Abundant Community Initiative
No permission, philanthropy or professionals required. Mobilize small groups of 5-7 families to give directly and top up the income of a family with lesser means to a minimum level required to provide stability, coupled with a circle of support to meet ad hoc needs and even longer term aspirations.
- 1 What is the Abundant Communities/Giving Circles Initiative?
- 2 Significance
- 3 Guiding Principles
- 4 Facilitating a Curriculum
- 5 Sign Up
- 6 What are the next steps?
- 6.1 Overall Process
- 6.2 Set up a coordinating and organising team
- 6.3 How to create and operate giving circles
- 6.4 Recruit givers and facilitators
- 6.5 Recruit receivers (and intermediaries to them)
- 6.6 Train facilitators
- 6.7 Launch the Initiative
- 6.8 Mutual Learning and Improvement
- 7 FAQ
- 8 Acknowledgments
What is the Abundant Communities/Giving Circles Initiative?
What if a community of around 5-7 families committed to providing a minimum income to a family who needs it, for a period of time, to bring stability to their lives. For example, if a single mother with 2 kids is earning $1500 and the minimum income standard is $3000, then the giving circle tops up with $1500, meaning $300 per participant if there are 5 in the giving circle. This is like a community-contributed minimum income where financial responsibility is distributed across the giving circle. This way, money is given directly to families.
In addition to financial support, the circle can also provide other forms of non-monetary support and can meet once every 2-3 months for this purpose. This will be a facilitated process where the family articulates their ad hoc needs and longer term goals, and circle members can volunteer to help in other ways, such as helping to send the kids to school, or with homework etc. There may be longer term goals such as trying to get a better job, or going back to school and the circle can offer advice or connections. See https://www.community-circles.co.uk/ for a model of how this works.
Beyond relationships with the circle, we are also considering how to support mutuality across circles and communities, so that a key focus is on strengthening community and also "shifting the pride, responsibility and resources back to the people to work together and lead their own change" (Mauricio Miller).We intend to encourage regular catch-ups or a Community of Practice for givers and receivers from different circles to come together if they wished. While each circle is independent, learning together will strengthen the practice and growth of the initiative.
We are considering using mobile banking platforms such as https://welucy.com/ to allow for ease of transfer of money and transparency in the use of the funds.
[The name is a nod / tribute to classic work on Asset-Based Community Development https://www.abundantcommunity.com/; it can also be called more simply, Giving Circles]
- If financial assistance or salary is not enough to meet minimal standards of dignity, or allow for some margin of error before family falls into crisis, then topping up to minimum income can give stability to the family.
- Sometimes professionals make decisions or offer expert services to people who may not want or need them. Direct giving instead of donating to a charity can ensure more resources go to families in need (professional services are often expensive). And it helps families make autonomous decisions and recognizes that they are experts who know best what they need (example https://www.givedirectly.org/)
- A small group can be a meaningful unit of transformation. If the responsibility of care falls on an individual (whether a caregiver, professional social worker or volunteer befrienders/mentors) they are likely to be burdened by feeling responsible for complex structural issues with very little individual resources. Therefore, a small group can share the challenges and possibly joys of care. If the group is diverse, they can bring in a wider range of resources, expertise and experiences. The horizontal relationships formed by the circle members may also be beneficial to themselves.
- No permission is required to do this. No need to lobby the government, no need to wait for funders to approve. All you need is convince a few of your friends who have enough for themselves, to share with others who do not. Collectively we have enough to make sure there is no poverty in our neighborhoods.
- The upper / middle class families who decide to participate in giving can also reflect on their own consumption patterns, and even benefit from appreciating a simpler lifestyle given some experience seeing how money can be meaningfully used by a family who needs it more.
Managing the giver-recipient relationship can be tricky, and accidentally disempowering even when the intention is the opposite. While we have done some thinking about this, we will use this as a placeholder and overall guiding principle for now before we get into the details:
Lilla Watson: “If you have come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
We believe in peer-driven change: "Instead of relying on funders, governments, and nonprofits to engage communities and incorporate their input into institutionally led strategies for improving people’s lives, peer-driven change occurs when constituents identify their own goals and lead their own change."
The money contributed is but a small part of the experiment. The real experiment is in how we shift our mindsets in order to question existing assumptions about ourselves and society. Some of the assumptions that we want to question are:
- That we are separate individuals who can thrive independently of others.
- That we live in a world of scarcity.
- That we are never enough; that we must always do something to deserve having our basic needs met.
- That strangers could never care enough to provide for each other's basic needs.
- That we cannot trust each other to make better decisions when resources are freely shared.
- That people are only motivated by greed, fear, insecurity, and selfishness.
It is very important that participants do not see this as an exercise in charity. This is not a one-way transactional relationship in which some people are the givers, and others are the receivers. While the money may flow in one direction, there will be many relational gifts that circulate among us in a web of reciprocity.
How do you know if you are suitable to participate?
“I can receive help without feeling shame, knowing that my dignity is separate from my need."
“I am able to give without any expectations. I can support accountability in others, but not hold them accountable. We can only hold ourselves accountable.”
