Introducing Giftivism at the United Nations

Oct 25, 2011

Last week, Guri and I were invited to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris for a conference with youth leaders from 193 countries!  It was a great opportunity to share some of our values.  In my talk, I focused on three key points ... 

First, a word that's not in dictionary: giftivism.  It is the practice of radical acts of generosity to change the world. Gandhi, Teresa, MLK, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela all have one remarkable trait in common: generosity.  And in our era of the Internet, everything has been dis-intermediated, and our heroes are no exception.  Era of celebrity is over as we usher in the era of everyday Gandhis.
Second, youth are best equipped to do the impossible.  In 1954, Roger Bannister ran a mile in under 4 minutes, which was thought to be humanly impossible at the time. Over the next 3 years, 16 others broke the 4-minute mile.  Impossible became possible.  When we started ServiceSpace, we didn't know any better -- we stayed volunteer-run even when they said it'll be impossible for us to scale; we didn't fundraise even when they said it'll be impossible for us to sustain; we focused on small acts even when they said it'll be impossible to be efficient.  Being young, we weren't afraid of the impossible.  And today, ServiceSpace is a thriving ecosystem of 350,000 members with dozens of giftivism experiments.
Third, giftivism emodies four key shifts.  (a) consumption to contribution, where you open each door and ask "how can I serve?" instead of "what can I get?", (b) transaction to trust, where you count on people to act selflessly, (c) isolation to community, where you honor your inter-connectedness with others, and (d) scarcity to abundance, where you sensitize yourself to non-material resources like social capital.  Together, these shifts open an entirely new realm of solutions to address our problem.  As Buckminster Fuller said, "If you want to change something, render the old paradigm outdated."
Unlike my previous UN experience, this was a gathering that left both Guri and I inspired, elevated and hopeful for our future.  To share the experience, Guri was sharing some short updates on FaceBook as well ... 

Paulo Coehlo opened; Forest Whittaker spoke; UN dignitaries attended.  Several hundred youth delegates from 193 countries joined several hundred civil society "observers", and over dozen speakers including royalty from Japan, CEO of MasterCard Foundation, and head of Grupo ABC.
UNESCO inspired mission statement: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed."
Lots of young leaders ... Gigi Abraham, 24-year old Egyptian woman who featured on Time Magazine's cover as "one of the leaders of Tahrir Square";  Andres Villena who is the organizer of Spanish M15 movement with millions of members; Cesar Lopez from Colombia, who is famous for converting his AK-47 into a guitar and now uses music to spread peace; Felogene Anumo who is doing women's empowerment work in Kenya; Eduardo Paes, the young mayor of Rio de Janeiro.  Very inspiring to see the theme of the conference in action: "How Youth Drive Change."
Opening night is a musical called Peace Child.  There's a tradition in Papua New Guinea, where, to make peace, warring tribes would exchange a child. The children would grow up with the others' tribe and in the future, when conflict threatened again, the 'Peace Child' from each tribe was sent to negotiate. Inspired by that story, about 30 years ago, Peace Child International was formed to create engaging musicals by youth that started new conversations around peace and sustainability.  Very provactive and engaging!
All talks are translated simultaneously in six languages -- French, Russian, Arabic, English, Spanish, and another one I can't remember. :)
Youth with disability bicycled from Belarus to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The 3,000 km ride was to promote 2012 para-olympics for people with limited abilities all around the world.  Second person from the right is blind and had to be led on by a friend to the stage -- hard to imagine doing a 3,000km journey. What an inspiring group!
On the second evening, Goi Peace Foundation hosts an evening of inspiration with a keynote by Professor Gunter Feltin of Free University in Berlin, Melody Hossani from Iran, Rabee Zuerikat from Jordan and Nipun Mehta. :)  It is completed by a remarkable multi-media presentation by Kenji Williams: Bella Gaia
Peace essay contest winner was a 10-year-old from Russia.  She looked adorable and so natural on stage.  Her opening remarks included, "It is interesting and significant that in the Russian language the two meanings -- 'the Universe, the whole world' and 'peace' -- are one and the same word.  I think we must remember that peace is not a gift for us. We must make it ourselves. I'll do my best to make the world peaceful forever. I won't let it be destroyed! I call on you dear people of Earth, to all do your best live in a peaceful world."
After Nipun's talk, the emcee (Monique Williams --singer, actress and UN's global youth ambassador) gets fired up and shares a beautiful recap.  Great to see that people "get it" right away.  Some said that they look forward to the day when this word is formally accepted into the dictionary. :)  The essence of Nipun's conclusion: "

Got a chance to meet the founders of the remarkable Goi Peace Foundation.  Their mission is " to bring together people in wisdom, united in their hearts toward the common goal of peace on Earth. By encouraging public awareness of peace and by building cooperation among individuals and organizations in all fields, including education, science, culture and the arts, we aim to build an international peace network and to stimulate the global trend toward a culture of peace." How cool is that!

In the closing ceremony, everyone wrote "peace" in their language on a giant peace pole and offered it as a gift to UNESCO.  Then everyone went up on stage to with the flags of their country and celebrate in unison.  It was an energetic and vibrant feeling of peace.

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