Giving

A Celebration of Giving – Part 2

September 11, 2014

Click here to see the first story in this series

KelleyBuhles_Books_Large (2)by Kelley Buhles

As RSF Social Finance celebrates its 30th anniversary, we feel deep gratitude for all the supportive relationships that have nurtured, inspired, and challenged RSF to expand and deepen how it goes about transforming the way the world works with money and that are bringing associative economic principles into daily practice.

Over the next few months we will be posting a series of stories about some key catalytic gifts and givers who saw potential within RSF, seeded future possibilities, and in turn, have become part of our destiny.

A Prophetic Gift

Voices of the prophets have been heard in most cultures throughout human history. They are traditionally seen as harbingers if not agents of change. In 2002, RSF received a prophetic gift from an anonymous donor that would eventually transform the way we work with lending.

Prior to this gift, RSF was making loans solely to non-profit organizations. At that time, the field of social finance was nascent and there were few models for how to work with money in alignment with social and environmental values. Through dialogue with RSF’s community of clients and partners, the idea emerged to expand our work to begin lending to mission-aligned for-profit businesses.

However, RSF’s ability to lend relies on the investments we receive from the RSF community. Because most of our individual investors don’t have the risk tolerance necessary to experiment with lending to an emerging field of borrowers, RSF was not able to experiment with this idea without a source of capital beyond the Social Investment Fund.

Fortunately, one of RSF’s donors was inspired by the idea and decided to make a gift of $2.5M to guarantee loans to mission-aligned for-profit businesses, thereby allowing RSF to gain experience lending in this new way. This initiative was called the Fair Economies Program.

The Fair Economies Program provided financing to businesses in emerging industries that were environmentally restorative while providing fair working wages, humane working conditions, and supporting self-determination in economic development. An additional goal was to support these social enterprises in underserved regions.

The program was developed both to provide early-stage socially responsible enterprises access to low-cost capital, and to demonstrate that enterprises created for social and environmental benefit could be sustainable and provide value to the communities they served.

Through this program RSF was able to contribute to the growth of many successful businesses such as Organic Bouquet, Indigenous Designs, and Root Capital.

RSF_30th_purpleAnother gift RSF received was experience—both the experience of lending to organizations in fields that we previously hadn’t worked in, and of using new and different types of financing. The Fair Economies Program provided bridge loans, term loans, convertible loans, purchase order financing loans, and working capital loans, most of which had not previously been provided by RSF. We also gained experience working in sustainable agriculture, independent media, and fair trade, whereas our previous experience was mostly working with Waldorf Schools and other organizations inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner.

Additionally, through our dealing with projects in need of early stage financing, RSF provided necessary technical assistance and client attention while supporting some of the companies through challenging situations. While not all of the projects funded by the Fair Economies Program were successful, the lessons RSF learned from it were documented, reflected upon, shared, and eventually fed back into our operations, thereby making RSF a more knowledgeable and experienced lending partner to mission-aligned, for-profit businesses .

The donor and the gift that facilitated the creation of the Fair Economies Program inspired and ultimately provided the experience necessary to create our for-profit lending program as it is today – standing at 50% of our social enterprise lending portfolio. For this we are very grateful.

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Sacred Land, Powerful Stewards

September 9, 2014

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

By Alex Haber

In our grants, loans, and investments, RSF partners with organizations and entrepreneurs focused on protecting the environment as central to both our economic and spiritual life. One of our Donor Advised Fund clients, Tamalpais Trust, has a strong and innovative agenda: supporting the capacity of indigenous-led organizations to promote culturally sensitive approaches to environmental stewardship through indigenous knowledge systems. Last year, Tamalpais Trust granted over $2.7 million through RSF to organizations working on these issues. Two in particular – Kivulini Heritage Trust in Northern Kenya and the Forever Sabah project of Land Empowerment Animals People in Malaysia – are helping build strong indigenous communities to lead environmental stewardship and sustainable development.

