Imagine walking into a restaurant, being greeted with warm smiles, a hug and served by volunteers who’re all there just to practice unconditional giving. But wait, that’s not all – once you’ve been served your meal with love and it’s time for the bill, it says zero. Because your meal has already been paid for by the person before you, a complete stranger and someone you may never get to thank or meet. And all those who’ve put together this experience are volunteers spending their weekend just to spread some love. How do you put a price on that?
Karma Kitchen began 8 years ago in Berkeley, California, as an experiment in generosity. Since then it has logged in over 24,000 meals served through about 20,000 volunteer hours. That’s pretty impressive for a pay-it-forward concept that most skeptics would’ve predicted to go bust in a few weeks! We wanted to bring the spirit of this experiment to Dubai, where relationships can sometimes feel extremely transactional and transient.
It all started with the question – “What would it look to design for generosity?” Our current economic system assumes that human beings operate to maximise self-interest. Hence, our workplaces, our legal system and every sub-system that emerges from that basic assumption are all designed around scarcity. But what if we turned that assumption around, and created a context for human interconnection and assumed that we are at our core, actually, generous and kind?
If 8 years of a fully sustainable Karma Kitchen hasn’t convinced you yet, this was our second Karma Kitchen in Dubai and once again, we were in surplus. But beyond the financial abundance, it’s the intangible stories which emerge from volunteers and guest experiences that truly give you a glimpse of what a world that is designed for generosity could look like.
Every guest was invited to leave a little note for the next guests who would sit at their table and beautiful letters were written – one stranger to another. Three elderly men shared, “We’ve just arrived from Sicily and the first place we’ve come to in Dubai is the Karma Kitchen. We hope everybody gets to land in such places. :)” A volunteer later reflected, “I think the world would have less wars if nations engaged in connection circles like ours. It reminded me how much love there is give, and receive, and how much good is still left in our world.”
Even though all the volunteers were from diverse backgrounds and ages, a palpable sense of warmth, camaraderie, connection, smiles and joy could be felt by all. Another volunteer expressed, that being grateful, smiling and being happy didn’t come naturally, but somehow being in a space which allowed that expression and receiving so much love, respect and genuine gratitude managed to bring out the best in him; something he himself was surprised to find out!
With Karma Kitchens coming up around the world now (in India, Tokyo, Jakarta and many different cities in the States), initiated by ordinary individuals who’re driven by the simple desire to grow in service, we hold a collective vision for a world where we can move from transaction to trust, from isolation to community, and from fear of scarcity to a joyful celebration of abundance!