendell Berry do an excellent job illustrating the importance of inherent value.
Moving on to the next issue, although I don’t often get this question, I want to build a model that can serve to build a culture that might get us through the next millennia. Embedded in the concept of a tool of transition is the understanding that models like the US government and the US dollar likely won’t be joining us on the other side. With this understanding, we need to build models with deeper roots than simply being placed inside these existing frameworks.
Not to say that money and law aren’t important in this venture. But at it’s heart, this is a project about the spirit of gift, and that’s something more fundamental and enduring than current government and finance. In other words, we can’t lose sight of the goal when coming up with our strategy. And that’s a little difficult when most of the language of our strategy references models that can’t get us to our goal.
Appendix A: Gift License
The following inscription would be found on the first page of a handmade journal.
On this day, [date] , I, [giver], on behalf of the [organization], bestow on you, [recipient], this gift of [description of gift].
This gift is given in the spirit of generosity, trust, interconnection, and impermanence. It is for use in the furtherance of your life’s work.
In accepting this gift you pledge to use it in ways that benefit the commons. When you no longer have utility for this gift it may be given away. It may not be sold or used as part of a transaction. This license is permanent and irrevocable.
This journal is for you to record your experience with this gift and travels with the gift. Your story surrounding your experience with this gift may be shared with others when and how you deem appropriate.
I, [recipient] , accept this gift and these commitments.