Expectations and Commitment
[Decided independently by each group, but we can share suggestions. While each group can and should figure out what works for them, with the consent of all those in their circle, we are reminded to safeguard the key underlying principles that make this initiative worth doing in the first place]
Facilitating a Curriculum
The role of the facilitator will be important to guide each circle towards exploration of non-transactional ways of being in community. The experiment can be seen as a self-driven curriculum in ancient, communal ways of living, what we have affectionally come to term the "kampung spirit". In this learning journey, everyone will be at different stages, and the motivation should be to support each other in the learning, rather than judge one another.
The following list of communal "skills" is offered as an outline of our experimental "curriculum". It is not intended to be authoritative or exhaustive. It is meant to inspire and challenge. If you resonate with many of the following statements, you may have the qualities of a good facilitator for your circle, and should consider volunteering to facilitate:
Things we want to learn:
- How to decouple giving from receiving. Being able to give or receive unilaterally, without expecting anything in return.
- How to ask for help, and experience the truth of our inter-dependence.
- How to let go of our attachments to certainty and guaranteed outcomes.
- How to train our affective muscles of love and compassion.
- How to let go of ideas of deservedness. We stop asking, "Do I deserve this? Does this other person deserve this?" Instead, we ask, "What do I need? What do others need?"
- How to build trust in each other, and in the abundant flow of the universe.
- How to open to the mystery of what could happen, beyond what human intelligence can fathom.
- How to listen to each other, without standing in judgment.
- How to drop our "shoulds", and to act with willingness.
- Letting go of the need to be protagonists and heroes.
- Seeing that accountability is something we hold ourselves to, not others.
- How to seek support from each other in holding ourselves accountable.
- De-schooling from competition.
- How to stop thinking, "I did something for you, therefore I get to judge you."
- How to question the single story of progress that we have been brought up with.
Keen to be a giver, receiver or support the initiative?
Sign up HERE
What are the next steps?
[Tentative Action Plan for feedback]
[The approach: Once we have enough we will start]
- Set up an organising team
- Spell out how to create and operate giving circles
- Recruit / Compile a list of givers - by sign up form
- Recruit / Compile a list of receivers
- Recruit / Compile a list of volunteer facilitators
- Launch the Initiative
- Circles share back for learning and improvement
Set up a coordinating and organising team
- This team will help to design, plan and support the initiative as it goes along.
- The team can be organised in a decentralised and democratic manner, possibly using this as a model.
Current organising team (we need and welcome more people)
- Unsu Lee
- Denise Liu
- Ruth Tan
- Adrian Tan (SGAssist)
- Justin Lee
- Simon Siah
How to create and operate giving circles
- See Draft of Giving Circles Guide
Recruit givers and facilitators
- Compile a list of people who have indicated they are keen to be givers [through Google Forms]
- They can recruit and form their own giving circle, or we can offer a list of potential givers they can consider including in their circle
Number of givers currently: 12 (last updated 7 Nov 2022)
Number of facilitators currently: 5 (last updated 3 Aug 2022)
Recruit receivers (and intermediaries to them)
- Compile a list of intermediaries who have relationships to lower-income families (e.g. social workers, community workers)
- Compile a list of receivers
- Determine what their family situation is and what sum will be adequate for 'top up'(?)
Number of intermediaries: 7 (last updated 3 Aug 2022)
[in their personal capacity and not representing their organisation]
- Fang Xinwei
- Gerard Ee
- Denise Liu
- Pek Jiehui
- Ruth Tan
Number of receivers: 4 families (indicative from intermediaries)
- For circles who feel like they want a facilitator to guide and document the process for them, they can request for a volunteer.
- Train and guide the volunteer facilitators.
Launch the Initiative
- Possibly launch or share at Transforming the Non-Profit Sector Conference on October 4 organised by IPS and Tote Board. The theme is 'Solutions that Help Us Help One Another', on mutual aid and the commons, so this can be a nice demonstrative example.
Mutual Learning and Improvement
- Facilitators and participants share back and meet once every half a year?
[We are working on this, with your inputs]
How do we figure out minimum income for different groups?
Each group can figure out independently what is 'enough' and we can help facilitate that conversation. There are some local resources and studies on this, but the groups should decide on their own.
For some resources, check these out:
How do I decide what family to support?
We have intermediaries such as social or community workers who can vouch for and refer families in need.They will do this in their personal capacity and not on behalf of their organisation.
How do we ensure some transparency in how the family spends the money?
How long should you support the family?
We think that 1 year is a good length and recommend that for a start. 1 year will allow participants to get to know each other better if they meet every other month. However, you can also opt for a shorter 6 month experience.
How do I sign up?
Fill in this Sign Up Form
Who are we and why are we doing this?
Thanks to Unsu Lee for eloquently and succinctly capturing the spirit that givers and receivers should consider adopting, and pointing out the quote from Lilla Watson. Without these, I think there will be less confidence in the project.
Thanks to Fang Xinwei (Singapore Children's Society) for suggestions on how to structure the sign up form
Thanks to Gerard Ee (Beyond Social Services) for pointing out resources to peer driven change and suggesting that communities of practice can be formed among givers and receivers for mutual learning, even as these groups make independent decisions.
Thanks to Pek Jiehui for suggesting that the intermediary possibly be present for at least the first circle meeting because some receiving families may feel intimidated by the process.