Why Paying it Forward Pays Back

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Caption: 'Suspended Coffee, The Origins of Pay it Forward' || Photo by Berit Watkin / CC BY 2.0

Caption: 'Suspended Coffee, The Origins of Pay it Forward' || Photo by Berit Watkin / CC BY 2.0

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, we've all heard the old adage, but how many of us actually do it? For most, it begins and ends with mostly being a considerate person; holding doors open, letting people in front of you in the supermarket queue, maybe helping an old lady across the road if you're feeling particularly helpful. For the people in this article, that's just not enough. 'Paying it forward' is an act of selflessness that you'll never get to see the benefit of, yet people all over the globe are catching on to this phenomenon, so maybe there's something in it.

The Caffè Sospeso

One of the oldest examples of paying it forward started in Naples during World War Two. Italians adore their coffee and for those that were struggling during this time, it could be too much to afford. People who were financially able would order a coffee for themselves and one 'caffe sospeso' or 'suspended coffee' that a stranger in need could come and have free of charge.

This simple and anonymous gesture recently saw a revival, with the idea spreading quickly through local coffee shops across the country. Now its truly global, with even a documentary named after it, which explores how this Neapolitan tradition has changed the lives of people from Naples to New York. One example made the news when at Christmas time in 2013, a Starbucks in Connecticut saw just over one and a half thousand people pay it forward for their coffee, creating a streak that lasted for days.

Pay it Forward Pizza

Off the back of the Caffè Sospeso, a new trend is gathering traction - The Pay it Forward Pizza. One of the first places to adopt this approach was Rosa's Fresh Pizza, who saw themselves guest on the Ellen DeGeneres Show as a way of celebrating this selfless gesture. The initiative works in exactly the same way as with coffee, customers can buy a slice for themselves and another slice for a homeless person. In this way, Rosa's is able to feed up to one hundred hungry people every day, for free.

Rosa's has a proper neighborhood feel and knows its regulars well. Chris is one such regular, who shared his story about how finding Rosa's helped him. At 25 Chris was living as an addict, flitting between jail, shelters and the streets. Whilst living on the streets he found very little support from others, struggling to get food stamps, welfare, and even clothes. He explained that although everyone on the streets was desperate for companionship, it was hard to find true friendship because everyone assumed that you wanted something from them. Hungry, but determined to change his life around, Chris found Rosa's. He had a free slice of pay it forward pizza and that kindness inspired him to make the change that he needed to. Now Chris is clean and employed, in no small part to a slice of pizza.

Paying it Forward in Business

Nowadays plenty of businesses are seeing the joys in paying it forward, be it to charity or to customers. After all, it needn't just be a person to person trend, plenty of businesses give customers free opportunities to celebrate with them. PokerStars' 200 Billionth hand celebration is one such initiative that enables all customers to enjoy this occasion for free. On the run-up to a big milestone, it's a good feeling for everyone to give or receive a little freebie that reminds the customer how valued they are.

Caption 'The Innocent Arch out in the Community' - Photo by Richard Gillin / CC BY SA 2.0

Caption 'The Innocent Arch out in the Community' - Photo by Richard Gillin / CC BY SA 2.0

Similarly, Innocent Smoothies have also operated a sort of 'pay it forward' initiative since their inception in 1999. It is difficult to get ahead in an ever-changing drinks market, with innovations like kombucha and craft beer constantly switching things up. Innocent stood out by pledging 10% of all of their profits to independent charities until The Innocent Foundation was founded in 2004. This foundation aims to create a world where no child goes hungry and the poorest families are able to feed themselves. During this time the company has worked with 73 different projects, donating £5.2m in order to help more than 800,000 hungry people. The model for the foundation is the same as always, with 10% of profits going directly to a charity, meaning that the better the company does each year, the better they can do in the world. Even in the years where they fail to make much profit, they have committed themselves to donate £950,000. A refreshing approach to business. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all companies operating in this way?