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Interview with TimeBanking Founder Edgar Cahn and Chris Gray CEO of TimeBanks USA

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(Q) Are Time Dollars considered a community currency?

(Edgar) Community currencies in your context has tended to mean community of price. We include as our definition of community, community of vision. So that when a youth corp. for instance seeks to create, a peer culture that values contribution and mutual respect and that rejects violence. That is a community even if the kids are widely disbursed. It's equally a community we saw with the health maintenance organization in Brooklyn where people may have been scattered so it's not a neighborhood definition of community it's really a shared value definition of community. I think the Internet has made that sense of community one that people will link to much more readily.

(Chris) Edgar actually created the Time Bank Youth Court here in D.C.

(Edgar) Yes, they are. Within the Time Banking movement in the US, we usually now refer to the currency itself as TimeBanking. The hour for an hour aspect of TimeBanking makes them a truly complementary currency, one that is specifically designed to stimulate an economy which is also complementary ie, the economy of home, family, neighborhood and community. This is an "economy" in its own right because it is the site of production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services but on a whole different basis than the formal economy which is powered by money.

(Q) Approximately how many new Time Banks are in operation here in the U.S.?

(Chris) There are TimeBanks within the TimeBanks' network and then there are TimeBanks for whatever reason don't choose to be formally a part of the network, they don't choose to be affiliate I believe there are about 140 TimeBanks within the network and outside of the network, we obviously can't have a certain knowledge but we think up to 20 more.

(Q) Is the following sentence a true statement? TimeBanks differ from barter systems and LETS because there is no commercial exchange or pricing medium. An hour of your time, is simply an hour of time. The rate for that hour does not change from city to city. Can you please explain this a bit further?

(Edgar) TimeBanks as a community currency was designed to take express exception to the definition of value that market price sets. Price in the market is set by supply and demand, so as a thing is more scarce it's more valuable relative to demand and if it's abundant it's cheap and I realized that what that meant was that every fundamental capacity that defines us as human beings and enabled our species to survive and evolve was worthless in that pricing system. If we were going to start to value the kinds of things that human being need to do for each other, to build community, to raise children, to make democracy work, to fight for social justice we were going to have to find a way of honoring with value the work that was essential to promoting fundamental values.

In the context within which we work it [TimeBanking] sends a message of respect & equality that is a fundamental statement that will particularly will reveal across lines of race, and class or age or people who have been devalued. You can talk the rhetoric of saying I value but what Time Banking does is it says "oh you're real about that aren't you". That is a very important message when dealing with teenagers, when dealing with the elderly, when dealing with people who have been disabled. It really honors who they are and the essence of who they are.

(Q) A lot of people reading this are going to write me and ask how to get started. What does it take to get up and going with a local time bank and how many people are needed in house to run the operation?

(Chris) The community building energy that Edgar talked about, basically all that you need really is a skilled community organizer and the community organizer will know what to do and how to enlist a small team of people to start putting together that things that are needed, the infrastructure that is needed and get hooked on to some type of software. TimeBanks USA licensed out community leader software and it can be done pretty quickly. A small time bank can get up and running in pretty short order. After the ambition for much more that than or the skill levels are not there or there is a very distinct purpose for the TimeBank and there is a systems change. In those cases it becomes a very very much more significant task because there is a process of transitioning what you want to achieve, enlisting champions to help you create that, confront people who are opposed to it. I mean it can become a major major activity.

(Chris) For that took much longer, the Alameda County Public Health Department absolutely decided that they were going to create a TimeBank. They actually used some of the money they had to put a community organizer in place to build capacity and she worked a whole year before they judged that the community was actually ready with the skills they needed to run that time bank. Then they got Federal Funding started up, so it took about 15 months and two major training secessions in the community and then, even when that had happened, it took here about a year before they got the hang of it. In contrast, another TimeBank, Echo Park in LA, an individual learned about TimeBanking and within a few weeks they were making something happen. Echo Park TimeBank has such great energy. Edgar went out there actually after they had been running for about a year he happened to be going out on the west coast and they said would you come and visit and we'll set up meetings and it was all very joyous and kind of celebratory. It has been very interesting to watch them because they started out as a few friends and then as they have gone on in time the possible implications of TimeBanking have sort of become more apparent and they have been challenged about whether they want to change from what they started out from to be.

TimeBanks vary tremendously in scope, size and purpose. They can involve just family and friends, or a whole city. This huge range means that the journey to start-up can vary a great deal as well. It can take a few months or several years and whether it is one or the other depends on many different factors. To help people navigate that journey, TimeBanks USA is midway through creating a whole new line of very inexpensive start-up guides and new types of coaching/training. Guidebooks 1 and 2 are complete. Guidebook 3 should be ready in mid-May. The first guide is simply for exploring possibilities, and provides activities for a small group to "try it out." The second guidebook provides a step-by-step visioning process and is followed by a third that carries forward the planning and implementation all the way up to opening the doors. The fourth will cover the ins and outs of running a TimeBank day-to-day.

(Q) What motivates people to join?

(Edgar) I've observed two kinds of energy that flow into TimeBanks. They shape the nature of the TimeBanks one I'll call a desire for connectiveness. A desire, and that powers both the neighbor to neighbor model but it also often links the neighbor to neighbor model to ecological concerns and the whole issue of sustainability. It's really, a matter of reducing social isolation and which is felt by many on the other hand it a sense of something vibrant happens when people come together in community. So that's one kind of energy, a desire to reduce isolation or a desire to increase connectiveness for all the values of the joy and the support that brings. The other kind of energy that brings people into TimeBanking, I'll call it is a sense of injustice and mobilization that something is intolerable. Whether it's kids being pushed out of school or kids in the juvenile system or elders being abandoned and that takes on open energy that is more focused and more purposeful that defines the scope in terms of system change more than around community building. Community building flows from that as the networks develop. Those are the two kinds of dominant energy that I see that result in enlisting people.

(Chris) It used to be TimeBanks tended to be one or the other, however, more and more TimeBanks are sort of weaving those two together, which has been quite interesting.

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