Gift economy – Why it cannot work with Indian mentality (In response to an Open Magazine article)

This was supposed to be a comment on an article ‘The Man Who Doesn’t Ask for Money‘ on the Open Magazine. Somehow the comment thing didn’t work, I tried thrice and every time it gave me an ‘HTTP Error 504 Ajax Comment.’ So I thought I will just publish it on my blog. (As a side note, not being able to comment on a blog / e-magazine just makes me very sad)

To be able to understand the context of my long comment below, please do read the article, for those who don’t want to visit the link, here’s a summary of what’s the article is about:

Its a first person narrative by one Vinod Sreedhar, a person who was once a music composer in the ad film industry in Bombay, co-founder of a social enterprise and now makes a living by conducting personality development workshops and couple of other things. The interesting fact about him is that he believes in ‘gift economy‘ which means he never asks for a particular fee for his work, he accepts whatever people offer him. He says, money makes him uncomfortable, it makes him do things he doesn’t want to do, so now he has stopped asking for money.

Now read below my comment to the article:

This is very inspiring, however somethings didn’t quite fall into the right places. Working as a music composer in the ad film industry in the entertainment capital of the country for over a decade sounds synonymous to money minting to me. Plus you also have a social enterprise, which I am sure have now crossed break even point and is a profit making enterprise. I find it hard to believe that your bank balance was ever in trouble. Its easy to get bored of money when you have had too much of it.

I had a moderately paying job and I was fine. I quit my job Last year and floated my own social enterprise and realized its so hard to make even 4 figures at the end of a month. Realized how people think twice, thrice to pay you even Rs. 500 for a workshop (talking about social media workshops, I run a company called Samyukta Media)

I have been struggling to ask for money myself. Been struggling to make my balance between profit making enterprise and nonprofit social media awareness initiatives and campaigns. Every day I make a promise to my company that we won’t work for free, but then I end up agreeing to do pro bono work again. Here’s what I learnt in my journey so far:

  • Gift economy works only when your work involves people directly, not when you are working with organizations/companies where the decision making process involves various economical factors and are not dependent upon someone’s heart and soul.
  • Gift economy will work only if you are already well known in the circle and continue to talk enough about it. When everybody around you will make it a big deal about the fact that OMG here is this great artist / resource person who doesn’t charge a penny. If nobody knew you, then you’ll be just some new guy trying to make your mark by working free.
  • Gift economy will work only if you are an individual or a solopreneur, not if you have to run a company / team.
  • In India people measure your worth depending upon the money you charge, the higher your fees are the more valuable you are “supposed to be.” Is true for all professionals, from doctors to lawyers to management consultants.
  • It is in the Indian mentality to not value things they get for free, at the same time every body in India wants freebies. For gift economy to work you need to be doing a niche activity working with niche clients. It is not something that will work with the masses.

I am glad to know though that you have been lucky to find the right kind of people who did give generously, but I am skeptical about the idea of gift economy on the whole. In a country where most people are struggling hard to make ends meet, gift economy sounds like a cruel joke.

That was my comment, what do you think? Please do share your thoughts and opinions, they will help me a great deal in figuring out how to price the services Samyukta Media offers.

8 thoughts on “Gift economy – Why it cannot work with Indian mentality (In response to an Open Magazine article)

  1. I tend to agree with what you have said. But at the same time I wouldn’t go against Gift Economy. It totally depends upon an individual how s/he wants to go about the things and as long as it works its perfectly fine.

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  2. Sanjukta di,

    This is slightly off track, I read in history and also got to hear from many source that young boys were sent to Gurukuls earlier. They did not have to pay fees, they would rather gift their Guru s something after the completion of their education.

    The argument can be that the Guru had enough supply for his daily ration from several patrons and probably from rich families from where some of his students would come and he would also have some students till his land.
    But I doubt whether all had land and all would have a steady supply of ration. What I feel is that they would not compromise on ethics. That system worked for the country, also because we were one of the richest countries then

    However I think due to the constant looting and plundering that followed and which is also happening to this day, we are a changed society today.

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  3. Hello,

    some members of our LETS group in the South of Austria organised a film screening of “living without money”. It’s a movie about an 68 year old woman from germany who decided voluntarily to live without money – only in exchange.

    http://livingwithoutmoney.org/

    I think its interesting to share this experience.

    Love and Light,

    Sabine Jakosch

    Community Activist

    Like

  4. I think it would be interesting to extend this concept to the internet business in general. What about publishing? How did the “work for free” way of thinking impacted the press world?

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