Kivulini Heritage Trust works with pastoralists, fisherfolk, and other minorities in Northern Kenya to preserve sacred sites, support local livelihoods, and promote environmental management centered on indigenous knowledge and institutions. Last year, Tamalpais Trust funded a project to link peace-building among different communities with development in the border region of Northern Kenya and Ethiopia. New development is poised to raise the standard of living for many, but it will also privatize land and limit access to traditional management techniques and sacred sites. Communities in this region are migratory along both sides of the border, so mapping migration routes and sacred sites is important for protecting their way of life. However, previous attempts at mapping by outside groups have raised fears of privatization and conflict among indigenous communities. To overcome this, Kivulini is working closely with locals on participatory mapping of routes and sacred sites while also encouraging inter-community peace-building to strengthen indigenous groups’ understanding of the challenges of land development and their capacity to act together to control their own destiny.

LEAP: An innovative community-based ecotourism project aiming to provide ecologically sustainable lodging within the Tungog Lake rainforest.  Photo courtesy of LEAP.

LEAP: An innovative community-based ecotourism project aiming to provide ecologically sustainable lodging within the Tungog Lake rainforest. Photo courtesy of LEAP.

Across the Indian Ocean, in Malaysia, the Forever Sabah project of Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) is working closely with indigenous people to protect the Sabah region. Forever Sabah is a 25 year ($100M US) program designed to move away from an economy based on the exploitation of natural resources and toward a diversified, equitable, green economy. Over the past year, LEAP has facilitated community-led roundtables to develop a first wave of projects for the program. These include forest connectivity across the state, watersheds, and communities; renewable energy initiatives; sustainable food and agriculture projects; and a community-based ecotourism school. Native land rights are incorporated into all aspects of Forever Sabah. As just one example, LEAP is working to establish the first Watershed Conservation Area in Malaysia, which would be co-managed by local communities in the Telupid Forest Complex. The key distinction between current “protection areas” and this new “conservation area” is that the latter preserves native land rights and use.

These are just two examples of a place-based approach to ecological stewardship, which we value at RSF. By supporting indigenous capacity building, Tamalpais Trust is helping to transform ecosystems by empowering communities to take control of the future and that of the land they care for.

Alex Haber is Program Manager, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

RSF to host 3rd Shared Gifting Circle in Philadelphia

August 28, 2014

RSF is excited to announce that we will host our third Shared Gifting circle working with organizations focused on building socially and ecologically sustainable regional food systems in Philadelphia.

The participants, listed below, were nominated by RSF’s community of grantees, borrowers, investors, and donors. We also worked closely with RSF borrowers Fair Food and Common Market, to help identify non-profits doing great work in the city.

Shared Gifting is a new model of grantmaking that RSF has been experimenting with for the past four years. This model gives ownership and allocation authority for gift money to the participants of the circle and shifts the power dynamic inherent in traditional philanthropy by giving grantees decision making authority. We have found that this process creates opportunities for grantees to collaborate, leverages community wisdom, and creates accountability among the participants.

One representative from each organization will meet in Philadelphia on September 16th to share proposals with each other and determine how to distribute grant funds in support of each other’s work.

The Philadelphia participants are:

We are really excited to be working with all of these wonderful organizations and look forward to sharing our experiences from the Shared Gifting meeting!

Interdependence in Ecological and Economic Systems

July 30, 2014

This CEO letter was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Dear Friends,

The word economy comes from the Greek oikonomia, meaning household management. When thinking of our economy, now on a global scale, how should we define that household? Our current financial system (a subset of economic life) favors a narrow view focusing on the individual and more specifically, the individual with resources. But if we open our perspective, we can see that view expand—the household is our homes, our communities, and the planet that houses us all.

Indigenous wisdom has always been ahead of the dominant paradigm in this regard. Indigenous knowledge evolved from observation of and participation with the natural world. This wisdom holds that humankind meets needs by working with nature and honoring the earth and its systems. This approach recognizes something that has been lost in our economic life—the idea that all is interrelated. People and planet. Earth and economy. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make sense to have a zero sum game in which some win (at the expense of others) and the rest lose.

Here is an example of the opposite: We recently made a grant to The Pollination Project, which makes $1,000 seed grants to individual change-makers. Grants to for-profit ventures are made as zero-interest pay-it-forward loans. Recipients are expected to pay loans back in 24 months, and payment is received in the form of a new loan to another qualified Pollination Project applicant, chosen by the original borrower. This pay-it-forward model is a practical example of working with money in a way that honors interdependence, community, and trust and that values mutual benefit—when one wins, so can all.

Interdependence and community are inherent to how we approach finance at RSF. We have a vested stake in the success of all our stakeholders and we recognize that success for all of us is contingent upon regenerating and preserving the earth’s ecosystems. Financing organizations that are a part of the regenerative cycle is also a part of regenerating the economy that holds the human being as the center. This is one more reflection of what it means to transform the way the world works with money.

All my best,

Don Shaffer

President & CEO

Integrated Capital for Social Enterprises

July 17, 2014

Originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review

Don Shafferby Don Shaffer

A thriving social enterprise sector is essential to increasing community resilience and improving the lives of those who’ve been marginalized by the global economy. Social enterprises—which are in business to solve social and environmental problems—are willing to tackle complex systemic problems, build new infrastructure, and develop products and services that address pressing needs even if their profit potential is not obvious or will develop only over a long term.

These enterprises’ ability to succeed is hampered, however, by the current division of capital resources into overspecialized sectors, such as venture investing and charitable foundations, that fund only narrowly defined types of enterprises at particular stages. This situation won’t produce the breadth of social enterprises we need to solve systemic problems, because these enterprises confound the expectations of conventional funders in many ways:

  • They may have to build a supply chain or other systems (rather than just plugging into an existing infrastructure), which results in relatively high up-front costs.
  • They may have slower revenue growth or relatively low profit margins—by definition, they aim to maximize social value before profit.
  • They may have hybrid business models that put them outside conventional for-profit and nonprofit funding models (for example, a revenue-generating business with nonprofit charitable status).
  • They think about growth as a way to serve their mission, not as an end in itself. They may intend to remain rooted in a community and serve as a model to others, for example, rather than pursuing rapid and far-reaching expansion.

To build a thriving social enterprise sector, we need to rethink the purpose of capital and employ an integrated capital strategy. Integrated capital is the coordinated and collaborative use of different forms of capital (equity investments, loans, gifts, loan guarantees, and so on), often from different funders, to support a developing enterprise that’s working to solve complex social and environmental problems.

Read the full article here

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

A Celebration of Giving – Part 1

July 10, 2014

RSF_30th_purpleby Kelley Buhles

As RSF Social Finance celebrates its 30th anniversary, we can be pleased with how much we have accomplished since the organization’s founding in 1984. Our staff has grown dramatically and clients now number well over 2,000. The number of transformative financial transactions has greatly increased and the RSF community is even more deeply rooted in its mission, vision, and innovative work in the world.

In looking back over these 30 years, we feel deep gratitude for all the supportive relationships that have nurtured, inspired, and challenged RSF to expand and deepen how it goes about transforming the way the world works with money and that have brought associative economic principles into daily practice.

Over the next few months we will be posting a series of stories about some key catalytic gifts and givers that saw potential within RSF, seeded future possibilities, and in turn, helped direct our destiny.

THE FIRST FAIRY GODMOTHER

In the fairy tales of old, the fairy godmother gives magical support and wise counsel to the hero or heroine of a story. She also tests their integrity and inner loyalty. In this relationship, the emphasis is always on the giving. Today, we use the word “donor” to identify a similar role in human affairs.

