Here are 10 gift ideas and book suggestions in honor of the global holiday season and spirit of giving and goodwill toward all.  Hopefully, you’ll find something here for the culturally curious and socially conscious that sparks a new interest, strikes a common chord, and brings some joy to those in need.  Some of these ideas feature the added environmental benefit of doing good without accumulating more material possessions.

Make a donation in a family member’s or friend’s name to a cause or organization. Everyone can feel good about lending a helping hand to less fortunate members of the international community.  Here are just a few examples that tie in with the themes of international development and globalization.

  • Heifer International operates on the principle that it is better to teach someone to fish than give them one.  Donors help poor families worldwide by contributing a share of an animal that can provide food, income, fertilizer, and other agricultural support.  For most people in developing countries, agriculture is still the main source of generating income and meeting basic human needs.  Heifer International also promotes self-reliance and addresses gender inequalities by providing training in farming techniques and sustainable agricultural methods.
  • Donations to aid and relief organizations such as the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), UNICEF, and the World Food Programme help unlucky, often impoverished people who have been on the short end of recent natural disasters and other hardships in places like Haiti, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Myanmar, to cite just a few examples.  (Charity Navigator is one well-recognized source for researching and evaluating charities and non-profit organizations.)

Adopt an octopus, other fellow creatures, or habitat in someone’s name. For those with a sentimental place in their hearts for the lovable, fallen Pulpo Perfecto, Paul the Psychic Octopus of 2010 World Cup fame, you can adopt one of Paul’s mates or other ocean creatures and habitats, including those affected by the oil spill in the Gulf, and help sustain the oceans’ biodiversity and ecosystems at Oceana.

Support artisans and craftsmanship in traditional cultures and developing countries by buying fair trade certified and ethically made gifts. Ten Thousand Villages is a nonprofit program and founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) that maintains a sustainable market in North America for “unique handmade gifts, jewelry, home decor, art and sculpture, textiles, serveware and personal accessories representing the diverse cultures of artisans in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.”  Their website provides information on products and links to stores and festival markets.

Buy gifts from companies that make a sincere commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and positive contribution to the communities in which they do business and operate around the world. For example, for every pair of shoes someone buys, TOMS Shoes donates a pair to a person in need.  TOMS’ 2010 Giving Report explains how shoes help poor people in developing countries avoid infection and disease and take advantage of educational opportunities.

Experience a performance, exhibit or traditional service.  Research in social psychology shows that we get more enjoyment and satisfaction out of receiving gifts in the form of new experiences than material things.  Performances, concerts, and visits to cultural organizations all offer the potential to learn and grow together by interacting with different cultures, ideas, and creatures.  Hiring a practitioner of traditional medicine or feng shui can be an enlightening way of getting in touch with another culture.  Purchases of tickets and memberships can help support foreign artists and local communities as well as cultural traditions and institutions.  Interesting destinations with economical membership options include places like museums and aquariums, which can also help build support for sustaining valuable biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Discover a new food experience. Food and traditional culinary practices are essential elements of a country’s social fabric, culture, history, and foreign relations.  Family-run, ethnic restaurants can help patrons enjoy another culture, unique flavor combinations, and new sensory experiences while even feeling like they are on a mini-vacation to an exotic land.  For adventurous cooks, ethnic cookbooks and kitchen utensils offer creative, hands-on means to experiencing new food cultures.

Buy a family member or friend a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that provides regular deliveries of fresh produce straight from local farmers. In the U.S., Local Harvest offers connections to CSA’s and direct, online purchases of locally grown farm products.  Fresh produce options include less common varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables with international origins such as Red Malaysian Guavas and Fuyu Persimmons, which originated in China and are primarily grown in Japan.

Give a gift subscription to a magazine or another publication. Subscriptions to periodicals with interesting stories, thoughtful opinions, and new discoveries can be a source of learning, conversation, and social cohesion.  They also provide something to look forward to in the future.  A few examples of interesting sources include the Economist, National Geographic, Current History, and other publications shown on the Read & Shop page and referenced in other Global Sherpa posts.

Introduce a new book.  Check out these great reads that might even change the way someone thinks about or acts on a particular issue.

Put the world at their fingertips with a new or antique atlas, map, or globe. These geographic references not only provide helpful context to international stories and issues but also just might spark the urge to learn about and discover new lands and travel destinations.

Please post comments with any related ideas or suggestions.  Best wishes for a happy, healthy holiday season of giving that is full of connections with family and friends, family traditions, global goodwill, new experiences, and fond memories!

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11 Ways to Give Without Giving Stuff.  the dailygreen.

Black Friday Doorbusters for Socially Conscious Gifts.  Shop to Stop Slavery.  November 25, 2010.

Changing the Present

Gifts Outside the Box.  thedailygreen.