Tamera Summer University 2012: An Experiment with a Gift Economy

by Leila Dregger

The Tamera community wants to thank all the participants of the 18th Summer University for their commitment and their participation in our experiment with a gift economy. For us, it was the true beginning of a "new culture," one that replaces the fear of scarcity thinking with confidence and generosity even in the area of money issues. It was worth it! May these ten days contribute to the start of a fair and just economy worldwide.

Nature shows us the way. Have you ever seen a bee arguing with the fruit blossoms about the amount of nectar? Has there ever been a cow that has held back her manure because she calculated how much grass she gets for it? Of course not, but for modern people such absurd practices are commonplace. Nature is a living gift economy, as Charly Rainer Ehrenpreis, co-founder and long-time Tamera economist describes: "Living beings give away everything they do not need. And as a consequence, they receive everything they need for their lives in the growing field of global ecology."

The inspiration for mutual giving has been with Tamera from the beginning. No one in the community is paid for his or her work. The ideal is, we are all in service of a common goal, a healed earth, and give of our actions to each other. As for our needs, we take care of these together. Our experience shows that such a gift or balance economy works in the degree to which the community is alive and creates trust and transparency among its participants.

If it works, other questions follow: How can this experience be spread? How will Tamera sustain itself being surrounded by a globalized capitalist-driven world that is based on profit maximization, without regard.. a world where banks are even speculating on global food production and thus provoking famine? And finally, how can Tamera fund its future projects: a model for a culture of peace, including solar energy, semi-natural and modern architecture, water retention landscapes, permaculture and the Peace University? Here too, the answer is a gift economy and "humanization of money."

Sabine Lichtenfels, co-founder of Tamera, created the "Grace Foundation for the humanization of money" in order to attract people to take out their money from the cycles of violence and destruction of nature and to invest in peace projects. She says: "The money needed for one single tank would be enough to build an entire Peace Village. Everyone can contribute to healing the pure nature of money and liberating it from supression and exploitation. That, to me, is the image of a new economy."

Summer 2012: Experiment with a Gift Economy

To trigger new approaches to communal economy, Tamera decided on an economical experiment for the 18th Summer University. Johannes Ewig, 23, organizer of the Summer University, came up with the idea to offer it on a donation basis, and the community agreed. This should also be a signal to the many young activists from many countries, who were invited to the Summer University.

Just before the Summer University, when it became clear that the money situation for this year looked very difficult for Tamera, the approximately 160 members of Tamera aggravated the experiment: They decided to also convert the bar and the bookstore to a gift economy. Every time someone wanted to buy or order something, they had to ask themself: What is it worth to me, what would I give for that?

250 guests from many countries came together at the Summer University, including many representatives of movements and Occupy groups, peace iniaitives, and ecovillages. For ten days, they studied and shared their knowledge of community building, decentralized alternatives for energy and food production, alternative water management, and gift economy.

One of the speakers was Charles Eisenstein, author of the book "Sacred Economics" a specialist in gift economy and inspirer of the Occupy Wallstreet actions. He described how the basic "story"of our civilization will change, from isolation to connectedness, when the first people start to take the adventure of trust and contact that comes from giving. "Giving produces an opening of the heart, and thus a sense of connectedness, and ultimately social security."

Sabine Lichtenfels recalled prehistoric tribal cultures: "The richest person of the village was the one who gave away most. They did not have the concept of possessing more and more goods out of fear and insecurity."

Excerpts from letters from the participants:

"At the bar, I took a chocolate bar without paying. The bartender smiled at me. Obviously, he had seen me. Then it was not a theft, but truly a gift. But who should give me something? My inner voice whispered, and for what? Yet, the world clearly gave something to me. I imagined all those who had contributed to it: the Tamera community who purchased the chocolate, the hands that packed it, the workers at the airports and ships, the farmers in South America or Africa, who had grown the cocoa in their fields and picked it, and of course, the soil in which it is grown, the water that has nurtured it, the sun ... the whole world is involved in this gift, and at the other end is me, now having to accept it. How could I ever deserve it? How could it ever be paid off by money?

This afternoon I learned that to accept a gift causes an inner ease and unrestrained joy that turns into nervousness until I find a channel for it by also giving something away. Finally, I shared the chocolate with people I did not know, and found myself in a lively table conversation with strangers. Another gift! The next day, back at the bar, I followed the impulse to put a note in the money box, just like that, because I had it."

"I have the feeling of being part of a common revolutionary action. Paying and being paid is the basis of capitalism and the social basis of such."

"I did not have to meet your needs and therefore I was free to cooperate. Trusting me and thanking me, made me fall back to the inner place as a human being, one that takes responsibility for the healing of the earth."

The intensity of the Summer University and the geistig participation was unusually high. The certainty of belonging to a global movement for which we all love to work was developed in many. With new, deep experiences, they went back to their home countries, like the seeds of a new flower variety which is now about to spread across the globe.


Internally for the Tamera community, this experience brought new insights and a new relationship with money. Benjamin von Mendelssohn, part of the Tamera Council: "When the community decided to take this step, a great joy and love energy was released. Since then, I have the impression that any information about our financial situation and any money transaction triggers joy and confidence. I can imagine that such an attitude will change the cash flow in the future."

Johannes Ewig: "The experiment has undermined scarcity thinking in terms of money, and thinking habits are, indeed, what separate one from wealth."

Vera Kleinhammes, speaker at the Summer University: "The experiment has been such a joyful and changing experience that I know in my heart it will still bring many positive results."

But what was the result in numbers? The main results, we expect in the long term. Now it can be said that the experiment created no gap in the budget. On the contrary, the per capita income was, indeed, lower than last year, but this was compensated for by the significantly higher number of participants. We want to let all participants know: The expenses for the Summer University were generously reimbursed. Above that, many participants spontaneously decided to join the peace studies until the end of August. The large number of guests at the place gave us an economically successful August.

Dissemination of the gift economy?

After this successful experimen,t the question arises: Can the gift economy be spread? Sabine Lichtenfels: "As long as the culture remains as anonymous as it is now, I cannot believe that it will, since there is too much latent distrust. We must all return to a deep level of trust in order to be able to implement a global economy of giving. If the Global Campus spreads with its global bases that, among themselves, form a ring of trust, I can believe in the spreading of the gift economy. "

Tamera is now facing a new experiment in gift economy: In the winter, we will have a time of concept building where the next steps in the development of the Global Campus will be planned. For this, Tamera‘s research institutes and community need a new structure that can meet the challenges of a global model project. These steps need to be planned with plenty of calmness and vision. During this period, the guest center and the university will be closed.

Since the Tamera community made the decision to implement the gift economy at the Summer University, a great confidence has emerged. We have decided to stay with this confidence, which means that we think that we can get everything we need to take on our task. This includes money. We won´t have income during the winter when the guest center will be closed. Part of the community is ready to go to work during winter, to make money, while the others prepare the new concepts. The rest of the money will come to us in other ways. We will soon give you more information on that.

Feedback reports of the Participants / Teilnehmerbriefe