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500,000 Volunteers Show Us How We Are All “Rich,” in Some Way with Nipun Mehta (Episode #138)

Turns out, we can have many kinds of wealth besides money: creativity, time, community, compassion, friendships, attention, and patience, to name a few. We can each give those things to others liberally, and in the process, live extraordinarily happy lives. Today’s guest, Nipun Mehta, will help you see that in a world where “capital” like time, ideas, and kindness are priceless, what you have to contribute makes you very wealthy. He is leading 1.5 Million members in opening up a new shared future for us all.

Episode Highlights

About Our Guest:

Nipun Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace.org—for 25 years, a global incubator of projects that work at the intersection of volunteerism, technology, and the growing gift-economy.

Through his work in social change, Nipun was recognized by the Dalai Lama as an “Unsung Hero of Compassion.” President Obama appointed him to a council for social change, and Germany’s OOOM Magazine named him Top 100 Most Inspiring People of 2020

Nipun speaks all over the world, delivering his message to a wide range of audiences from inner city youth in Memphis to international dignitaries at the United Nations.

And lately, he’s been opening our eyes to a new way of thinking about the many kinds of “wealth” we may have, outside of money. How much “richer” our world would be if we started looking at our resources like time, community and attention as a form of “capital,” just like we pay attention to our “financial capital.”

Nipun started his working life with a job at Sun Microsystems and was so successful that in his third year of college, the work gave him more money than he needed. So, he started to give it away. As money ran out, he started to give time; and as time ran out, he gave himself. 

And that is the simple story of how one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world began: one man, realizing that it truly was better to give than to receive, and the “gift economy” (a place where volunteerism is at the heart of everything) has been growing ever since.

By 1999, Nipun started ServiceSpace as an experiment with four friends in Silicon Valley to see how much good could be done with simple volunteerism as a core principle. This experiment has grown to an global ecosystem of over 500,000 volunteers and 1.5 Million members that has delivered millions of dollars in service (goodness and progress) for free.

It has mushroomed into numerous (all volunteer) projects like:

  • The DailyGood: News that inspires…The DailyGood leverages the internet to promote positive and uplifting news around the world to more than 100,000 subscribers through the daily and weekly newsletters.
  • Awakin Circles: In living rooms around the world, people come together to sit in silence for an hour, share some inspirational moments for the second hour, and often have a light meal afterward. No teachers, no agendas. Circles are all volunteer-run and independently organized, with a simple wish for greater awakening of awareness and compassion, in kinship and community with one another. 
  • Karuna News: Created to amplify the voice of our collective compassion—by featuring news of everyday people choosing love over fear.
  • Karma Kitchen: Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: “Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those who dine after you.”

All of it is a volunteer-driven experiment in generosity.

After hearing this conversation with Nipun, it’s easy to look at a stranger, wonder about all the good that is in them, and understand a new mindset about bringing that out. 

Here are three of Nipun’s TEDx Talks that will take you deeper into a world that is possible for us all: 

Unlocking Multiple forms of Wealth

Can We Create Social Change Without Money?

Designing for Generosity

Show Notes

00:00 Preview

00:40 Intro & Welcome

03:34 The Power of Volunteering

  • Nipun may have started reversing the hopelessness narrative long before it was popular. 
  • Nipun has always felt that there’s a spark in people that longs to be in service and longs to be compassionate.
  • He has an implicit faith in himself and everyone else.
  • In the late 90’s Nipun started a project called ‘DailyGood’ which started with an automatic email sent out every morning with good news.
  • This has been done every day since 1996.
  • It started with his yearning to empower the impulse to serve.
  • The belief is that the world is held together with a lot of goodness and a lot of care.
  • The biggest leaps in human history started with quiet givers and people who turned their backs on something that offended them at the core of their humanity.
  • Ghandi for instance, started his movement based on him being thrown off a train in South Africa for being brown.
  • He was able to do this without burning bridges or creating enemies.
  • Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, Mandela, The Dalai Lama all took the stance that they would not create an enemy while resisting an action.
  • They would resist an action without creating an enemy.
  • They could resist an action but love the person.
  • The best ideas don’t need an enemy.

