The gift economy and community exchanges


You have probably invited people over for a meal and been invited to meals in return, may have given and received children’s clothing with friends and acquaintances, given and received favours from other people.  These are simple examples of the gift economy.

In this section, we are looking at ways in which a gift economy can become more organised and work at a larger scale as a community exchange, so that it can play a more significant role in supplying the needs of a community. There’s a number of examples here of systems and toolkits that can help you set up gift/community exchanges where you live.

Give and Take Days

There are periodic events at which people are invited to bring their unwanted goods and take away whatever they want, without money changing hands.

Many Transition Initiatives have run them very successfully.  Transition Bungay’s Give and Take Days, for example, organises a van to collect larger items the day before the event, and then to take larger items to their new homes. Camden Council in London has prepared a short Give and Take Day Toolkit which you may find useful if you want to run one.

Seedy Sundays

Seedy Sundays’ have grown from simple seed exchanges meant to promote and protect biodiversity to become much larger social events.

They have become something of a movement in their own right and are now organised by various Transition Initiatives and among other groups for example,  Seedy Sunday in Brighton. Some of these groups are also starting up seed banks.

Online free exchanges

These include things like Freecycle, Freegle, NeighbourGoods and similar. These examples are well-established projects where people can offer unwanted goods to each other, without payment. They all have a network of local groups via which you can offer stuff you don’t want, and maybe even find exactly the things that you need.

The Freeconomy Community  is more general than just unwanted goods, as it includes skills, tools and holds events. You register for free on the Streetbank website and then can look for other members in your area.

Further reading and links

Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth. He suggests that  a gift economy needs these 4 qualities:

  1. Over time, giving and receiving must be in balance.
  2. The source of a gift is to be acknowledged.
  3. Gifts circulate rather than accumulate.
  4. Gifts flow towards the greatest need.

This Wikipedia article on the gift economy gives a succinct description of the concept, examples of its use in history and the present, and summarises various theoretical explanations of it.

If you have other examples of working exchanges, please let us know so we can share them here.


Credits: main image Transition Bungay’s Give and Take Days,  and many thanks to Gary Alexander for creating this content.