Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about alternate currencies, crypto currencies to be specific. We are eagerly waiting to see how the Government responds to it with their upcoming bill, The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021. So in the meantime, I thought I’d talk about a unique social currency: time-based currency.

I was introduced to this concept back in 2018 while volunteering at Auroville. We can only imagine exchanging our services for money, because that’s what we have seen in our society. But this community has been finding alternatives to regular money for quite some time now. And there was a group of people trying to formulate a time-based currency system to completely replace the normal monetary system. Whether they could work this model out or not is yet to be seen, but the idea itself is so novel.

Why did time-based systems come into being?

With time, individuals are getting separated from institutions. We are living in nuclear families, working as freelancers from the comfort of our homes, watching wedding ceremonies live over the Internet, and so on. Of course, some of it is due to the pandemic, but that has been the direction in which the world was moving pre-Covid as well. However, the further we get away from society in its traditional form, we also miss out on some of its absolute goodness. Like having our extended families and neighbours around us in times of need.

The way the world is progressing, it is also focusing on deep specialisation. Individuals have narrow skill sets. We are excellent in our field of work, but lack basic skills like say home repairs, cooking, parenting, money management, tax filing, etc. And even if we have some of these skills, there is always a shortage of time.

Urbanisation and individualism are giving rise to various problems that are extremely basic, like the ones I’ve just mentioned, and that we don’t often talk about. This led to the formation of Time Banks.

What does a time-bank do?

Time banking is a network of people using time, instead of money, as currency for exchange of services. In these systems, one person volunteers to work for an hour for another person; thereby getting a credit worth one hour, which they can redeem for an hour of service from any other volunteer.

Services could be in any form – teaching a skill, gardening, walking a dog, baby-sitting, looking after the elderly.

In simple words, a Time Bank is a community for caring.

Some examples from across the world

Japan: In 1973, the world’s first timebank was started in Japan by Teruko Mizushima with the idea that participants could earn time credits which they could spend at any time during their lives. There are many timebanks for elderly people, where senior citizens can swap services for free, right from cleaning to companionship. A pay-it-forward time bank system like this benefits the 2 million elderly in Osaka who require only basic assistance, which is enough for them to live independently in their own homes instead of moving to care facilities.

U.S.A: In 1980 Edgar Cahn, who is passionate about social justice, founded  www.timebank.org in the U.S. It is a way to restore the community and create a more just and caring world. The currency was similar to Japan’s: one hour is equal to one credit, regardless of the nature of service performed. There are almost 200 such time banks in the US and people can join any for free. 

In the years that followed, around 32 other countries started their own Time Banks and almost 435 such communities were formed by 2015.

India: Interestingly, the Happiness Department of Madhya Pradesh (yes, there is such a department) has also set up a time bank recently. Whenever a bank member needs a service or wants to acquire a skill, say gardening or playing the guitar, she could exchange a credit, worth an hour, with another member knowing the skill. This is a great way to learn new skills, socialise and contribute to society. 

The alternate social currency

Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, sums this concept up beautifully,

“The fundamental idea behind time banks is deeply egalitarian, both because everyone’s time is valued equally and because everyone starts out with the same amount of it. If there is one thing we can be said to truly own, it is our time. No matter how wealthy one is in terms of money, it is impossible to buy more time.” 

If only we thought of using our time in such wonderful ways we could probably replace monetary transactions with time-banks, not entirely, but at least in part.

Have you ever been a member of a time-bank? We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this, as well as about alternate currencies in general.

Rushina Thacker

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