Aparna Pallavi , gift economy, enjoying freedom to live and work.


A common misconception about work is that it must involve some sort of sacrifice or suffering and an exchange of money for that work. Some disagree.

There are people that do incredible work to prove otherwise:

(If you know of any other amazing stories of people that have inspiring ways with money, do email me. I love featuring people that can inspire others.)

Today I am happy to interview Aparna Pallavi who is doing tremendous work with her 'Mahua Yatra' in India. With this work, Aparna is travelling to ten states in India studying indigenous food traditions around the Mahua flower, an important forest food, and teaching mahua cooking skills in urban areas. Currently, her central passion is the healing of the earth’s ecology, and the restoration and deepening of the organic connections between the human community and the larger natural world.

In this interview, you’ll find out how Aparna came about her journey to work in gift, overcame some old conditioning around money and enjoys more freedom and joy in her work and her life. Aparna had too many interesting stories to fit into one post, so I have published her interview in two instalments. Here’s the first half!

First, a little background about the gift economy. In Mark Boyle's definition, a gift economy is simply a society within which people share their skills, time, knowledge, information or material goods with each other without any formal, explicit, or precise exchange.

You made the decision to work in gift. How did this come about?

It started with meeting Shammi Nanda, who lives in gift, offering workshops in NVC (Nonviolent communication) and sociocracy. I had this firm belief that money had to be earned.

Meeting Shammi was an eye-opener – here was this person, living in people’s homes, being fed and cared for by them and doing what he loved and believed in.

I had been working with indigenous communities and had a deep affinity with their wisdom and knowledge around forests. I gave up my job eventually & started on the Mahout Yatra (Yatra means journey in English), which is a gift culture journey across India studying the forest food traditions around the Mahua flower.

How do you see money playing a role in your life?

At this point, I see money as a way to meet needs. I would like to have enough to meet all my needs – they are greatly reduced now – mostly food and travel – and a little to spare for happiness and celebration, and also to be able to help others when I see a need or a desire in myself to contribute to something good. I would be happiest if my needs could be met without money, but since that can’t happen fully just yet, I am okay to have money in my life as a means to meet my needs. Importance – I mostly don’t find myself worried about money very much these days, but I guess having sufficient amounts (enough) is important – especially I am a stickler for having some to spare – that makes me feel safe.

What would you say are the main motivations for you to work in gift?

I would say for one thing freedom to live and work the way I want to. I have been a professional all my adult life, and at least for a decade, I was a really well-paid one. But I found that working for money takes away your freedom in many different ways – in terms of both what you find inspiring to do and in terms of having time for yourself.

I also noticed that I was unwilling to do work for which I was not being paid – money had become a motive and I did not like that energy in myself. Now I am working on what I really want to do, and the money I am getting is not really a payment but a support.

For instance, when I first announced my gift journey, two or three people expressed a willingness to give me a donation in terms of money. They did not set any terms on what they wanted me to do – like a funding agency would – but simply gave me the money in trust, having faith that I would do what I am out to do. There was no exchange or ‘accountability’ in the sense in which the word is used in the world of governance and professionalism. And I found that I was working very diligently and hard, not because I had been given money but because I really wanted to do the work – I would have done it anyway even if the money had not been given.

The same applies to the workshops I offer for which I request a donation. I offer workshops because I really want to, I really want people to have healthy and carbon-footprint-free, earth mindful food. Of course, if the support is generous it makes me happy, but that is not the criteria for working.

I am happy when I receive a generous donation because partly it shows the other person’s connection with and faith in my work and their care for me, and partly because I feel safe that my needs will not be unmet because of lack of money.

The greatest thing I enjoy in gift culture is that whatever is given – in terms of what I am bringing to the people I work with and the world, and what they are bringing me in terms of money and other support – is all given from the heart. I find I work with much more sincerity, freedom and joy because I am working on my own vision, on my own terms.

What was your relationship to money before working in gift? And what if any are the significant changes since working in gift?

The biggest change is that I am no longer working for money. As a professional, I was earning one of the best salaries in the business in India, despite staying in a little town like Nagpur, where journalists are paid far less. But still, I was worried about money constantly. That was because the way I was planning my future was entirely based on having lots of savings and a large nest egg, which seemed impossible.

To go into particulars, I had acquired a piece of land which had eaten up most of my savings, and I was planning to settle down on it and enjoy a ‘simple’ farmer’s life, but that would require a gargantuan additional investment in addition to what I had already spent and a large nest egg out of which to meet my expenses and pay farm help. That kept me constantly worried about money and in a state of lack.

When I gave up my job, I decided to put the farm out of my mind for a year. I just kept paying my farm help but stopped thinking about the farm. I had support from my daughter’s father to pay for her education. I also realised that I owned a house – did not have to pay rent – a blessing I had never noticed earlier. With this, I realised that all I needed money, for now, is to support my own needs.

Seen from this new standpoint, my ‘meagre’ savings suddenly started to look, if not substantial, then at least okay. With time I realised that I did not want my farm dream either, and decided to sell my land. Now I am working towards creating a gift culture community in a forest area in central India where I can stay and work on my dreams at a much lesser cost than the farm would have cost. Also, the faith that universe will look after me has grown.

For part 2 of this article, click here