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Moved by love, the kindness of strangers can get you free food and rides!

Moved by love, the kindness of strangers can get you free food and rides!
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Moved by love, the kindness of strangers can get you free food and rides! Here’s your chance to learn about and be a part of the various experiments...

Here’s your chance to learn about and be a part of the various experiments in the gift economy and pay-it-forward model in India, and experience first-hand what effect the generosity and kindness of complete strangers can have on your thoughts and actions.

Imagine getting into an auto rickshaw and at the end of the ride being told that someone has already paid for it. Or after a fabulous meal at a restaurant you get a handwritten note that says it was a gift from a guest ! Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Well, don’t be surprised if you are at the receiving end of such “random acts of kindness”. It’s a trend being fuelled by a growing group of volunteers, who want to make generosity so commonplace that one day “love, more than money” would enable people to sustain each other in a community.

According to Siddhartha Stalker, who calls himself “only a volunteer” of a loosely-tied group called ‘Moved by Love‘ – that orchestrates “acts of generosity” through various “experiments” – the idea of a gift economy is to flip over the whole concept of economics, where money is the chief mode of transaction and instead encourage peer-to-peer generosity. Says the IIM-Ahmadabad graduate,“The laws of economics are valid as long as there is scarcity of resources and human beings are consumption-oriented. But what if we flip it over? What if we say that we will work with what we have and move from scarcity to abundance; from transaction to trust; from consumption to contribution; from isolation to community? .”

These “acts of kindness”, Stalker explains, work on a pay-it-forward model. When customers come to avail of products or services associated with the Moved by Love network,anything from CDs to a meals; their bill has already been taken care of by someone before them. They can pay whatever they deem fit and that takes care of the next customer’s tab. Incidentally, none of the products or services carry a price!

Free Food

The Moved by Love journey started seven years ago in Ahmadabad, Gujarat, with a single experiment called the Sava Café. A group of enthusiastic volunteers decided to open a restaurant that had a no-price menu, where customers didn’t have to pay for their own meal. They did this with the help of Service Space, a completely volunteer-run organisation based in the US that was already conducting such experiments with great success.

“When you finish your meal at Sava Café you get a note saying that the food was a gift from someone who had come before you and if you wish you can continue the cycle by paying whatever you wish for the next guest. More often than not, people are moved by the experience and respond positively,” elaborates Stalker.

Although the café has three employees who work as anchors, it is chiefly run by volunteers, who cook, serve and even clean afterwards. Much against all doubts of sustainability, the Sava Café has been a roaring success. And encouraged by the impact it has had, Moved by Love volunteers have been spreading the magic of Sava Café to other cities such as Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore for over a year now. In addition, newer “experiments” of generosity are being tried out as well.

In these cities, restaurants “convert” themselves into a Sava Café at regular intervals on a pre-announced date. Moved by Love volunteers take over the place for a day and pool in their resources to make it happen.In Bangalore, Anupreet Dhody and Susheel Nair, owner of Vriksh restaurant, which took on the avatar of a Seva Café one Sunday afternoon in January 2013, say the event was a major crowd puller. While the 30 volunteers working that day were expecting to serve around 70 guests, they ended up catering to 135!

Pay what you feel like

Uday bhai’s Love-All-Serve-All autorickshaw is another thriving gift economy experiment. The Ahmedabad-based rickshaw driver earns a modest living by ferrying passengers six days a week. But imagine!Since 2010, he has not demanded any set fare passengers are free to pay what they want. He too follows the pay-it-forward model, which leaves commuters absolutely awestruck.

It was a chance encounter with a volunteer of the Moved by Love group that changed his outlook. The volunteer offered to pay Uday bhai his entire day’s earnings of Rs 300 in place of the metre fare of Rs 23. Then he told the hardworking rickshaw driver about the generosity experiment and motivated him to give it a try.

These days, a ride on Uday bhai’s auto is truly a unique experience. As passengers step inside, they are offered water along with a snack. During the journey, they can enjoy reading the inspirational quotes that are slashed all over the interiors of the autorickshaw.Among his first customers was a man who got on to the rickshaw saying he would pay Rs 10 but when he heard about the pay-it-forward model he paid Rs 13 instead – the actual fare.

Another time, a woman was so moved by the concept that she insisted on paying for his family’s groceries as she bought her own. Yet, another woman commuter paid him Rs 50 as fare and another Rs 100 for his children. “I think a ride on my auto transforms my passengers attitude,” he insists with a smile!

Not just services, such experiments are happening with products, too. In July 2010, select Moved by Love volunteers launched a product line, Wisdom Crafts – products without a price. Retailed at the Gramshree store in Ahmedabad on a pilot basis, these value-based products – offered on a gift-economy basis ,have been a hit with customers. So its up to the buyers to reflect the value of each product and pay what they wish. The product manufacturers, however, are paid the cost price.

In February 2011, Pune got its very own Wisdom Crafts shop located at the Urban Ashram. “At Wisdom Crafts, people often contribute their works for sale.” reveals Sthalekar. The products generally come with a message. For instance, there are key chains with the peace sign or a deck of smile cards. There are handicrafts, books, CDs, photo frames and even apparel on offer.Supported by two NGOs, Makwana, along with four others (one of them visually challenged), put together the ‘Tyaag Nu Tiffin’ (Food of Sacrifice) service under which they provide home-cooked meals that they eat at the end of the day. Seemoreat: http://www.thebetterindia.com

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