Nipun Mehta insists he is an “average Joe,” but to the 400,000 people who volunteer through ServiceSpace, he is a guru of generosity. “It started when I got together with friends to talk about giving back,” recalls Nipun. “Our jobs in Silicon Valley left us well-paid, but unfulfilled. Over dinner, we decided to donate our talents to a homeless shelter.” The group ended up creating the shelter’s website.
What happened next surprised them; their generosity inspired many friends and colleagues to volunteer time creating websites for other nonprofits. From that humble beginning, ServiceSpace was born.
ServiceSpace launched in 1999 as an all-volunteer effort with a simple mission: use technology to support the good work of nonprofit organizations. The response was enormous, forcing Nipun and his colleagues to expand their thinking. As he describes on the website, “We literally did not want to turn people away so we created new projects to express the generosity that was sparked. By 2003, we developed a platform to create your own fundraising website; launched a portal promoting acts-of-kindness; and took on a South Asian nonprofit. In 2006, we launched a gift-economy magazine along with KarmaTube, airing uplifting videos. In 2007, Karma Kitchen was born. Today, ServiceSpace touches thousands of lives in myriad ways.”
Nipun, who leads ServiceSpace as Chief Inspiration Officer, is an energetic booster of “giftivism—the practice of radically generous acts that change the world.” He talks about “four key shifts” he believes giftivism can make in society, from “consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, isolation to community, and scarcity to abundance.” His goal is to awaken the inner compassion and generosity that lives in each human being. “It is only in the process of giving selflessly that we tap into the heart of oneness, and we see that every act of generosity not only creates a ripple effect on the outside, but also a much more powerful effect within us,” says Nipun.“The smallest of acts, done with the right intention, has the potential to change the lens through which we meet the world.”
Nipun’s personal journey to a life of service reveals his drive, intelligence, and heart. Born in 1975 and raised in Ahmedabad, India until the age of 13, Nipun arrived in the United States with his parents and younger brother like many immigrants, with a couple of suitcases and very little money. His family worked hard to succeed. Nipun’s dream at a young age was to become a tennis star or a Himalayan yogi. He spent hours on the tennis court where he learned the importance of a disciplined work ethic, a lesson that has served him well. After graduating from University of California, Berkeley, he landed a job as a software engineer at Sun Microsystems, working 80 or more hours a week.
However, after starting ServiceSpace, Nipun’s priorities changed and he was chal- lenged to live differently. “I saw the power of service to others when my wife Guri and I went on a walking pilgrimage in India in 2004,” he says. “We experienced a simple life of giving and receiving with compassion and gratitude.” Ever since, Nipun and Guri have devoted them- selves to multiplying that generosity of spirit.
Regardless of how successful ServiceSpace becomes or how many accolades Nipun receives, he remains rooted in the simplest of intentions—to give what he can. He recalls treating a homeless woman to an ice cream one day. “We had a great three-minute chat about generosity. As we were leaving the store, she said, ‘I’d like to buy you something.’ But she only had a nickel. I responded, ‘That’s so kind of you. I would be delighted to accept your offering. What if we pay it forward by tipping this kind cashier who helped us?’ Her face broke into a huge smile as she dropped the nickel in the tip jar. No matter what you have, or don’t have, we can all give. The good news is that generosity is not a luxury sport.”