The Altruistic Wallet

A gift economy for the global village

Social Systems Lab
13 min readApr 24, 2022


The Altruistic Wallet is a digital wallet that works like any other wallet except that it cannot be spent on one’s self. The contents on the wallet can only be released by supporting an individual changemaker or a specific project that has been vetted by the network.

The point of giving

What if society was based on a financial system that supported democracy and sustained the commons instead of limiting the former and extracting the latter? What might an economic system look like where monetary profit was not the goal of the game but instead sharing, wellbeing, personal empowerment and sustainability were the goals?

An impossible fantasy according to many a student of economics under the impression that it is a naturally evolved system, as the story goes. A result of human nature rather than a game designed with the purpose of accumulating symbolic wealth. But the fact is that our current global economy has been designed by a few very influential and undemocratic institutions, albeit so gradually that it might appear as evolution. It is a game with a set of rules designed with a wealth extraction parameter at the core which leads to large imbalances that invariably lead to system collapses as instability gets too great. Something the game of monopoly demonstrates quite clearly. Indeed, the game was originally designed to demonstrate this very purpose, a fact that ironically seems to have been completely lost in translation.

To be fair, this is by no means a new phenomenon. Hoarding of wealth became an option once our migrating hunter-gatherer ancestors were outcompeted by our stationary farming ancestors. Kings and emperors and their ilk have honed this craft, which is a prerequisite for their position in the first place. On many, if not all, occasions when the extraction of resources from the common pool grew too extreme the result was a collapse of the system. Or at least a toppling of the hierarchy and a new order, unpleasant for most involved including those formerly at the top. From a meta-level, this is merely a way for the system to course correct or to reboot and adapt. Human culture being both evolutionary and cyclical at the same time.

The point is we can redesign our economy as it is a cultural phenomenon, a story, a derivative of natural evolution rather than a law of nature in itself. We could give it different parameters and rules. More importantly, we have arrived at a point in our technological evolution where entirely new concepts are possible not only to imagine but to deploy. The acceptance of the need to shift into something new is also more widespread than ever. The stresses of poverty and the lack of options needed to keep the illusion going that this will all work out in the end are no longer relegated to subsistence farmers and dwellers in the cardboard and tin roof settlements around the gated wealth of the prosperous few. The traditional bastions of success in the west are in rapid decay, informal settlements in the form of tents are popping up and spreading out in places unthinkable a mere decade ago. The costs of resource extraction move ever closer to the centre and are now at its doorstep, in the most visceral of ways.

The imbalance in the system has become so extreme that any potential deleveraging is likely to be far too little and far too late. The old system is falling apart. In the siren song of the spreadsheet the assets and liabilities all match up, but in reality the liabilities are rocks waiting to tear the hull apart. The assets are by and large locked away as the remaining commons are privatized and collateralized in order to be extracted to meet shareholders’ dividend expectations and upper management bonus requirements. What was once a global commons is being cut up and sold out. Collapse would seem to be an emergent phenomenon too.

The theory of homo economicus, the perfectly rational and so far mythical individual basing actions entirely on perceived personal gain seems to be falling out of fashion for the best of reasons — its entire lack of foundation in empirical data. Though rationality as a foundation for transactional behaviour in humans was probably never taken too seriously by anyone outside neoclassical economics, broader studies of human motivation seem to point in a different direction. Interestingly, and perhaps speaking to a deeper, more intuitive rationality, our disposition seems to be aimed at various forms of altruistic behaviour.

Naturally, one could argue that what is good for my neighbour is good for me is ultimately rooted in personal gain, but as long as this gain is achieved through cooperation and sharing, it makes little difference, at least operationally speaking. As many an evolutionary biologist has pointed out, it is our exceptional ability to cooperate that made us the apex predator, despite physical features that should place us somewhere mid-range in the food chain. And this ability seems to be evolutionarily linked to our socialising ability, a survival of the friendliest rather than the fittest, as Rutger Bregman puts in his latest book. The question then is if we had a different economic system, one geared towards network cooperation rather than exploitative competition, would it be possible for us to transcend the role of predator and become the apex custodian?

Research tells us that giving feels good. Rationality, when calmly applied, suggests it feels good for a reason. The reason being that it makes us safer, more likely to survive in our perpetually unpredictable and often hostile environment. Because despite all of our individual achievements, the world remains a dangerous place. The threats might not be sabre-toothed tigers or giant sloths, but threats of imminent mortgage foreclosure due to the unfathomable turbulence of the larger economy are indiscernible on a biological level to the soon to be foreclosed primate with a credit score. Safety is, by and large, a temporary illusion to all but a select few.

