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Lions Roar : March 2015
WITHOUT money, what is an economy? For Syra Smith it’s a chance for sincere connection. That’s what she realized ten years ago when she walked into an Oakland yoga studio that offered instruction with no expectation of payment—all they just wanted to help others. “I was bowled over,” says Smith, 43. “It was the first time I experienced what felt like authentic gifting. Something hap- pened in my heart.” Smith is talking about the vision of a “gifting economy,” where money is replaced by generosity. For some, the idea draws inspiration from the Bud- dhist principle of giving known as dana. After Smith started practicing Buddhism at another dana-based organization, the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, she was inspired to create the “Dana Café,” a monthly get-together at a local arts space where teachers offer instruction free of charge. She also runs a weekly teen sangha meet- up at EBMC and teaches medita- tion to at-risk and incarcerated youth. As Dana Café expanded, Share- able, an orga- nization that promotes “sharing economies,” invited Smith to work on East Bay ShareFest, a month-long celebration of carshares, bike- shares, skillshares, community kitchens, community gardens, and other sharing organizations in the Bay Area. She is the lead organizer for ShareFest 2015 in May. Smith is now working on a new proj- ect: a food harvesting and sharing collec- tive. The idea came to her as she watched her backyard fruit trees produce more apples and pears than she could eat. Then she noticed that her neighbors, who hap- pened to be beekeepers, produced more honey than they knew what to do with. Smith hopes to host a harvest-sharing event in the fall, with any excess donated to a local church. BODHISATTVAS Syra Smith SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE THE NEW ECONOMY LOTUS OUTREACH “WHEN YOU EDUCATE A GIRL, you educate a society,” says Patty Waltcher, president of Lotus Outreach. “We’re empowering girls so they can embody their own lives and enhance their own cultures.” Lotus Outreach (lotusoutreach.org) was founded by the Buddhist teacher Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, initially to aid Tibetan refugees in northern India. Today, it works in places like the highlands of Cambodia and the plains of northern India to “ensure the education, health, and safety of at-risk women and children in the developing world.” Its approach is to implement multi-dimensional solutions in partnership with local organizations. A successful campaign against the sex trade, for example, requires education, economic empowerment, and health promotion. In 2013, Lotus Outreach provided scholar- ships and safe transport to school for more than 600 Cambodian children, and offered counselling to 83 sexual assault survivors. It drilled ten new water wells and educated thousands of villagers on issues ranging from health to finances. In northern India, Lotus Outreach provides scholarships and safe transportation to school for hundreds of young girls. To improve education, it mobilized parents to demand reimbursement for illegally charged school fees and created a com- munity monitoring system to report teachers who don’t show up to work. “There’s so much to do, so much work to be done,” says Waltcher. “It’s very humbling that you’re just helping one girl at a time.” • Gifting and sharing, along with bartering, lend- ing, renting, and swapping, are collectively referred to as “collaborative consumption.” • In 2013, almost 25% of North Americans used a sharing service, which they associated with the values of sustainability, community, and helping others. • Sharing businesses (ZipCar, Airbnb, DogVacay, etc.) generated an estimated $3.5 billion in revenue in 2013. • www.dana.io provides a generosity-based plat- form for fundraising campaigns. • Gifting is one of the ten guiding principles of the Burning Man festival. Sources: Fast Company, Forbes, Vision Critical & Crowd Companies GLENNFAWCETTMARIAMTOOR Tell us about a bodhisattva you know at email@example.com. Indian girls in the Lotus Tutors program. SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2015 17 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE