Time Banks bring people closer together while revitalizing local communities around the world
There is no cash desk, nor are there security guards or vaults. No checks are cashed or loans granted and no cash is used. Time Banks, a pioneering system of exchanging services in time-based units that began operation some 20 years ago abroad, has now come to Greece. Here, time is the currency in use and the law of supply and demand («offers» and «needs» as they are called) takes on its true meaning. According to the laws of this unique banking system, an hour equals a credit unit. For example, if I need an hour’s babysitting, I give up an hour of my time to help someone else, in anything from a music or foreign language lesson to helping in the garden. The bank coordinates the needs and offers through a database of its members and their credit units. This simple idea originates in the idea that people have skills that are underestimated by the market economy purely because there is a great supply of them. For example, who would be able to «sell» an hour’s help with the shopping or go out to buy medicine for someone unable to do so? Although some of the services offered by Time Banks are also available on the open market, such as dog walking and personal training, there are many people who can’t afford to pay for them, but who could find a few hours of their own time. New idea The founder of Time Banks is Edgar Kahn, an American banker and human rights activist who developed the idea while teaching at the London School of Economics in the mid-1980s. «Help a neighbor and, when you need it, a neighbor – perhaps a different one – will help you. The system is based on equality – an hour of help is equal to one ‘time dollar’ irrespective of whether that involves supermarket shopping or filling out a tax form,» he explains. Initially, economists rejected the idea, doubting whether a simple idea such as «one hour equals one credit unit» could revitalize the neighborhood, the basis of the economy. Once back in the US, however, Kahn decided to put his idea into practice. Within a few years, units using time as currency began springing up all over the country, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Today there are more than 1,000 Time Banks in over 13 countries. In the US there are over 250, with thousands of members; in Britain, there are around 70 with over 4,000 members who have exchanged a total of over 250,000 hours. Time Banks have also been set up in countries such as Spain, China, France, New Zealand, Portugal, Israel, Brazil and Italy. In most cases, Time Banks operate at the community level, aimed at bringing people living in the same neighborhood closer together. Companies, organizations and social agencies have also joined. In recent years specialized Time Bank branches have appeared, offering services such as healthcare or youth assistance. According to a survey conducted by East Anglia University, Britain’s Time Banks have managed to attract people who are outside the mainstream of society, such as the elderly, the handicapped, the poor and immigrants. That is, people who normally would not participate in volunteer initiatives and who are usually the recipients of volunteer services. Just 16 percent of «traditional» volunteers have annual incomes of under 10,000 pounds sterling, compared to 58 percent of Time Bank members who include a wide cross-section of society such as the elderly and young people. Participation in the system supposedly improves the members’ quality of life through social contacts. It also creates job opportunities such as providing child care for women who otherwise would not be able to afford it.