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Uday-bhai – who runs his rickshaw on a pay-it-forward basis
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Generosity, Kindness and the Path to Social Transformation’ – Nipun Mehta
WHEN Dec 22, 2016
WHERE Society House, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry

Sri Aurobindo Society organized a talk by Nipun Mehta titled ‘Generosity, Kindness and the Path to Social Transformation’ at the Society House, Puducherry on December 22, 2016. The aim of the talk was to ignite the spirit of fundamental generosity in ourselves and others, creating both inner and outer transformation.

Nipun Mehta is the founder of ServiceSpace.org, a global all-volunteer organization bringing together roughly half a million members to pioneer creative, contemplative, joyful ways to spread kindness and foster the spirit of gratitude and service. Nipun calls this philosophy 'giftivism'. The aim is to ignite the fundamental generosity in ourselves and others through small acts of kindness. This simple, instinctive inner transformation is the modest, yet powerful pathway to broad social transformation.   

Nipun has lectured around the world to diverse audiences, from boardrooms to living rooms, from small elementary school classrooms to the halls of the United Nations.  His TedX talks [‘Three Stages of Generosity’, ‘Designing for Generosity’, ‘What if Generosity Were Taught by Those Who Had the Least?’, ‘Gandhi 3.0’, ‘Creating Social Change without Money’, and ‘Unlocking Multiple forms of Capital’] have been seen by millions of viewers.

At the Society House, Nipun addressed around 40 people which included a group of visiting students from the University of Oregon, U.S. He narrated his experiences during his ‘walking pilgrimage’ in India in 2005 and the lessons he learned along the way. One of them he said was ‘Dancing’ which is a step ahead of ‘Giving’ and ‘Receiving’ when one is ‘not keeping track anymore’ – not keeping track of how much one is giving or receiving! In his inimitable way Nipun explained how, in a society where all exchanges are ‘transactional’, we need to move towards the ‘transformational’ exchange mode. For, as he continued, in transaction, there’s no ‘circle’; and when there’s no circle, there’s no community and consequent lack of ‘trust’. 

Nipun then went on to elaborate the methodology of how to create this ‘circle of trust’. He gave several examples ranging from Gandhi’s stance at the Chauri Chaura  incident in 1922; Uday-bhai, a poor rickshaw driver from Sabramati District in Ahmedabad, who believes in ‘love’ and believes in ‘people’ (Uday-bhai decided to run his rickshaw on a pay-it-forward basis – you sit in his rickshaw and there is no money meter. Someone before you has paid for you and you get to pay forward for people after you, whatever you are moved to offer. He trusted that goodness in people); Vinoba Bhave’s ‘Bhoodan’ (land gift to poor farmers) movement which he started in April 1951; to Mary Gordon’s ‘Root of Empathy’ in Canada, which is an innovative, classroom-based parenting programme that reduces childhood levels of aggression by counteracting the physical, psychological and neurological effects of parental violence and neglect. 

There is a need to “shift from a manufacturing lens to a gardening lens,” Nipun told a roomful of enthralled audience and “learn how to hold space/circle and know how to dance.” He also quoted Gandhi who said, “Inner change within the individual ought to be the starting point of outer changes in society.” ServiceSpace projects amongst several others such as ‘Smile Cards’ which simply involves doing an act of kindness and leaving a card behind inviting the recipient to pass it on, and ‘Karma Kitchen’ which first opened in Berkeley on March 31, 2007, by several volunteers inspired to seed the value of a ‘gift economy’ and has now spread around the globe, support this shift – holding external space by sharing inner transformation in local communities. 

In 2015, President Barack Obama appointed Nipun to his panel for developing policy recommendations for alleviating poverty and inequality in America. Yes! Magazine selected him as one of its “Breakthrough 15: Extraordinary people whose ideas and work are transforming the way we live”. He has received many awards, including the ‘Jefferson Award for Public Service’, Dalai Lama’s ‘Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award’, and the President’s ‘Volunteer Service Award’. He serves on the advisory boards of the Seva Foundation, the Dalai Lama Foundation and Greater Good Science Center. Nipun is also very closely associated with Aravind Eye Hospitals family and organization. 

Finally, Nipun ended the talk at the Society House by inviting everyone to join the ‘circle of trust’ and sign up for some of the ServiceSpace projects such as ‘The 21-Day Challenge’ which includes a Kindness Challenge, a Mindfulness Challenge, a Gratitude Challenge, an Eco-Footprint Challenge and more and pick up some Smile cards and decks.

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