MaryA very special donor to RSF was also one of our first, Mary Theodora Richards. She was a biodynamic farmer, musician, and a student of Rudolf Steiner. Similar to the fairy godmothers in the stories, she advised and supported Mark and Siegfried Finser during the organization’s formative stages. She encouraged them in word and deed.

Her interest in RSF came from her passion for associative economics and the threefold social principles identified by Rudolf Steiner. During their long relationship, Mark Finser and Mary Theodora studied these principles together. She was deeply inspired by the vision of RSF to bring spiritual elements together with practical movement of money in the world.

The number of times Mary Theodora Richards acted as “the first” in RSF’s history is astounding. She opened the first Investment Fund and the first Donor Advised Fund at RSF.

Many of the activities her gifts made possible are early examples of what has emerged as RSF’s innovative approach to financing—integrated capital. Here are a few examples. Mary Theodora was excited about leveraging her gift money to make lending activity possible. She was the first client to guarantee a RSF loan with a gift. She also allowed RSF to use her charitable funds to make loans to schools when not enough investor funds had been raised, in effect creating a bridge loan. In addition, she guaranteed a portion of our reserve funds, providing a larger safety net that was attractive to more investors.

photo 1Mary Theodora Richards was able to plant ideas she knew would be important to our future as a growing organization. She made a challenge gift to RSF to fund the first year of a retirement plan on the condition that it would be included in the budget for the following year. She funded our first computer and database system knowing the importance of technology for the future. In addition to all these deeds, she helped to fund the purchase of the original building on Fern Hill in New York which housed RSF until the move to San Francisco.

These are the many ways Mary Theodora Richards acted as RSF’s first fairy godmother, encouraging its growth and giving direct support when it was needed. This turned out to be the special quality in all of our most collaborative donors—the ability to see and cultivate in us what we have not yet seen ourselves. Like so many others over the last 30 years, she acted anonymously, never wanting to place herself in the foreground.

It seems very appropriate now, 24 years after her death, to honor her role in the life of RSF Social Finance.

Click here to see the next story in this series

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

A New Purpose for Philanthropic Services

June 24, 2014

KelleyBuhles_Books_Small

by Kelley Buhles

“Where do natural resources come from? Did humans buy them from somewhere?

What about our knowledge and abilities? Did we also buy those? Or are they on loan to us?”

John Bloom, RSF’s Senior Director of Organizational Culture, recently posed these questions to staff. The response was a long stretch of thoughtful silence, it was clear these weren’t easy questions.

Perhaps that is because it isn’t often that one is asked these types of questions; they are often delegated to the philosophers and spiritual practitioners of our time. Yet, if we take the time to search within ourselves for the answers, what we arrive at can dramatically change how we frame our relationship to the world around us.

Can we begin to explore the idea that the bounty of life, our ability to physically engage with the world, and our mental capacities to imagine, reason, and learn are all gifts to us? How differently would one behave in the world if we started to see everything we have as a gift, rather than something we earned? And if we can, how might that transform our relationship to money?

The Philanthropic Services team at RSF has been working with Rudolf Steiner’s thinking around the vital role gift plays in our lives. We observed that gift is typically left out of modern economic thinking. As part of RSF’s work to transform the way the world works with money, we also feel it is important to transform the way the world works with gift. We are excited to announce a new purpose statement for our philanthropic services department:

To cultivate giving as the source of economic life

As a transformative intermediary we:

·        Move the field of philanthropy towards a gift economy

·        Support and honor our client’s deepest intentions

·        Integrate gift money into catalytic capital

·        Facilitate the circulation of gift money

With this framework we can start to build a new understanding of the role that gift plays in economic life. Gift moves at the beginning of the cycle, rather than being something that happens at the end, once an individual has accumulated adequate wealth. By seeing gift as the primary igniter of economic activity we can start to understand what Steiner said in World Economy, “We cannot arrive at a healthy economic process unless, in the first place, it is made possible for people to have something to give and, in the second place, unless they have the good will and intelligence to give what they have.” (Lecture 5)

This transformation of our understanding of the world from something we have earned to something we are gifted with can inspire us to live into the spirit of interdependence with each other. Ultimately it can transform our understanding of the primary purpose of economic life, from meeting our own needs, towards working together to meet each others needs.

