1. Regina Gelfo:
"The Gift Circle, as founded by Alpha Lo and spread by Charles Eisenstein, is a group facilitation format that holds great possibility as a way to match resources with needs, create community and inspire gratitude and generosity. The goals of a Gift Circle are simply to provide a warm, free, and welcoming space for community to gather and share Gifts and Needs, most often while literally sitting in a circle. Perhaps most importantly, I believe that variations of the Gift Circle format also hold the potential to cultivate healthy interdependence in communities, providing a sense of psycho-spiritual belonging and connection to ameliorate the vast sense of alienation and scarcity experienced by so many." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/how-to-integrate-gift-circles-into-any-community)
2. Charles Eistenstein:
"Given the circular nature of gift flow, I was excited to learn that one of the most promising social inventions that I've come across for building community is called the Gift Circle. Developed by Alpha Lo, co-author of The Open Collaboration Encyclopedia, and his friends in Marin County, California, it exemplifies the dynamics of gift systems and illuminates the broad ramifications that gift economies portend for our economy, psychology, and civilization.
The ideal number of participants in a gift circle is 10-20. Everyone sits in a circle, and takes turns saying one or two needs they have. In the last circle I facilitated, some of the needs shared were: "a ride to the airport next week," "someone to help remove a fence," "used lumber to build a garden," "a ladder to clean my gutter," "a bike," and "office furniture for a community center." As each person shares, others in the circle can break in to offer to meet the stated need, or with suggestions of how to meet it.
When everyone has had their turn, we go around the circle again, each person stating something he or she would like to give. Some examples last week were "Graphic design skills," "the use of my power tools," "contacts in local government to get things done," and "a bike," but it could be anything: time, skills, material things; the gift of something outright, or the gift of the use of something (borrowing). Again, as each person shares, anyone can speak up and say, "I'd like that," or "I know someone who could use one of those.
During both these rounds, it is useful to have someone write everything down and send the notes out the next day to everyone via email, or on a web page, blog, etc. Otherwise it is quite easy to forget who needs and offers what. Also, I suggest writing down, on the spot, the name and phone number of someone who wants to give or receive something to/from you. It is essential to follow up, or the gift circle will end up feeding cynicism rather than community.
Finally, the circle can do a third round in which people express gratitude for the things they received since the last meeting. This round is extremely important because in community, the witnessing of others' generosity inspires generosity in those who witness it. It confirms that this group is giving to each other, that gifts are recognized, and that my own gifts will be recognized, appreciated, and reciprocated as well.
It is just that simple: needs, gifts, and gratitude. But the effects can be profound.
First, gift circles (and any gift economy, in fact) can reduce our dependence on the traditional market. If people give us things we need, then we needn't buy them. I won't need to take a taxi to the airport tomorrow, and Rachel won't have to buy lumber for her garden. The less we use money, the less time we need to spend earning it, and the more time we have to contribute to the gift economy, and then receive from it. It is a virtuous circle.
Secondly, a gift circle reduces our production of waste. It is ridiculous to pump oil, mine metal, manufacture a table and ship it across the ocean when half the people in town have old tables in their basements. It is ridiculous as well for each household on my block to own a lawnmower, which they use two hours a month, a leaf blower they use twice a year, power tools they use for an occasional project, and so on. If we shared these things, we would suffer no loss of quality of life. Our material lives would be just as rich, yet would require less money and less waste.
In economic terms, a gift circle reduces gross domestic product, defined as the sum total of all goods and services exchanged for money. By getting a gift ride from someone instead of paying a taxi, I am reducing GDP by $20. When my friend drops off her son at my house instead of paying for day care, GDP falls by another $30. The same is true when someone borrows a bike from another person's basement instead of buying a new one. (Of course, GDP won't fall if the money saved is then spent on something else. Standard economics, drawing on a deep assumption about the infinite upward elasticity of human wants, assumes this is nearly always the case. A critique of this deeply flawed assumption is beyond the scope of the present essay.)" (http://www.nationofchange.org/build-community-economy-gifts-1325082127)
"What is the purpose of a gift circle?
Its to allow for the people to help each other and to create a sense of community. And to further the gift economy.
What is a gift economy?
A gift economy as we define it is where people give something without the expectation of anything in return.
What are examples of gift economies?
Burning Man, Rainbow gatherings, Wikipedia, open source software
What is the format of a gift circle?
