Time banking and local development

Focus on Time Banking, a new experiment to improve social inclusion and community health.

The concept of time banking is still relatively unknown, though it is increasingly referred to in the context of local development planning. As a particular application of the complementary currency model (see our dossier on that topic), it pursuits the same goal of reinforcing local trade and matching unmet needs with available resources through a “parallel economy”, i.e. an economy where the trade takes place outside the traditional monetary system.

As it is, the basic human resource available in our societies is time: time that inhabitants of a neighborhood, of a city or of a region are ready to invest in unpaid work. That resource is particularly precious in poor regions and neighborhoods, where scarce monetary resources inhibit local trade (others than barter) and condemn these wretched populations to assistance. The idea of a time bank is precisely to replace traditional money by a time-unit as the account unit: for instance, the one who spends an hour of work on producing some sort of social service will “earn” an hour with which he will be able to “buy” a service he needs. In other words, time banking releases human resources that are used neither by the traditional monetary economy nor by traditional voluntary organizations. At the same time, it strengthens social bounds between inhabitants of the same neighborhood, city or region.

Time banking appears to be an effective tool in producing social services which are not provided by the Welfare State, as shown by numerous experiments conducted throughout the last decades – especially in the United States, where the first “time dollar” was created in the 1980’s, but also in the United Kingdom. As the New Economics Foundation states in the study “Using time banking for neighbourhood renewal and community capacity building”, the major advantage of time-money is to implicate citizens in the coproduction of social services. Precisely because it is not about voluntary work but about trade, this system manages to implicate people who usually do not spend much time in NGO’s and volunteer work, like unemployed or “working poor”. All these reasons made the Nef publish in 2001 a “Manifesto for Time Banking”, which explains the social utility of time-trading in terms of local economic development.