By Emily Davis, Emily Davis Design: Ecological Design & Consulting
The gift economy: the more you give, the richer you are. Before you roll your eyes and scroll past this article, let me tell you that I know how annoyingly over-simplistic and idealistic that sounds. Maybe it was a nice community-building adage that made more sense in the days when mom-and-pop stores weren’t quaint accessories to towns but mainstays of the local economy, maybe it doesn’t make much sense now in our modern “cut-throat” economy.
However, here is one soloprenuer that can say with confidence: engaging in the giving economy has not only brought more meaning to my work, but also has increased the number of inquiring phone calls and emails I receive. Having more meaning in your work, especially if you’re a strung-out small business person, isn’t just a warm-and-fuzzy add-on. It is the crucial undercurrent that you need to help you stay motivated and positive in times of discouragement.
"having more meaning in your work..isn't just a wam-and-fuzzy add-on"
As a sustainable landscape designer and consultant - I’m often working with people directly in their homes or intimately in the community. I roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty; both in dirt and in the emotional needs of my clients. Landscape design may seem pretty detached and straightforward, but I’m often working with my clients in a very intimate and vulnerable way. When someone gives me a call they’re usually in a place of frustration or longing, and so I tread lightly to make sure they feel cared for. This is one of the places where I find the heart and meaning in my work; helping transform a person’s physical environment into a space that can bring peace, well-being, and happiness (and also helps make our landscape more sustainable). It’s powerful stuff.
I quickly realized that the people who need healthier landscapes the most were often the folks who couldn’t afford the luxury of hiring a designer like me. I’ve always been looking to serve the environmentally-disenfranchised, the low-income, or the struggling community non-profit. I also believe that our work is nothing more than an expression of our gifts. And so with these two points of view, I wanted to find ways that I could really work, which to me means helping improve the physical spaces of those who need it the most.
"our work is nothing more than an expression of our gifts"
The giving economy is about the value of establishing human connections. Money is a good marker for business exchanges, but it doesn’t include or give acknowledgement to the real human value of service. To be giving means to offer your gifts for the exchange of that connection (which, despite what some may say, is valuable). In my community we’re lucky to have a good, functioning time-banking system; where members can trade their time with each other via an online platform that advertises their services offered or requested. People trade massages for garden-weeding, dog-walking for a ride to the airport, and in my case - I offer a couple of days of my time per season to helping someone bring new life to their home landscape.
"The giving economy is about the value of establishing human connections"
What do I get in return? I bump into many friendly and appreciative faces at the grocery store, along with accompanying introductions to other potential clients. My business cards are circulated beyond my normal reach. And I am making a name for myself as a small business person who cares not only about the well-being of my clients, but also my community, and that is a form of marketing that no sexy website can provide. Those human connections? You can get them within normal business interactions for sure; but a giving economy is the fast track to sharing your gifts and becoming known as the positive force you are.