Picture by h.koppdelaney, creative commons

Why timebanks, not moneybanks?

Timebanking is a p2p currency system where individual members exchange services on a voluntary basis  with one another. Timebanking values everyone’s time as equal. For every hour spent helping someone in your community, the contributor is entitled to an hour of help in return. The currency units are not money but hours of time spent by people on any type of labour (called a time dollar in the USA or a time credit in the UK).

It functions as a community development tool and works by which a group of people can create an alternative micro-economic model where they exchange their time and skills, rather than acquire goods and services through the use of money or other state-backed value. The time bank aims to (re)build and sustain their communities by valuing and rewarding voluntary work. The whole logic and the vision behind the time banking concept is to build trust and mutual exchange of skills and talents and ultimately contribute to strengthening the local communities and building social capital.

A Time banking broker is a key player as he/she has to manage the network (although in some cases there may be volunteers behind it all), maintain a database of participants and recruit people and organisations willing to get in the game and play it. Participants describe what they can offer, and what they need help with. People earn a time credit for each hour spent helping someone else, and spend a credit when someone helps them in return.

Ultimately, the Timebanking idea is great at the cultural and social levels, because it brings together people from very different backgrounds, which will help them develop relationship and communication skills as well give the possibility to improve upon language, artistic, technical, or other skills. The broader vision of the concept is to remind, restore the confidence of the people in the skills that they already posess and the contributions they are (capable of) making. This also translates in collaboratively producing the public services that one locality needs and deserves, more effectively and more efficiently than the public authorities.

Rules of the game

  • Set out a clear target audience of the project or age limit. For example, for secondary school students or those in college are teachers and adults also eligible? These questions arise in some legal situations because a meeting between a minor and an adult, for any purpose, must be mediated by a parent.
  • Think about what happens to those who want to learn something, but who do not want or don’t feel like sharing something in return. Conversely, there are people who volunteer a lot, accumulate a lot of hard-earned hours and end up finding that there are no services which they can benefit from. Sometimes people only provide services to a close circle of friends or trusted individuals, being skeptical about new people. A lot of people may stop using the timebank but can't quit because of all the hours they've accumulated, which they can't spend and don't want to lose. Should a purchasing system of hours be introduced as a conversion of EUR/hour, this could negatively impact on the image and legitimacy of the platform.
  • It is important to establish a number of 'teachers', who can help new members, the 'learners' better or more fully understand the concept of time banking. The learning space can be anywhere and is commonly agreed between the teacher and the learner. The process is based on live explanations and thus the learning can be shaped as desired. The teacher’s role can be undertaken by anyone who has a passion for a particular field and doesn’t need to be certified. Teachers can even be amateur enthusiasts. Any learner may in turn become a teacher. He/she may choose any learning field and there is no predetermined curriculum, but the learning process will be determined by those involved.
  • The platform functions as a social network based on learning for two main reasons: Firstly, users can log-in using their social media accounts thus spreading the word about it on their networks. Secondly, it generates discussion by providing a new perspective on learning with the help of technology. People will want to share content and will keep in touch on the existing social networks.  The network will develop with a reliance on user feedback, published on the platform, and through private messages between teacher and learners, by offering a rating and a relevant review. The online platform is only the starting point of learning offline relationships.
  • Contextual advertising. Create partnerships with possible learning spaces (cafés, community centres, etc.) recommended by the operator of the time bank for meetings. Get banners on websites of common interest, create partnerships with NGOs. Websites can be developedby volunteers initially, and the content will be user-generated.
  • The first people to register will have access to a knowledge-base provided by other users. The community will grow by sharing through social media, word of mouth and by the pleasure to learn and access a range of increasingly diversified knowledge. We initially address members of NGOs, social entrepreneurs, people considered opinion leaders and influencers (bloggers, journalists, athletes, artists, public figures, etc.) to help promote the concept and platform.
  • Offline it is very difficult to find the right people who can teach you something specific and that resonates with your personal way of learning. The online platform solves this problem, making the connection between teachers and learners possible and more easy, by area of ​​study, the exact field/competence and personality type of the people.

Useful Links