Ever wish you could get a haircut and a flat tire fixed without using money but suspected the barber and the mechanic wouldn't be interested in your sleeping bag or your web design services? A gift circle gives everyone equal opportunity to express their needs (and hopefully get them met) and offer their gifts in a way that doesn't require direct exchange but allows all those resources to still flow through the community. The structure is very simple:
1. go around the circle, each person briefly stating their (material, service, social, spiritual, etc) needs (without the expectation that they be met)
2. go around the circle, each person briefly stating the gifts they have to offer (without the expectation that they be received)
3. people connect face-to-face, matching needs with gifts and connecting those in the circle with people beyond it who may be able to offer or receive what was needed or offered.
A short video of gift circles being introduced at Occupy Chicago http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAnFcDk5BoY
A short video of the Oakland gift circle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUPZvU1y_v0
A gift circle is where people sit in a circle and share what their needs and gifts are so they can find ways to help each other. Others can then offer to help with needs, or receive the gifts offered. For instance people can express a need for a ride, a cell phone, a massage, babysitting, people to carry water supplies to camp, a sewing machine to make Occupy t-shirts, trash cans for Occupy, etc. Others can then offer to help. People can also offer gifts they have e.g. putting up a website, connections with certain groups, vehicles people can borrow, etc. This helps the flow of resources and builds community. The gift circles can also allow projects to birth in a bottom-up way. By expressing their project into the circle the resources to make that project may flow in. This process allows both people who are situated longer and those who who are just stopping by to contribute to different projects.
Different working groups can also use the gift circles as a way to crowd source help. For instance the sanitation working group can announce in the gift circle that they need help with certain tasks. Used in this way the gift circles exemplifies an approach to flattening hierarchies and dissolving some of the departmental boundaries in our governance structures by tapping into networked, peer-to-peer structures. The gift processes circles can also be extended to include people not at the physical site and they can be integrated with online tools for gifting like Giftflow.org to create virtual gift circles. The many gift circles, physical and virtual can overlap, share information, form circles of circles, and multiply out in a networked manner out into the world to create a larger gift economy.