The Service Space story — Design for generosity

In 1999, a group of successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs decided to offer their unique skill sets to help the worthwhile work of non-profit organizations. The motivation was to find deeper meaning in their work and skills than they gained from simply working in the for profit sector. Nipun Mehta was one of the initiators of ‘CharityFocus’, since renamed as ServiceSpace — an incubator of projects in the gift economy. He coined the term ‘giftivism — the practice of radically generous acts that change the world’. Nipun believes that four key societal shifts can transform our culture:

“from consumption to contribution,

from transaction to trust,

from isolation to community, and

from scarcity to abundance.”

— Nipun Mehta

Here is Nipun Mehta’s excellent TED-talk (17mins) on Designing for Generosity is full of deeply inspiring examples of our human ability and predisposition to share and collaborate.

As an all-volunteer organization that leverages technology to inspire greater volunteerism, ServiceSpace aims to facilitate people to take part in these social shifts. In 15 years it has grown to a global network of 400,000 people who volunteer their skills and times to help others. Among the projects that have been incubated in or supported by this network of ServiceSpace volunteers are:

DailyGood — a site that promotes uplifting news from around the world;

Karmatube — a site that allows people to access and stream inspirational videos;

CFtools — a site that helps charities to create custom websites at no cost;

Work & Conversations — a site to learn about and from artists;

ProPoor — an internet portal offering information about resources and news relevant to development work in South Asia;

PledgePage — a free online platform that allows people to showcase their favourite causes and fundraise for them;

MovedByLove — a network to promote radical generosity projects in India;

KarmaKitchen — a volunteer run restaurant in Berkeley, California, where people gift for the meals of those who come after them but do not have to pay for what they ate themselves (The team has served more than 24,000 meals since 2007 and there are now Karma Kitchen’s operating in Washington DC and Chicago as well.);

AwaKin is a web-forum that helps people access inspirational tools for personal development and connects them to a community of kindred spirits; and

KindSpring which aims to promote a global movement of kindness through sharing stories and ideas like the ‘smile card’ which people can leave behind for the person they have just helped anonymously to invite them to pay the gift forward and consider gifting or helping others anonymously.

All these diverse project created by ServiceSpace volunteers are excellent examples of the power of transformative social innovation and the shift towards a regenerative culture.

For more about Service Space click here

Many more inspiring examples of such peer-to-peer (P2P) collaboration, open innovation, and P2P technology development have been collected and explained through the excellent work of Michel Bauwens and the ‘p2p Foundation’. The foundation’s wiki-site offers a treasure trove of inspiration and information about peer-to-peer collaborations, open innovation, and the “information commons”. Among many case studies the site explores P2P civil society approaches, P2P market approaches, and P2P state approaches. We will return to the topic of social innovation and social enterprise in module four.

this is an (edited) excerpt from the of Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability. The first version of this dimension was written in 2008 by my friend Jonathan Dawson, now Head of at Schumacher College. In 2015–2016, I revised the course substantially and rewrote this dimension with more up-to-date information and the research that I had done for my book .

The and runs for 8 weeks online. You can join the Design for Sustainability course at any point during the year.



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