Starting a Gift Economy

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If you're interested to start up an online gift economy, see EDGE, a former project to create a decentralised open source one.

If you're interested to start up one in real life, you may be wondering how to start. First and foremost, remember that although goods and services are given away, the the most important element in any gift economy is the people. Most likely, you already work on a gift economy basis with your friends and family. How to get acquaintances and strangers involved? Starting small is often good, as is staying flexible as regards organization and let things grow organically as circumstances permit. Here are some ideas that might help get you started:

Give Boxes[edit]

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Main article: Give Box
Possibly the simplest method of starting a gift economy in your area is to place a box in a public space. Label it "Give Box" and explain how it works: strangers are free to place gifts in it and/or take what gifts they fancy from it. Works well in public places where people regularly have to wait, such as laundrettes and waiting rooms - or, if you've made an outdoor one, bus stops.

Gift Circles[edit]

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Main article: Gift Circle
A very simple and relatively new form of gift economy, gift circles are regular meetings of friends (and sometimes also strangers) for the purpose of facilitating gifts between one another. Circles typically meet once a week, often with food, in a public space or a member's home and go through members' requests and offers.

Give and Take Stalls[edit]

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Main article: Give and Take
These are temporary versions of a Free Shop, quite simply places where people are free to collect things (usually as much as they like) and to deposit things (not rubbish, but anything else that they feel like). You may wish to ocupy a stall at a larger event. Organisers and customers alike are often glad to have some non-commercial input, and if asked nicely may be ready to make exceptions for you such as waiving fees.

Really Really Free Markets[edit]

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Main article: Really Really Free Market
Very popular in USA, these are basically outdoor Give and Takes. i.e. places where people are free to collect things and to deposit things. Nevertheless, they can often go beyond merely gifting items to include services and mutual entertainment, even taking on the atmosphere of a festival. Publicity is important and they work well as repeated events (e.g. first Saturday on every month) since it takes time until people get to know them.

Free Shops[edit]

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Main article: Free Shop
These are like second hand shops, but without any money. Finding a venue is often the trickiest part of setting up a free shop and may require some creative thinking, but once it gets established it can have a big impact on a community; many people like the non-commercial atmosphere, so free shops often work as social centers and bases for other community development initiatives.