Time Banking

20090227_edgar_cahn_22Detroit This was going to be an interesting evening:  barbecue, beer, and a wide circle of 25 plus people talking about Citizen Wealth and how to built more sustainable organizations and create social movements.  Kim Hodge, the director of Michigan Timebanks, had taken the initiative to put the  people, party, and dialogue together to link many of the board members of Time Banks, USA, its director Christine Gray, founder and board chair Edgar Cahn, and local timebankers with me to essentially talk about organizing.   Fascinating!

And, an education!

So, first some background and definitions.  These ideas have been germinating for some 30 years when Edgar originally conceived of “time dollars” as a way to “pay” for the exchange of services.  In earlier parts of his legal career Edgar had help lead the Legal Services Corporation, push law schools, and as he told me last night, trademarked si se puede / yes we can for Cesar Chavez.  With up and downs and organizational evolutions the dollars morphed into timebanks and shared software and a network of 50 or more groups in the US (this is also big in the United Kingdom).  The mission of the organization focuses on social change but the central machinery is a bartering system of sorts between people and in many of the more successful and significantly funded cases between people and private (hospitals), public (courts, particularly juvenile), or systemic (mental  health) institutions where you trade time, skills, and collective tasks in exchange for services or in the case of individual trades things you need (babysitting for yard work, a massage for tax help).

The social service linkage seems to come from Cahn’s arguments around what they called “co-production.”  Wikipedia offers this definition for him: “the means by which the beneficiaries of charity, philanthropy services or public services are instrumental in the design , planning and delivery of specific services or broader social outcomes as a way of improving the service or activity and rebuilding the local community”  Boiled down this is a form of citizen participation of sorts with a twist since the end result is not empowerment strictly speaking, but some kind of collaboration between  the unequal service providers and the “beneficiaries,” as they are called here or clients or what have you.

All pretty complicated for sure, but these are people of unquestionable good will, and it was an interesting exchange to see discuss two such different notions of community organization and how the principles intersect.  In thinking about new organizational formations I’m spending a lot of time trying to puzzle out how to build a full sustainable organization whose finances rest solely on the membership, and their experience of time exchanges dovetails with some of my thinking about how to convert sweat equity into exchanges and support in direct action.  On their part they are toying with how to add dues systems to their exchanges and were fascinated by the “rules and  rights” regime I was arguing is a critical starting point in achieving “maximum eligible participation.

Who can tell where conversations like these might lead?

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