In the face of economic collapse, Bay Area Community Exchange turns labor into cash-free currency
Luna made a presentation about the timebank at the conference. The idea was to pack the room with people from social media companies, websites that facilitate financial transactions, community groups, and local government representatives — and then have them work all weekend on a few agreed upon projects.
Improving the time bank was one of them, and, now that the weekend's out, it has shiny new Short Message Service (SMS) capabilities.
"I didn't appreciate the SMS until you actually get to play with it," said Tom Brown, who has volunteered to help develop much of the software that BACE uses. "While we were testing SMS stuff, a request was sent off as a test, for help with some art. It got a response within a minute."
Incidentally, Brown uses the timebank, too, "mostly for trips to the airport, or my car is broken down and I need a ride. Usually it's transportation."
Others, however, have used the timebank to launch careers, including Zach Cohen, who founded Berkeley's Biketopia repair shop. Cohen, used hours gained from the time bank — and the community surrounding him — to help start his business. He was earning hours through volunteering at San Francisco's Bike Kitchen, a co-op where volunteers fix bikes or pay a fee, and can in turn bring in their bikes for help. He wanted to start a similar venture in Berkeley.
"I'd earned the hours volunteering personally, and I used it to recruit board members," Cohen told me. He also got graphic design and marketing services in exchange for timebank hours. With much less capitol than this kind of thing generally requires, he was able to start the business.
"I used money as well, but I supplemented it with the timebank," said Cohen, who now holds youth bike repair workshops at Biketopia.
The timebank has also inspired other groups in San Francisco. When some members of People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER) SF met with timebank organizers, they knew they wanted to start something similar to serve residents of the Mission and the Excelsior.
"In our community we have people with so many talents, from gardening, to fixing up bikes, to lawyer skills, you name it. And we felt we weren't doing enough with those skills in these rough economic times," said Oscar Grande, a community organizer with PODER. "We fell in love with the concept, with the ideals around it."
But the form — the online-based exchange platform — didn't seem right.
"We wanted a space where young people and elders can come together, and the only way to really do that is face to face. The digital divide is very real in our community, especially with immigrants, with the elderly and younger folks," he said.
They also didn't like the "bank" concept.
"We didn't want to have that negative connotation going into this. Folks are like, banks aren't doing right by us. The first thing people think is debt, oh my god how much am I going to be in the hole," Grande said. "So we call it what it is, a community cooperative."
The community cooperative meets at regular convivios—gatherings that are all about "coming together, breaking bread, a social atmosphere," Grande said. "It's basically serving as our marketplace or barter market where people are coming to exchange. What people need from home repair stuff, broken doors, want to learn how to drive, want to learn how to put together a resume, then people who are offering stuff like, I know Word. I fix cars. I paint houses, I can help you paint your house."
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