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Gift Finance in the Ecological Age – Part II

June 10, 2014

This article was originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Click here for Part I

Charles Eisenstein Headshotby Charles Eisenstein

What is an investment? For a long time, we have considered it to be a way to grow one’s money. That was the goal, and the socially conscious investor sought, within that parameter, to do as little harm or as much good as possible. Fundamentally though, he was taking a share of the growing economic pie.

Now that we are realizing that that parameter, in itself, encodes harm, and that the pie can grow no longer, we need to reconceive what an investment is. That isn’t to say we eschew a positive return; it means we don’t precondition the investment on the likelihood of a positive return. We don’t base the investment on what it will bring back to ourselves. We make it, in other words, a gift.

This gift can take several forms. One would be outright philanthropy – the gift of money. Another would be a zero-interest loan, the gift of the use of money. To a lesser extent, even a loan at below-market rates is a gift. The same goes for an equity investment in an enterprise that has lower profit potential or higher risk than the numbers would justify.

What unifies all of these is that pecuniary calculations are secondary. What directs the flow of capital is the investor’s desire to contribute to something meaningful, something beautiful, something that benefits the planet and society. Money becomes a creative tool and the investor becomes an artist. We all know that a painter who paints to please the critics or the art markets has sold out, and in an important sense isn’t a true artist at all – something else has come first. The same is true for the investor. You might end up profiting after all, but that is not the goal. The goal is to use money in the most beautiful way you dare.

Investment in the spirit of the gift is quite natural when we recognize that our money has come to us as a gift. That’s obviously true in the case of inherited money, but what if you earned it by dint of hard work and creative genius? Well then, did you earn your creativity? Did you earn the capacity to work hard? Did you earn this planet, the earth, the water, the sun? Did you earn being born? Did you earn your mother? On some level we know life is a gift, and so is everything we have and everything we earn. Investing in the spirit of the gift is therefore a simple expression of our basic gratitude at being alive.

Spiritual teachings such as the doctrine of karma tell us that anything we give out comes back to us in some form. We cannot escape the consequences, good or ill, of what we do. That was obvious in traditional communities, in which one’s contribution was visible and would generate gratitude or disapproval from everyone else, and in which anyone who had more than he or she needed would share it. In that society, your good fortune was my good fortune, because you would have more to share. Spiritual teaching and economic life were aligned.

In today’s anonymous market economy, it would seem otherwise. A gift seems like an act of self-sacrifice. Yet those who enter into the territory of the gift find the opposite is true, and that indeed one’s gifts do return in some form. In truth, we are not really separate from other people or the world. Our civilization is now learning that as well in ecological terms, as we find that we cannot escape the consequences of what we do to nature.

As humanity relearns that truth, our economic systems are bound to change to come into coherency with it. The economy of the future will reinforce, and not contradict, the aspirations that motivate the social financier. Someday, the best business decision will also be the best ecological decision, and the wealth of each will be the wealth of all. The ideology of selfishness bears a kernel of truth after all, when we understand that “self-interest” is really the full expression of one’s gifts, and not the maximization of control over others. Already we can see glimpses of a system on the horizon that unifies economics with spiritual and ecological principles: ideas like green taxes, reclamation of the commons, interest-free financial systems, universal basic income, gift economies for digital goods, the sharing economy, and reskilling. They show us the world that is coming—if it doesn’t come, indeed there will not be a world.