This general insecurity comes with externalised costs that are difficult, if even possible, to measure. Who knows how many civilisation inventions are never brought to fruition because the human in question is too busy trying to survive on three jobs at minimum wage? How many potential geniuses are biologically prohibited from attaining their intellectual summit due to malnutrition and other biologically avoidable limitations? How many of the over three million children who die from starvation each and every year might have become great leaders of industry or civil society, had industry or society only been able to nurture them? We cannot know for sure, but such statistics at the very least tell us that we are failing quite badly at providing the basic requirements for our extended family to thrive on the global scale. And like it or not, that is the scale we must deal with.

How to give

Enter one of the key features of the proposed new ecosystem, the Altruistic Wallet. It works pretty much like any other wallet but with a few interesting twists, the main one being that you cannot use its contents on yourself. You can only pay them forward, so to speak.

The Altruistic Wallet is a stand-alone feature, whomever adds assets to it can also provide the criteria that regulate how and where these assets may be spent. This is one of several possibilities that have opened up with the advent of the growing cryptographically based economy with its NFTs and its smart contracts. Within CoDo and other networks that share the same protocol, the contents of the wallet will be used to fund projects that support our commons.

For a project to be eligible for funding using the Altruistic Wallet, it needs to tick a few boxes. It needs to have a clear and objectively measurable goal with an equally clear budget and step by step plan of arriving there. It also needs to have longer-term metrics to measure aspects of its impact down the line. And most importantly, it needs to have at least one verified individual taking on the role of a project manager who personally shoulders the responsibility for the success of the project.

The purpose of these requirements is to use the resources we have in the most efficient way possible, along with providing the most reliable and transparent follow-up on projects the network can facilitate. It is also worth noting that a project will not automatically be deemed a failure if it does not achieve its goals or long term impact. Provided it feeds useful feedback back into the network that will improve the likelihood of future projects being successful, it has still provided some value. Evolution is a process of trial and error after all. The only failed project would be if the project manager offers no feedback or absconds with the funds, something we hope to avoid through verifications of identity and the staking of reputation.

In practical terms, if I wish to take on a larger project than my own experience and track record might warrant in the eyes of the potential donors, other members might put their reputations behind mine. Should I take the money and run or mess up badly in any other way, the reputation of my backers will suffer. In this way, reputation itself can become a form of currency, social or political capital as it were, but that is a topic for another article. As are the implications of CoDo becoming a training ground for project managers in social and environmental fields who might later rise to take on more traditional roles in a democratic society. The trajectory civilisation might take is likely to be quite different to the one we are currently on, with politicians at the helm having little to no practical experience.

What to give

A second feature of the Altruistic Wallet that sets it apart from your average wallet is that is can contain more than mere money. Obviously, it can contain digital tokens such as crypto currencies, stable coins and NFTs, but more than this it can contain any offer you might have to make, be it your time and expertise or a material asset you might want to lend our free of charge, or even give away.

This multifaceted nature of the Altruistic Wallet will allow the budding project manager to search the ecosystem for goods and services prior to landing on a full budget for the intended project in question. Being able to source brick and mortar assets along with other resources, such as the time of volunteers, translates into lower monetary demands as well as more efficient use of available resources. If you add to this a project that will benefit the commons, you will have a win-win-win situation.

How to receive

The prototype we are designing for the CoDo ecosystem will allow token based micropayments between wallets. This process will be partially automated, every time a user upvotes or “likes” the content created by another user, a small transfer is made between wallets. This gives “likes” a tangible, monetary value of sorts but also helps fund the Altruistic Wallets of content creators who, in turn, can offer more funds to the people and projects they support.
Widely popular content creators could potentially make large sums on CoDo, but would not be able to remove these funds other than by funding the change they want to see happen. Naturally, they will be able to fund their own projects which they might receive compensation for, but provided they reach their goals and do not extract more funds than necessary to pay their own salary there is no foul in this.
Should they do so, this information will be public and will most likely lessen their support in the future creating a self-regulatory feedback loop within the ecosystem. Taking more than you need with little to no personal consequence, going against the grain and purpose of the altruistic economy as it does, might prove quite tricky given these parameters. Also, the ecosystem does not foster that mindset.

