Last year, a local group of dedicated individuals began exploring innovative ways to build more equitable service exchanges in Birmingham. Too often organizations, agencies, and corporations control exchanges in the community, while individuals in need of services cannot control what is being provided. While researching alternative currencies, the group discovered Time Banking, a concept envisioned by Edgar Cahn and addressed in his book No More Throw-Away People, available in GBM’s resource library.
Time Banks, or “Time Exchanges” as the group here calls them, create a volunteer-driven support group for exchanging basic skills between members of a community – residents, organizations, businesses, schools, and government – by cataloging strengths, skills, and willingness to help others, and then links these organizations and individuals together to help meet their respective needs. Members receive one time unit for each hour of service, which can be spent on needed services from other members in the exchange. Every member’s time is equal and there is no monetary equivalent associated with time units.
Cahn’s concept has inspired time banks around the world, including over 170 in the USA alone. They range from neighborhood exchanges to metropolitan ones. No matter the size, each is built on five core principles:
1.All people are assets with something to offer and contribute to the vitality of a community.
2.Work has to be redefined to value what it takes to create strong families, neighborhoods, communities, and governments in a just, sustainable way.
3.Reciprocity turns the question “How can I help you?” into “How can we help each other build the world we both will live in?”
4.Social networks built on commitment and trust are stronger than individuals.
5.Respect means that every human being matters as they are, not as we want them to be.
Two examples are the Dane County TimeBank in Madison, WI, and Hour Exchange Portland in Portland, ME.