That means that the social financier is preparing for the future, and her investments might turn out to be economically remunerative after all. Even if you are investing in something with no foreseeable return – wetlands restoration, for example, or community self-sufficiency in India – who knows how the knowledge base and relationships you cultivate will develop? Who knows, through the uncertain times ahead of us, how what you give will come back to you?

Have no fear. The problem as you take your natural next step into the gift is not that your giving will leave you depleted and unable to give. The “problem” will be that your giving will bring yet more wealth into your life (financial wealth or otherwise), possibly via mysterious pathways. You will then need to develop further as an artist, as a giver. When we give, we widen the channel through us and the throughput grows along with its associated challenges.

What is the next step? It might involve changes in your mix of gifts, investments, and so on. It might involve using money to contribute to systems change; it might operate on a more personal level. Unexpected opportunities will arise – just at the edge of your courage but not beyond it – when you embrace the knowledge stirring within: that social finance is an art form; that money is its creative tool; and that the world is calling all of us to devote our gifts toward the profound and beautiful transition that is before humanity today.

Charles Eisenstein is a speaker and writer focusing on themes of human culture and identity. He is the author of several books, most recently Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible. His background includes a degree in mathematics and philosophy from Yale, a decade in Taiwan as a translator, and stints as a college instructor, a yoga teacher, and a construction worker. He currently writes and speaks full-time. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and four children.

Gift Finance in the Ecological Age – Part I

June 5, 2014

This article was originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Charles Eisenstein Headshotby Charles Eisenstein

Ever since the statistic we call GDP was invented in the 1930s, economists and politicians have used it as a proxy for the public good. It seems reasonable: the more goods and services being bought, the more everyone has—more cars, bigger houses, more music, and more conveniences. As GDP rises, life gets richer and richer.

In this context, ethical investing is more or less congruent with conventional investing. A high return means that your capital has successfully contributed to the expansion of the economy. You have contributed to the production of more salable goods and services. Fundamentally, this is the logic underlying neo-liberal economic policies: governments should do what they can to further the efficient functioning of markets, so that capital is free to flow toward the highest return. It is also the reasoning behind Gordon Gecko’s famous maxim, “Greed is good.”

Today this ideology is crumbling. Of course, some profitable investments also benefit society and the planet. But in general, the growth of GDP—and the source of profits— is coming from the depletion of the biosphere, the commoditization of “developing” societies, fracking, stripmining, deforestation, and more subtly, the conversion of the gift relationships that form communities into monetary transactional relationships.

Moreover, as even these sources of profit dry up, the highest returns are to be found not in creating new wealth, but in stripping it from the productive economy through financialization. The last six years have seen huge profits in transferring wealth from the middle class, homeowners, nations, and manufacturers through debt-pressure and the financialization of assets.

In the past, socially responsible investors could have it both ways: they could avoid the most obviously harmful investments, and still earn a decent rate of return. That is becoming impossible, for two reasons. First, as the prevailing rate of return on capital stagnates or falls, the economic system as a whole comes under increasing pressure to exploit whatever profit opportunities remain, even if they come at grievous human and environmental cost. So for example, as supplies of safely obtainable oil and gas dwindle, we are pushed toward fracking and off-shore drilling. Another example can be found in the downward pressure on wages and environmental standards.

Secondly, socially responsible investors themselves are awakening to the interconnection of all things. They now see the delusion of cordoning off some subset of investments and pretending that they don’t contribute to an overall economic system that is inherently destructive. For example, maybe you vow not to invest in fossil-fuel energy companies, or in any company that is clearcutting and stripmining in South America. OK then, how about the banks that finance these activities? How about the manufacturers that use the stripmined minerals? That would include the entire tech sector. You might stay away from companies that employ sweatshop labor abroad or minimum-wage labor at home – but what about companies that contract with these companies? Ultimately, it is nearly impossible to make profits without participating in a system of social injustice and ecocide.

