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Amidst the financial crisis that this world is going through, it was a great feeling to go out and spread some smiles at Stanford. Here are some stories from this exercise that we carried out at Stanford as a part of the 3rd Annual Giving Marketplace conference. It was a lot of fun and in the true spirit of CharityFocus, we created quite a stir at Stanford that evening. ☺

17 different organizations from all over the world (China, Spain, Germany, South Africa, Argentina, Colombia, India and the US) got together for four days to share and learn from each other and hear from the experts in the field of giving marketplaces, micro-investment and micro-finance. The organizations represented are the likes of Kiva, Wokai, GiveMeaning, HelpArgentina, GlobalGiving, GiveIndia, Rang De and DonorsChoose.

Pawan and Lloyd suggested a fun exercise, which would help this group bond with each other and also kick off this conference with the spirit of giving and service. They wanted me to organize this exercise CharityFocus style.

We carried out this “Kindness Challenge” during the first orientation evening where people just landed jet-lagged and tired. This was a spirited group of around 30 entrepreneurs – founders and key players working with these Giving Marketplaces. We divided them into random groups of 3 each. These people most likely did not know each other and some of them were new to the Stanford Campus. We gave them Smile Cards and a map of the Stanford campus. We then challenged them to go out, roam around in the campus and do small and anonymous acts of kindness.

They spent a couple of hours tagging people all around the campus with Smile Cards. At the end of the evening we sat together for a 2-minute silence. We then shared our experiences with each other. There were many interesting stories and deep realizations with this simple exercise. Here are some of them:


•    One of the participants ended up singing a song to a newly wed couple and made their day in an unexpected way.

•    Stanford was looking much cleaner last evening because a majority of the groups decided to pick trash and clean the campus.

•    There was a formal dinner happening at the lawn of the Old Union building. A couple of the groups decided to help the waiters and served the people dining over there – KarmaKitchen style.

•    One homeless person at the campus was so moved after talking to a participant that he proposed to marry her ☺.

•    One participant from Spain said – “I did not know what to do with my 2 minutes of silence. It was the first time that I got 2 minutes to reflect on an exercise like this.”

•    A group got some flowers and started searching for loving couples to share these flowers with. After a couple of false tries they finally found a couple that was very happy receiving those flowers.

•    Some participants just decided to buy coffee for Stanford students.

They all shared the challenge that they faced with a deadline of a couple of hours and when they are “on a mission” to do good deeds with an awareness and consciousness.  They mentioned the difficulty in finding “people in need” and not be intrusive in this seemingly all-happy part of the world. Some groups also shared how some people start looking at the act of kindness as something weird and strange but they quickly open up after getting a hang of what’s happening to them.

We then gave them a plenty of Smile Cards so they could keep this spirit alive during this conference. Also, the incentive at the end of this contest was a bunch of smile cards that these organizations could take with them to their respective countries and spread smiles wherever they go.

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