The format is still a work in progress. People are still experimenting with the best form." (http://opencollaboration.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/gift-circle-faq/)
the Berkeley Model
By Regina Gelfo:
"Myself and a small group of folks were inspired to co-found the Berkeley Gift Circle in 2010 after another retreat with Charles where Alpha was also present. Alpha mentored us as we got it started. We met regularly, taking turns bringing main dishes for the potluck and facilitating the circle. We would eat and socialize a bit, then gather sitting in a circle, and go around the circle with each person speaking what gift they’d enjoy sharing with the community. For instance someone might offer giving a massage, making a custom mix CD, giving a life coaching session, dance class, or a home-cooked meal – the gifts were generally more service-oriented, though there was an occasional item gifted as well, like a futon or pair of headphones.
People who were potentially interested in receiving the named gift would raise their hand, and a notetaker would sometimes notate who wanted what. Other times, the gifter and potential receiver/s would just take note of one another and connect at the end of the meeting. There was a great sense of glee in the room as we watched the hands go up to accept various gifts – the giver always looked happy that someone wanted what they were inspired to offer. The receivers were often thrilled too.
After the first round where we shared gifts, we would then do a round where anyone with a need could speak their need, and likewise, people who were interested in helping meet that need would raise their hands. Needs ranged from things like help moving, assistance with home repairs, website design, reviewing someone’s resume, a bike, a ride to the airport on Tuesday morning, to some courageously shared personal needs like more friends, sex, and cuddles.
Most importantly, there would be a time at the end where we’d leave 20-30 min for givers and receivers to connect with one another directly and coordinate a time to meet up later to give or receive whatever it was. It was highly encouraged to schedule the gift or need session during that meeting, while the energy was still fresh.
One thing to note is that this was explicitly NOT a barter system! Charles and Alpha talk about this format instead as “circular giving,” where you give with no request for compensation or exchange, knowing simply that it will come back to you in some way (kinda like the concept of karma). And, sometimes even more challenging as you receive without necessarily giving anything back to the person you received from. The lack of direct exchange added a magical and more spiritual feeling to the experience. I found that it generated feelings of pure satisfaction in giving, and deep gratitude in receiving.
The first few months were sweet. We were so inspired and falling in love with one another! Turns out that generosity and vulnerability are both very heart opening. Many members of the group already knew one another through a local meditation community, but there were plenty of opportunities for new connection and deepening those existing connections. People would report happily for gift circle, sharing their magical gifting encounters of the week prior with warm smiles: “Bill gave me a coaching session,” “Yes, and Tiffany gave me the best massage!” Witnessing the gifts was a key piece of how the circle keeps good feelings flowing.
‘Star givers’ started emerging- those folks who were always happy to support the person most in need, or do that odious task. The guy I considered my ‘star giver’ stepped up to help me move, fix a cabinet in my kitchen, and bring me a truckload of compost for my garden – all things I had no immediate capacity of doing on my own. He felt like an angel sent from heaven, making me feel so supported as a not-so-handy woman living alone. And he was the humblest, sweetest guy, who truly did not seek anything in return. Sometimes I worried about whether he was getting enough back. So my whole being filled with joy when I learned several months later that he had started dating a woman from the gift circle. They wound up getting happily married!" (http://www.shareable.net/blog/how-to-integrate-gift-circles-into-any-community)
Common Challenges of Gift Circles
By Regina Gelfo:
"As much as the good vibes were flowing, some challenges began to emerge after several months of circling. The same people were showing up week after week, and generally had the same gifts to offer, and sometimes even the same needs. There was a fatal lack of diversity. Another challenge was the format itself. It was lengthy and took an entire evening. After the novelty wore off, sometimes it felt a bit boring listening to the same people say their gifts and needs around the circle, one at a time. I found myself starting to feel drained when imagining going to the gathering. I had moved and was now living half an hour across town from the house where we gathered. It didn’t feel convenient anymore. And I was hesitant to set up follow up meetings that would involve a commute, as well.
Another factor is that living in the Bay Area, there’s always a lot going on - the blessing and curse of the abundance of pretty much anything you could want to do being available most of the time. I call it the ‘Bay Area Blight,’ which produces low commitment levels and scattered attention spans. After the honeymoon phase of the Gift Circle wore off, it started feeling like a less appealing option than any of the 5 other things that were on my radar to do on that same night. And as the novelty and my commitment levels faded, it became harder to create space in my life for the circle and its offshoot activities and meetups. If I had an urgent need, it was easy to prioritize attending the circle, but the energy of only going if you needed something rather than going consistently to give and receive felt contradictory to the intentions of the circle." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/how-to-integrate-gift-circles-into-any-community)
Does the Gift Economy undermine economic growth?