It will also be possible to tip other members through the Altruistic Wallet system. Users can set an arbitrary sum as a base tip which is released when the user shows appreciation, much like the handclap here on Medium, or send a direct donation at any time. Giving a small but real monetary value to social signalling will add a degree of scarcity to such signalling which will, in turn, add value to the signals themselves. Social signals will become more thoughtful or intentional, thus adding more value as tools for discerning value, as it were, adding more signal to the noisy space of social platforms on the internet.

As the future Altruistic Wallet can be deployed as a standalone feature, content creators could conceivably also use it as a plugin on any website. This would allow tipping outside the domain of CoDo but the deployment of funds would still have to happen through CoDo and be subject to the agreed upon rules of the platform and the scrutiny of the network.

It is also fully conceivable that an “altruistic marketplace” might evolve, where strangers do each other favours that are compensated not through direct reciprocity, as is usually the case in a more contained social context such as a local community, but via donations. For instance, person A might ask the network for assistance with task B, and person C will offer to perform it for payment D into their Altruistic Wallet, or possibly directly into a project they manage or support. An entire economy based on altruism could take shape, an actual sharing economy that supports the commons rather than exploits the commoners by focussing on a very limited aspect of the sharing concept. In stark contrast to the so-called sharing economy of today, in effect a gig economy based on exploitation, minimal social benefit and little voluntary sharing going on at all.

Altruistic Venture Investing

Taking the concept further, Altruistic Wallets could do more than merely fund projects with albeit clear, deliverable and broadly beneficial goals, but projects that might actually be revenue-producing in the future. In other words, Altruistic Wallets could be used to fund pro-social businesses that would not only improve people’s lives or restore the environment through their practices but actually return profits in the form of dividends into the Altruistic Wallets of their investors. Dividends that could be used to fund new projects or beneficial businesses in a positive feedback loop of societal and environmental improvement.

There are of course a number of issues that would have to be worked out before we can implement this investment option. Such as what types of business proposals would be eligible, would they provide Altruistic Wallet holders with actual shares making them eligible to vote or just dividends, could they accept an outside investment with different parameters et cetera. But once these issues are resolved, the path will open up for a new type of altruistic business investment that in turn could provide a far more sustainable and beneficial marketplace. Instead of using private providers of goods and services that remove funds from the restorative financial ecosystem, the Altruistic Wallets could usher in a new era of businesses that support the commons by this being a base requirement to become eligible for funding at all.

It also makes sense that we should collectively own shares in the businesses that operate in society as it has repeatedly proven quite difficult to get most such larger entities to pay their taxes to support the societies that make their existence possible, yet they hardly ever have any issues with paying their shareholders their dividends on a regular basis. If the market deems that taxes are bad but dividends are good, then perhaps we should wise up to this and simply abandon the former in favour of the latter.

The end game

With all this talk of wallets, altruistic or not, it is important to remind ourselves that this is merely an intermittent system, an exploration. The end goal is to move away entirely from such abstract fictions as the symbolic monetary economy and towards a more direct and literal way of denominating and sharing resources. The Altruistic Wallet is merely using a familiar concept that we have tweaked into supporting a different purpose. If we are successful in the longer term, we will have provided for all our basic collective needs through the supporting systems we have built and nurtured together and will have less need for wallets.

Our food will be provided from the regenerative agricultural processes we are part of, the dividends, in this case, being actual nutrition. We will have ample access to advanced and personalized healthcare, which we will not need to the same extent we do today as our lives will be far less stressful and more connected, and our bodies far healthier due to our improved diets. We will have access to clean, reliable, abundant and sustainable energy thanks to the businesses and research we will have funded. We will have access to high quality, granular and most important, reliable information, which in turn will lay the foundation of top-quality and accessible education. Any object we could dream up will be possible to 3D print at a fraction of the energy and resource cost of even the most modern factory of today, designs being shared as freely as best practices are within our network. There will be a myriad of projects to keep us busy as the apex stewards of our world and ancestors in training. And as a result of these, we will have endless opportunities to develop and explore deep, meaningful relationships with others and with our inner selves. In such a world, would money really be necessary, or even make sense at all?

Not that we won’t have any currency, it just won’t be the monetary one we are currently so dependent on. If we are successful, we will have created a host of personal metrics that could be represented as currencies based on trust and reputation gained through service to others. Currencies which can be quantified and used between strangers to avoid the inefficiency of spending large amounts of time with one another to ascertain levels of reliability and competence. And so being trustworthy and useful will again become among the most desirable traits a human can seek to develop, and, as a result, a truly nurturing altruistic economy can emerge.



Social Systems Lab

Social Systems Lab is a design and incubation studio building tools to support humanity.