Full Transcript: Nipun Mehta on Designing for Generosity at TEDxBerkeley

Nipun Mehta

Nipun Mehta, founder of ServiceSpace, presents TEDx Talk titled “Designing for Generosity” at TEDxBerkeley event. Below is the full transcript of the whole presentation.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Nipun Mehta on Designing For Generosity at TEDxBerkeley


Thank you. I am happy to be here.

I really want to explore the question: of what the world would look like if we designed for generosity. This is a cover of Time magazine, May 11, 1953. It features Vinoba Bhave.

Vinoba Bhave was named by Gandhi as sort of his official successor; big shoes to fill in. A post-independence in India, Vinoba did something incredible. He realized that there was a lot of inequity in the country, and he wanted to solve it. Sounds a little familiar. And he goes around, so he decides to go on a walking pilgrimage. He goes from village to village. And in each village, he tells the rich land owners to donate 1/6 of their land, to the poor land owners. No coercion, no compulsion, just purely for the spirit of generosity. And he appealed to their inner transformation.

He ended up walking 70,000 kilometers. And through those 70,000 kilometers, more than 5 million acres of land were just donated. 5 million acres, that is bigger than the size of Kuwait. That’s twice the size of Lebanon, that’s almost as big as Israel. And all he did was he would go from in a village, inspire these people, and go on to the next.

He ended up being the largest peaceful transfer of land in human history. But, how? What was the force? What was the underlying inner transformation that allowed him to do it? A lot of us have been thinking about these kinds of questions, and there isn’t really a word. So, we came up with a word. We call it “giftivism”, the practice of radically generous acts that change the world.

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Now, giftivism is different. What you see over there: Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Dalai Lama, Cesar Chavez, you go on down the list; they are all practicing giftivism. And the marker of giftivism is that is for the 100%. There is no enemy, there is no opponent, because, ultimately, our inner transformation is tied to the outer manifestation. All these people recognized that. And that is giftivism.

So, how can we bring it about naturally? We asked this question: how can we have more of this in the world? So, the key question for us was: what designs emerge if we assume that people want to behave selflessly? By design, it is institutions, systems, projects. What would emerge if we turn this question on its head? By “on its head” I mean, you know, if you look at economics, it is built on the premise that people aim to maximize self-interest. That’s the basic, fundamental building block of all economics is that we are selfish.

What happens if you turn that around and say, “Well, actually, maybe people want to be selfless.” So, few of us, back in April 1999, went to a homeless shelter. And we said, “We want to give, just for the love of it.” We don’t know what we want to do, but we want to help. We came back, and we ended up building them a website. It felt great. So, we told all our friends about it. Says, “Hey, this generosity thing? There’s really something to it.” And all of a sudden, they are like, “OK, sounds good.” And they came in, and they experienced the same thing, they told their friends, and it started growing; it was very counter-cultural at the time, because we easily could have made money doing it. But we were saying, “We were not just looking for money. We were saying that there is this inner transformation which is actually beyond money and almost priceless.”

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