ONE ON ONE: Lily Cole on The Gift Economy

04/29/2014 02:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2014

I approached Lily Cole for ONE ON ONE because she's the perfect example of a socially engaged young person who articulately promotes her beliefs. Lily is devoting considerable energy to exploring a concept she is passionate about: the idea of a gift economy. A savvy millennial interested in political and humanitarian concerns, Lily is, like many of us, trying to navigate the terrain between consumerism and environmentalism. She's also a great example of an innovative young entrepreneur funding a tech start-up, putting her money where her mouth is rather than getting paid to promote someone else's venture.

At just 26, Lily has already carved out an incredibly successful career as a model and actress and graduated from Cambridge University. On top of that, she's just launched Impossible.com, a website and app that encourages people to do things for others for free. It's based on the idea of a gift economy, a mode of exchange where things are not sold but given. The site encourages people to post wishes of things that they want or need help with, and offer what they can give. Lily says she hopes the site creates a community that fosters giving and receiving.

"I called it Impossible, because I thought that a lot of people would say that it was impossible," says Lily. "It's an incredibly utopian proposition and I quite liked facing the cynics from the beginning with the name."

Lily's interest in the gift economy saw her pen her university thesis on the idea of impossible utopias.

"The philosophy behind it was really something of individual empowerment and hope," she explains. Lily believes in the idea that, collectively, we have the ability to determine our world and our reality, to rethink and reshape it. "We are so much more powerful when we work together," she says, "and the world is potentially a much more enriching environment to be a part of when we are deeply connected to one another."

Attending Burning Man in Nevada, the art and music festival where campers must bring or trade supplies because nothing can be purchased, helped Lily experience a gift economy in action.

"I was fairly familiar with the gift economy as a concept and as a cultural practice, but my experience of the gift economy was limited," she says.

Lily found the Burning Man experience inspiring because it showed her first-hand how generosity can foster greater generosity.

At the end of our interview, Lily told me she enjoyed the opportunity to talk philosophically about how she thinks about our world. As a curated interview series, ONE ON ONE exists to provide a space in which people like Lily can discuss their thoughts on how we live and what matters most to them.