Melanie Gajowski, co-founder and social entrepreneur in various functions. Photo: Claudia Klein

Money is a many-sple­ndou­red thing

Melanie Gajowski builds bridges between different worlds. She works in the financial industry, for environmental NGOs and social enterprises, and in the fields of zen, yoga and nature-based healing. She is also an ethicist, and sat down with The Philanthropist to reflect on the importance of money.

Walk along Zurich’s Tritt­li­ga­sse until you reach number 16: this is where Mela­nie Gajow­ski meets people, deve­lops new ideas and reflects on nature and busi­ness. It’s a peace­ful spot that over­looks a lush garden that’s almost an oasis in the heart of Zurich.

Money conveys appreciation

In our society, we show our appre­cia­tion of work and perfor­mance with a salary, with money stepping in for some­thing else in this context. It’s a tool that’s often used without our reali­sing it, and it leads to endless discus­sions. Mela­nie Gajow­ski says: ‘Money can also be used to show love and appre­cia­tion, for example if someone buys a box of choco­la­tes or a nice plant, and gives it to someone as a surprise. We can also show this by paying a fair price for services and the manu­fac­ture of products.’ She conti­nues by saying that ‘for me, fair pay is a corner­stone of inter­ac­ting with each other respon­si­bly. We only know what’s fair when we enter into nego­tia­ti­ons and discus­sions with each other. In this respect, money has a great deal to do with expres­sing appre­cia­tion in relationships.’

Money for everyone

There’s plenty of money to go around. Ever­yone should have money, and money that’s not being used can be shared. ‘Sharing is diffe­rent from giving,’ conti­nues Mela­nie Gajow­ski, explai­ning that ‘sharing’ goes beyond the degree that’s normal for ‘giving’. Giving is giving away, she says, whereas sharing, whether in the form of a flat-share or a job-share, means making some­thing avail­able to other people when you’re away. Users pay what they can. And she goes on to confirm that ‘it makes a diffe­rence if you want to do good things because things are going well for you. One person might not be able to afford some­thing, but a group of people belong to a system and when multi­ple people come toge­ther, the purchase beco­mes feasi­ble or the project viable.’

For Mela­nie Gajow­ski, dona­ti­ons are a form of giving. In gene­ral, when you make a dona­tion, you need to ask why you’re doing it. There is the latent risk of dona­ting so that you feel supe­rior to the person recei­ving the money. ‘Doesn’t it contri­bute to uphol­ding a system of “rich” and “poor”, “north” and “south”?’ she asks. This very question is some­thing we should purpo­se­fully ask oursel­ves: ‘You need to under­take an earnest analy­sis of how you want to earn your money. Every person needs to think about that for them­sel­ves. How they move their money, where they invest it, where they save it and what they do with it. Money always comes from a source,’ she states.

What can money do to us – or not

Mela­nie Gajow­ski calls on people to be more aware when they’re dealing with money. Every single person should deli­ber­ately take some time to stop and reflect on what money does to them. ‘What do I use money for and where is money leading me astray?’ she asks, as an ethi­cist who builds brid­ges between the finan­cial indu­stry and non-profit sector. People often make purcha­ses without really being aware of what they’re doing. She calls on them to scru­ti­nise what purcha­ses are really necessary. ‘In fact, the money at our dispo­sal is often the bree­ding ground for the daily grind that we’re all hoping to escape,’ says Mela­nie Gajow­ski. Money is not a bad thing per se. ‘We need money, I love money,’ she says, adding ‘I can achieve a lot with money, exert influ­ence and do good.’ It’s some­thing really worth bearing in mind: money is power. When you decide to buy some­thing, that purchase has an impact on the envi­ron­ment, say, and, in turn, on the health of people around the globe. We shouldn’t ever forget that.


Mela­nie Gajow­ski is a co-foun­der and social entre­pre­neur who under­ta­kes a variety of roles. She has worked in the finan­cial sector for 30 years, a field she became fami­liar with at Deut­sche Bank and UBS. Today, she works as a free­lance ethi­cist and econo­mist, and is in a job-sharing post as a member of the manage­ment of Alter­na­tive Bank.

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