In 2008, Manish and Shilpa Jain of Shikshantar invited friends and colleagues to reflect on the meaning and significance of gift culture. The result was Reclaiming the Gift Culture, an anthology of 26 essays. The following is adapted from their introductory letter.

Greetings from Mewar! We are honored to bring forth a booklet exploring the gift culture in our lives. In these challenging times of dominating multinational corporations, collapsing neo-liberal economies, and the commodification of everything, it seems vital to explore a different form of relationship and exchange. Gifting, and the larger culture it draws from, provides a welcome oasis of hope from the hackneyed debates around capitalism versus communism and the paralysis of TINA (There Is No Alternative). We put this intercultural dialogue together to try to share some of the important concepts, beliefs, practices and dreams around reclaiming the gift culture in our different spaces and places.

This is perhaps our most critical and important booklet to date. We have come to understand that the ideas and practices of deep learning, self-organizing learning communities and vibrant learning ecosystems are predicated on a culture of generosity, care, trust and mutuality. The gift culture is critical to decommodifying our collective intelligence and underlying diverse human learning processes; that is, removing it from the realm of monoculture and artificial scarcity, monopolized packaging and distribution, and institutionalized hierarchy and exploitation. It is heart-wrenching to witness that learning processes that are essential to being human—such as play, laughter, Nature, storytelling, care, et.c—are being commercialized and as a result, becoming accessible only to a small elite. The gift culture inspires us to see our learning resources and relationships as part of the larger commons that is accessible to all and nurtured by all.

The gift culture also fundamentally challenges our perceptions about ourselves. Engaging in the gift culture transforms our self and world understanding by reminding us that we are being given gifts all the time from many known and unknown sources. It graciously invites us back into our sacred role as active gift-givers—from homo economicus to homo giftus. We are able to recognize and re-value our own gifts as well as those others in our own terms. This is critical for de-institutionalizing our lives and our communities—to moving beyond experts, money, technology, nation-states, rights for defining our identity and purpose in life—and for reasserting our dignity as diverse co-creators of learning and life.

The gift culture also challenges the core underpinnings of the global market, which is built on extraction and concentration of wealth and power and the spread of violence. The gift culture doesn’t mean that there are no markets, but rather we need to re-create a healthy set of cultural, spiritual and social values and rituals to limit the control of markets in our lives and relationships. By witnessing and appreciating our own gifts and the gifts of others, we open the possibility for the organic unfolding our whole beings and for accessing our deepest humanity to ensure the collective well-being of all life on the planet.

In Reclaiming the Gift Culture, we have tried to share diverse stories, insights and conceptual frameworks around the gift culture. The contributors were asked to respond to questions like:

  • Why the gift culture today?
  • How have we been inspired by the gift culture?
  • What are the different traditions of the gift culture around the world?
  • What are the possibilities of the gift culture for our troubled times?
  • How can we bring the gift culture practically into our lives, communities, organizations?
  • What are the challenges to bringing forth the gift culture?
  • What do we need to unlearn for the gift culture to manifest?
  • What questions do we need to explore more deeply in order to understand the gift culture?

We hope this publication will inspire you to better understand and reclaim the gift culture in your life and community.