The Deeper Meaning of Gift Giving this Season

In fact, how you chose your gifts can have positive impact on communities thousands of miles away from you– what better gift is there?

Words and Photos by Lindsay Cope

The holiday season is a time to enjoy and honor time spent with loved ones. It is a time to share stories and make new memories. It is a time of giving– giving thanks, giving food and shelter to visitors, and giving gifts!

Over the past few years, gift giving has taken on a few new meanings. We’ve seen the shift of predominantly in-store shopping to online purchasing, more sales and deals than ever thanks to social media, and that gift giving can impact many more people than just the recipient. In fact, how you chose your gifts can have positive impact on communities thousands of miles away from you– what better gift is there?

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There has also been a lot of recent discussion of fluctuating economic health within the US and globally. Holiday spending can be an indication of how the economy is faring. If you don’t believe me, just check out the PNC Christmas Price Index, a fun measurement of consumer spending and economic trends that show the cost of items highlighted in the “12 Days of Christmas” song. You’ll see that in 2015 the price of one Partridge in a Pear Tree is up 3.5% at $214.99!

Jokes aside, a healthy economy in many ways leads to healthier communities. I’ve seen the power of this connection through my work in East Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as during my recent travels. And I can tell you that your spending in the US does not just impact your local economy but many micro and macro economies around the world.

I’ve been known to do a fair bit of shopping myself and I now appreciate the items I buy not only for their physical attributes, but more for what they represent: the hands, minds and hearts used to create something beautiful and useful, and the lives brightened when money made from purchases becomes an integral part of supporting others.

The Deeper Meaning of Gift Giving this Season

1. Poor in wallet does not mean poor in spirit

Too often the thought of developing countries only conjures images of hardship or poverty. What is missed is the recognition of happiness and appreciation for family, community, health and life that is seen so vividly and acted upon continuously. As I meet new people and explore new places I am far more blown away by the prominence of kindness, hospitality and everyday beauty than I am taken aback by signs of sadness or despair.

As you consider your giving strategy for this holiday season and for 2016 I encourage you to think about the real local needs, the cultural richness, and the opportunities for local empowerment that you can help support and the happiness you can perpetuate.

The Deeper Meaning of Gift Giving this Season

2. The importance of income generating capacity

Quality education and good health are fundamental to improving lives and ending poverty. But in order to do so communities must have the means to financially support health- and education-related expenses. No matter how ‘free’ school or a doctor visit may be there are always financial implications such as cost of transport or lost work hours. These costs often exclude the poorest of the poor. It is not enough just to fix one contributing factor to poverty, rather, the cycle of poverty is intricate and requires solving several root causes.

This is why I particularly appreciate Cotopaxi’s giving strategy as it does not only include funding health and education programs, but is also committed to the third ‘Livelihoods’ pillar that supports entrepreneurial training & job skills development so their grantee community members have the means to make good health and education decisions.

When thinking about donating or making a socially conscious purchase, consider not just that the company or nonprofit works in poor communities, but dig a bit deeper and find out how your hard earned money is actually being used and what types of programs are being supported.

The Deeper Meaning of Gift Giving this Season

3. There is an intersection of design, entrepreneurship and community development

Whether it be a small women’s tailoring co-op in Zanzibar that is raising money to educate their children, or a multinational corporation selling luxury goods, businesses and their products need to be well designed and leaders must recognize the impact they have on their neighbors next door and around the globe. The same goes for poverty alleviation programs. Good intentions are not enough. Good design is essential.

To me, Cotopaxi and other likeminded brands have positioned themselves at the center of this intersection. Accountable in its operations with responsible manufacturing processes and eco-friendly products, these brands take it one step further by using their platform to drive awareness about sustainable poverty alleviation efforts and by using their funds to catalyze change around the world.

During this holiday season I hope you enjoy the traditions you’ve looked forward to throughout the year, and that you spend a little extra time thinking about and discussing the meaning behind what you are giving and receiving.

As for those New Year’s resolutions, think about adding one related to supporting companies that care about design through and through so you can be confident you are putting smiles on faces near and far. Come January, continue to go on adventures and be captivated by the world and its endless opportunities to learn, grow and give.