11:00 Reserving Our Clicks for Things That Matter

  • Wealth currently has a narrow definition based on things like money, power and outward appearance.
  • This has led us to want more and more, and it is this wanting more that typically creates separation & inequality.
  • How do we start to play a much bigger game?
  • We can start by accepting that different forms of wealth exist such as:
    • Stories
    • Attention
    • Connection
  • So much is done to circulate money and the ideas of fame and power as measures of wealth.
  • We can also do the same with our time capital.
  • Small actions might change the entire world and are just as meaningful as newsworthy or Nobel Prize worthy acts.
  • Maybe it’s the small things that matter the most.
  • In the words of Mother Teresa, “You can do no big things, only small things with great love”.
  • Those who tend to the small acts tend to be happier and more connected, secure and grounded.
  • Nipun’s very successful found out his first son was autistic.. He was initially worried, but soon recognized that this might be the biggest gift of his life as it showed him that everyone is good at something.
  • He went on to hire several people on the autism spectrum, and the initiative was so successful that it became a Harvard Case Study.
  • Last week’s episode, (Episode 137) with Temple Grandin, the most famous autistic person in the world spoke to the limitlessness and beauty of different minds.

46:12 Break

18:50 Hunger is Invisible

  • Nipun’s Organization, ServiceSpace, started by building websites for non-profit organizations.
  • It started when Nipun and his 3 friends went to a homeless shelter in 1999 and offered to build them a website in their earliest effort to practice generosity.
  • They intuitively knew that they could exercise compassion & kindness and grow them as one would grow muscles.
  • Giving is beneficial to both the giver and the receiver.
  • They started spreading the word on how small acts of kindness can improve everyone’s lives.
  • These acts garnered media coverage as website building was expensive at the time, and here were some young men who could be making money building websites for free.
  • The reward comes from nature.
  • The idea of the movement is to hold space to allow people to be able to give of themselves in return for nature’s reward.
  • They created a platform where micro-volunteering hours could add up significantly.
  • This grew organizational capacity significantly and allowed them to be able to focus on solving problems in the world.
  • In trying to identify which problems to solve, they came up with the idea of solving the problems that money can’t solve.
  • Since ServiceSpace’s inception, thousands of websites have been built.

31:18 Karma Kitchen

  • Volunteers take over the restaurant and set up a system that allows people to pay for the meals for the people who came after them.
  • You can have your meal and get a $0.00 bill and decide how much you want to pay for the person who comes after you.
  • Karma Kitchen  became the top rated Yelp restaurant in Berkeley California for 7 years.
  • The concept of “pay what you want for the person who comes after you” has been used in 23 restaurants worldwide.
  • Several other businesses such as yoga studios and magazine publishers have also used the concept.
  • Even a rickshaw driver in India runs his service using this concept.
  • Dr. Lynda, based on her learning about the Karma Kitchen, significantly increased the success of a garage sale she ran to raise funds for battered women.
  • Paying it forward expands levels of gratitude enormously as it shifts the focus away from your own well-being and toward the well-being of a stranger.

38:20 Infinite Reciprocity

  • Reciprocity works in 3 ways
    • Direct Reciprocity
      • I do something for you – You give me something in return
      • This ends up being very transactional.
    • Indirect Reciprocity
      • I do something for my Mom – My mom Does something for my Dad – My Dad does something for me.
      • This represents a circle of care.
      • It tends to create an in circle and an out circle but is still much stronger than direct reciprocity.
    • Infinite Reciprocity
      • I want to be a rising tide that lifts all boats across all time.
      • This can only be done through compassion.
      • This is relational and not transactional.
      • This is the most powerful position we can be within ourselves.
  • “You can count the number of seeds in an apple but you can’t count the number of apples in a seed” – Robert H. Schuller
  • It is radically empowering to not be the center of attention.
  • The expansion that comes with recognizing the infinite nature of not existing only in your limited self.
  • Service is effectively planting seeds to create apples that we can never enjoy but that others can enjoy infinitely.

45:12 Serving Locally

  • In Episode 136, Topher White of the Rainforest Connection discusses his discovery that old cell phones can help save the remaining rainforests in the world.He has gone on to create devices which can connect us directly with the ecosystems in our backyards.
  • We can start by looking for local places where we can practice compassion.
  • The whole world can be our playground and more importantly every moment can be an opportunity to move from the consumption and transactional mindset toward a mindset of contribution, service, and connection.
  • You are local wherever you stand.
  • Once you continue to develop the muscle, you will change and the world will change.
  • Changing the eyes through which you view the world is the key.
  • Being local is about inhabiting your deeper self within your body.
  • We can never judge the level of impact we’re having with our acts of goodness.
  • “When you help you see life as weak; when you fix you see life as broken; but when you serve you see life as a co-creator of the whole.” – Rachel Remen
  • Every connection with a human being is an opportunity to co-create.
  • Seeing wealth differently allows us to see that everyone can contribute regardless of their circumstances.

59:00 Closing

  • What are the most important things for people to know?
    • The power of love.
    • We all have the innate impulse to help others.
    • We can not only play defence on our vices but we can play offense on our virtue.
    • Respond to love with greater love.

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