"Why don't we need each other? It is because all the gift relationships upon which we once depended are now paid services. They have been converted into service work which the market converts into cash. What is there left to convert? Whether fossil fuels, topsoil, aquifers, the atmosphere's capacity to absorb waste; whether it is food, clothing, shelter, medicine, music, or our collective cultural bequest of stories and ideas, nearly all have become commodities. Unless we can find yet new realms of nature to convert into good, unless we can find even more functions of human life to commoditize, our days of economic growth are numbered. What room for growth remains—for example in today's anemic economic recovery— comes only at an increasing cost to nature and society.
From this perspective, a third consequence of the gift circle and other forms of gift economy becomes apparent. Not only does gift-based circulation subtract from GDP, it also hastens the demise of the present economic system. Any bit of nature or human relationship that we preserve or reclaim from the commodity world is one bit less that is available to sell, or to use as the basis for new interest-bearing loans. Without constant creation of new debt, existing debt cannot be repaid. Lending opportunities only occur in a context of economic growth, in which the marginal return on capital investment exceeds the interest rate. To simplify: no growth, less lending; less lending, more transfer of assets to creditors; more transfer of assets, more concentration of wealth; more concentration of wealth, less consumer spending; less consumer spending, less growth. This is the vicious circle described by economists going back to Karl Marx. It has been deferred for two centuries by the ceaseless opening up, through technology and colonization, of new realms of nature and relationship to the market. Today, not only are these realms nearly exhausted, but a shift of consciousness motivates growing efforts to reclaim them for the commons and for the gift. Today, we direct huge efforts toward protecting the forests, whereas the most brilliant minds of two generations ago devoted themselves to their more efficient clearcutting. Similarly, so many of us today seek to limit pollution not expand production, to protect the waters not increase the fish catch, to preserve the wetlands—not build larger housing developments. These efforts, while not always successful, put a brake on economic growth beyond the natural limit the environment poses. From the gift perspective, what is happening is that we no longer seek merely to take from the planet, but to give back as well. This corresponds to the coming of age of humanity, transitioning from a mother-child relationship to earth, to a co-creative partnership in which giving and receiving find balance.
The same transition to the gift is underway in the social realm. Many of us no longer aspire to financial independence, the state in which we have so much money we needn't depend on anyone for anything. Today, increasingly, we yearn instead for community. We don't want to live in a commodity world, where everything we have exists for the primary goal of profit. We want things created for love and beauty, things that connect us more deeply to the people around us. We desire to be interdependent, not independent. The gift circle, and the many new forms of gift economy that are emerging on the Internet, are ways of reclaiming human relationships from the market.
Whether natural or social, the reclamation of the gift-based commonwealth not only hastens the collapse of a growth-dependent money system, it also mitigates its severity. At the present moment, the market faces a crisis, merely one of a multiplicity of crises (ecological, social) that are converging upon us. Through the turbulent time that is upon us, the survival of humanity, and our capacity to build a new kind of civilization embodying a new relationship to earth and a new, more connected, human identity, depends on these scraps of the commonwealth that we are able to preserve or reclaim. Although we have done grievous damage to earth, vast wealth still remains. There is still richness in the soil, water, cultures and biomes of this planet. The longer we persist under the status quo, the less of that richness will remain and the more calamitous the transition will be.
On a less tangible level, any gifts we give contribute to another kind of common wealth – a reservoir of gratitude that will see us through times of turmoil, when the conventions and stories that hold civic society together fall apart. Gifts inspire gratitude, and generosity is infectious. Increasingly, I read and hear stories of generosity, selflessness, even magnanimity that take my breath away. When I witness generosity, I want to be generous too. In the coming times, we will need the generosity, the selflessness, and the magnanimity of many people. If everyone seeks merely their own survival, then there is no hope for a new kind of civilization. We need each others' gifts as we need each others' generosity to invite us into the realm of the gift ourselves. In contrast to the age of money where we can pay for anything and need no gifts, soon it will be abundantly clear: we need each other." (http://www.nationofchange.org/build-community-economy-gifts-1325082127)