Come August, Sarasotans will have an opportunity to help create a new kind of economy by joining Sarasota’s first time bank known as Common Wealth.
What is a Time Bank? In the words of Time Banks USA founder Edgar Cahn, “The concept is simple: One hour of help of any kind given to another member earns one time credit, exchangeable for an hour of help in return.”
Think of it as a system of exchange based on a different kind of currency, made of what we already have in abundance in our community: the skills, talents and abilities of the people living here. Its underlying principles are rooted in common wisdom that often goes forgotten.”We have what we need when we use what we have,” Cahn says.
Steve McAllister is a local Sarasotan who has invested an impressive amount of personal energy not just in helping to develop Common Wealth together with Transition Sarasota founder and Director Don Hall and other local citizens. Steve also “walks the talk” by using an “alternative currency” in his own daily life by living strictly on barter and non-monetary exchange, a lifestyle he’s been able to maintain successfully for over a year.
“Time-banking began in the eighties when Edgar Cahn was trying to find a way to ensure that the older generation was valued and cared for,” McAllister shares. “Since then, it has blossomed as people have realized that the monetary system doesn’t account for the entire economy. Because the monetary system finds value in those things that are limited, such as energy and our natural resources, time-banking helps help to account for that which is in abundance, such as compassion, creativity and community development.
Now, time banks have popped up across the country and in many places around the world.”
The United States currently has 300 registered time banks, ranging in size from 15 members to 3,000. At present, time banks have enrolled 30,000 members in the United States, 30,000 in the United Kingdom and an additional 100,000 across 34 countries.
Where has Common Wealth come from, and what makes this Sarasota time bank unique among other time banks across the world?
Soon after Hall moved to Sarasota in 2010, he began working with friends on a similar concept using different technology. The group ultimately abandoned the technology and disbanded, but Hall and McAllister picked it up and discovered that Time Banking USA had a system that matched their goals perfectly.
Hall and McAllister see Common Wealth as an opportunity to create something unique in the world of time banking.
“My hope,” McAllister says, “is to tap into the creative juices here in a way that I haven’t seen done in other communities. We have plenty of people who are using their cognitive surplus to make films, music and art just for the passion of doing it. I think that participating in those types of projects needs to be valued. But from what I’ve seen of the other communities with time banks, none of them has the amount of creative energy that Sarasota does, and I look forward to valuing it in a new way. ”
I asked Hall and McAllister what surprises they have found along the way since this project began.
Hall: “Originally, I wanted to create a currency that could do it all, that was both physical and digital, that was valued separately from the dollar and that would appeal to both individuals and local businesses. Now I realize that what we need might not be one silver-bullet currency that can do it all, but rather a diversity, or an ecology, of different currencies that serve different functions. One-size-fits-all solutions are a big part of what has gotten us into this mess. I believe diversity will play a major role in helping get us out of it.”
McAllister: “Oh, very few things surprise me, but I have found it surprising how interested people get when I start talking about this. It’s funny that when you talk about finding hope in the economy beyond money, people’s eyes just light up.”
“A different approach to our economy is desperately needed. The official unemployment rate is currently 8.5 percent in Sarasota, which is still higher than the national average (8.2 percent). The main approach that has been taken by our community leaders and decision-makers thus far has been to try to lure in outside businesses to create jobs. What I think we need more of instead is “growth from within.” Outside businesses are constantly shipping money out of our community, back to corporate headquarters, and they can pick up and leave at any time. In fact, Jackson Labs left before they even got started! Just because people are unemployed or under-employed doesn’t mean they don’t have anything valuable to offer. They just aren’t able to find a part-time or full-time job doing it at the current time. The Common Wealth Time Bank can serve as a venue for people to informally offer their skills and be rewarded for doing so.
“However, our Time Bank isn’t just for people who are down on their luck. It’s also for local entrepreneurs starting out, those who want to earn a little extra on the side, those who want to be more involved in their community by giving back while making new friends, and those who want to help to shift the current economic paradigm. Transition believes that the Great Recession was not just a temporary speed-bump, but rather the beginning of a fundamental transformation in our economy. The days of exponential growth (and debt) built on consuming more and more non-renewable resources are numbered. We need to find a way to build a truly sustainable local economy, one that provides for most of its basic needs locally. We are currently a very long way from that here in Sarasota, which is why we need to get moving now, and we believe our Time Bank represents an important first step.”
McAllister explains: “Starting on July 21, we’re starting with a soft launch at CommonWealthTimeBank.com, and we’ll be having our first orientation on August 7 at 5:30 p.m. at Selby Library before the public launch on Labor Day. The best way for people to help is to simply participate and tell their friends and family.”
You can also attend the fundraiser and kick-off celebration, “The Rucksack Extravaganza.” The event will feature performances by McAllister, interspersed with a bevy of Sarasota’s other talented musical artists, including Emmett Lalor, Will Sime, Alix Sun, Truman Adams, S.N.A.P.M. and Tosspot. (Sample some of Truman Adams’ funky talent below:)
“The infrastructure is now available to provide for ourselves in ways that we haven’t regularly practiced in decades,” McAllister says. “The time bank is really about teaching us how to be good neighbors again. Basically, the only way for us to realize our value is for us to realize our value.”
Personally, I can’t wait. From the little I’ve experimented with it so far, I’ve learned that I love to barter. I love it both for its feeling of empowerment as my options are multiplied and my inherent skills take on new value, as well as the wonderful relationships with ever-unfolding possibilities such bartering relationships tend to forge.
What do you think?
How could this transform Sarasota? If you were to join the Time Bank, what would you list as your skill and talents? Have you ever done anything in an “alternative currency?”
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