But that doesn’t mean you should withdraw from the system and bury your money under the apple tree. That won’t help anyone. The point is not to avoid the taint of complicity, but rather to align money with values. What we need is a shift in how “investment” is conceived.

Click here for Part II

Charles Eisenstein is a speaker and writer focusing on themes of human culture and identity. He is the author of several books, most recently Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible. His background includes a degree in mathematics and philosophy from Yale, a decade in Taiwan as a translator, and stints as a college instructor, a yoga teacher, and a construction worker. He currently writes and speaks full-time. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and four children.

A Culture of Gifting

May 22, 2014

Originally published in the San Francisco Waldorf School Alumni Newsletter

There are three indications of real generosity:

To remain steadfast without resisting,

To praise without the emotion of generosity,

And, to give before being asked.

—Maaruf Karkhi

John Bloom by Katie Teague copyby John Bloom

There is no community without gift and gifting. The acts themselves may not be visible, they may not have names, they may elude materiality, and yet, and yet, we depend on them for our very existence as givers and receivers. Warmth, recognition, love, care, and sometimes money—these are the bearers of our deepest feelings, longings and needs. Wait, did I miss something? What is money doing in that list? On one hand, money is the necessary evil everyone needs and no one likes to talk about. On the other, money is the emblem of modern mysteries, meaningful through circulation, in movement that defines our relationships, our values, our needs and priorities—that is our economic self.

But not all money is the same. A dollar bill can be differentiated not in how it looks, but in how it is used. You need only ask yourself how you experience the money and the transaction when: a) you need to buy something; b) when someone asks you to lend it to them; c) and when you decide to make a gift or someone asks you for one. It is this last that is the hardest to grasp because we are so wired to be consumers, to engage in the exchange of commodities and services. We are conditioned to think of these transactions as the primary drivers of economic life. They are definitely connected to the generation of wealth—no question about it. Virtually every economics textbook would confirm this. But the fundamental assumption in this view is the primacy of self-interest, which is a myth, highly problematic, and one of the key reasons we are where we are in our economy today, regardless of how you might feel about it.

My reflection on the Karkhi quote is that it epitomizes a sense of service to others, and further that we are part of, and not greater than, the community of relationships in which we are embedded. I would propose that if we are going to rid ourselves of the myth of self-interest and the social damage that seems to accompany it, and move instead into a recognition of our real interdependence, then our greatest leverage point for change is through gift and gifting. That is gifting understood as coming from our capacity to recognize the importance of others’ destiny paths both for us and the world at large. That is a lot to say in short form. But, it names the essence of gift and gifting. It names why and how we actually support each other’s success. It names how lasting value is created through the continual passage and transformation of a gift. Here is a personal example. I had wonderful teachers and parents growing up. They took good care of me, provided form and discipline and support even for mistakes. I received these as gifts, continued to work on them and on myself, to discover my own gifts, so that I could put those gifts, such as they are, in service to others. This is no thing, nothing, that could be bought or loaned. In some ways, a gift of money works in the same way. For example, a gift goes to build a building, many children are educated in it over the years, many of them will change the world. Was the gift the bricks and mortar, or was the gift what the building makes possible into the future. Well, the gift purchased the construction—that is to say it was transformed into purchase—but the value of the gift actually lives on long after the purchase. Such is one mystery of money.

There is no community without gift, and without community there is no economic life. We actually depend upon each other, whether it is those who make the clothes we wear, the car we drive, or the school we choose. And others are depending upon us to contribute our capacities. While we may “earn a living” through those capacities, what we earn does not constitute a life. Rather it is what we care about and value that bring meaning to life. Money is but one thread in this story; hopefully as we use it in alignment with our values, it becomes meaningful through what it makes possible. Gift, despite what the textbooks might say, whether in the form of love or money, is the first grace in economic life. In its purest form it is a liberator of human inspiration and capacity. And gifting bears the future for community life, it is the key to regeneration, to education, to wellbeing and sustainability.

John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

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