Nipun Mehta: An Economy to Feed Your Soul

How relationships are our real wealth.
Nipun Mehta by Lane Hartwell

“In practice, there is no grand chasm to cross. Just do the small act of kindness for the person in front of you, right now. Small acts may or may not change the world, but they definitely change you. And when you look at the world with fresh eyes, it’s a whole new realm of possibilities.”
Nipun Mehta

Photo by Lane Hartwell for YES! Magazine.


”According to the IRS, I’m definitely poor, but anyone who knows me will tell you that I live like a king,” says Nipun Mehta. 

Mehta, a 34-year-old software engineer in Berkeley, Calif., believes that embracing generosity is the key to liberating people from greed and redefining wealth. This is not a new idea, but promoting relationships and community rather than currency is especially valuable in times of economic austerity. For more than a decade, Mehta has integrated what is known as gift economics into the modern world, by way of the Internet. People share their material possessions, time, and skills, gifting these through a network and relying on others to do the same. Essentially, the gift economy is a system where goods and services are not sold or exchanged, but given freely.

Mehta’s life was once very different. He studied philosophy and computer science at the University of California-Berkeley, and landed his first job at Sun Microsystems before graduation, setting himself up for a life of privilege. But Mehta’s family had moved from India when he was 12. The desire to give, a cultural value from his early childhood, was reignited as he witnessed the dot-com greed of the ’90s. Family members thought he was crazy when he left his job. “My ultimate intent was that I wanted to be a better person,” says Mehta, and that’s hard to argue with.

Since then Mehta has formed ServiceSpace, a nonprofit with influential projects ranging from the positive e-news service DailyGood to Karma Kitchen, a restaurant chain in Berkeley, D.C., and Chicago that operates on a model of peer-to-peer generosity. Each patron pays forward for the next diner’s tab.

Mehta realizes the gift economy is not an immediate solution to America’s economic woes, but says it does offer inner transformation, while creating a pattern for change. “All this, though, starts with a simple thing—be kind today,” he says. “Even if just for a moment, that’s how the whole pattern emerges, and then one fine day, you wake up and realize that you’re swimming in the spirit of gift economy.”