Current economic structures are arguably inadequate. Increasingly, communities are exploring alternatives. That was the focus of our Oct. 22 talk at the hive, “COMMUNITY STIMULUS: Local Currency & Barter Networks as Social & Economic Drivers.” Part of our ongoing Local Living Economy Dialogue Series, we explored how alternative economies can stimulate a stronger community.

Below is a recap of the event, from co-producer (and Beaconite) Venessa Miemis of Emergent by Design.

About 15 or so people showed up from around the Hudson Valley to discuss our options for implementing local exchange networks at the community and business level. Our three speakers gave really interesting and valuable insights into the nature and history of money, as well as ideas of how we can create incentives via local/alternative/complementary currencies to help us unlock a lot of wasted potential within ourselves and our available resources.

The first speaker, Matthew Slater, is a software developer based in Geneva, Switzerland. He’s built a mutual credit system on the Drupal platform which powers many LETS and Timebanks USA communities here and in Europe. Matthew talked about the properties of money and why it’s both useful and healthy for local communities to have alternative to use for the purpose of not just exchanging goods and services, but building real trust and social fabric within communities.

Here’s an interesting video by Douglas Rushkoff that discusses the history of money and why it’s time to rethink how we create and exchange value:

The second speaker was Guillaume Lebleu, who came in from San Francisco. He’s teamed up with his local credit union in Bernal Heights, SF, to create a VISA debit card which offers rewards points redeemable at local participating businesses. (Imagine frequent flier miles that can be used at stores on Main St.) He explained how his pilot project has been received and the feeling of solidarity it is creating within his local community.

Here’s a video of a Bernal Heights resident talking about how she uses the Bernal Bucks card:

The last speaker was Amy Kirschner, founder of the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) Marketplace, a business-to-business barter network in Vermont. The exchange currently has over 180 businesses doing trade, with a goal of having over 1,000 Vermont businesses in the network by 2015. Amy told some really compelling stories about the exchanges being made between businesses in Vermont, and the steps we could follow for a Hudson Valley Exchange to emerge.

Here’s a link to video coverage by Channel 5 WPTZ featuring the VBSR marketplace on the news: “Online Marketplace New Form of Bartering for Local Businesses.”

Overall, it was a great, intimate conversation between a group of passionate and curious community members from across the region.

The currency implementation that was most appealing to me on a personal level was Amy’s b2b barter exchange, because it seems like it would have the highest impact on an economic level in the shortest period of time.

I emailed Amy to ask her what kind of next steps” we could take to continue the conversation amongst those with serious interest.

Below is the document she emailed back in response. For any of you who are interested in meeting again and discussing what’s next, please contact me at venessamiemis at gmail dot com.

Unmet Needs <——-> Unused Resources

At a basic level, that’s what money does. It connects needs to wants. So what happens when you don’t have enough money? Actually, you can make your own. There are hundreds of ideas-designs-possibilities. Finding a good idea isn’t the difficult part. The difficult part is figuring out exactly what you want to do, how you will measure success and how you will design an implementation plan that meets those goals. Then we match a tool to the job.

These aren’t test questions — there is no right or wrong. It’s a picture of where you are and where you want to go. If you don’t have an answer, that’s ok, we’ll figure it out.

  • What is the specific, measurable outcome you desire?  (This is the most important question. Everything hinges on this.)
  • What is the community you plan to serve? (More specific than ‘Waterbury’ is helpful. Can be more than one.)
  • What new human behavior pattern are we trying to encourage? (A positive way of saying: ‘What isn’t working now?”)
  • Who are your allies?
  • Will the new system retire at a certain date or What is the exit/legacy strategy for the new system and for the administrators?
  • How will it be funded?
  • Do you have the support of your local government?
  • Who are your allies with technical skills?
  • What legal structures are available?
  • Who will be the project manager? How many hours per day will they commit?
  • How can you get people using it?  (“If you build it, they will come” is not a good mantra.)

For more information on possibilities, see this post from John Rogers: “Design Principles for Sustainable Local Currencies.” See his “Community Currency Design Manual.” You can download from the link. John has created an impressive piece of work and makes it freely available.

2 Replies to “‘COMMUNITY STIMULUS: Local Currency + Barter Networks’ Recap”

  • Complementary currency is one alternative when official legal tender is in short supply or when it loses its value. Another possibility is a barter exchange where credits are earned and tracked. The weakness of these options is the central authority and record keeping that they require and the fraud potential. A far simpler and trustworthy way is to barter goods for goods. The objection people raise is the necessary “coincidence of wants” that makes it difficult to strike a deal. My proposal is to invent competing forms of currency that have intrinsic value of their own. “Hard Money” can be anything universally valued, durable, easily divisible, and carried around. For instance, copper slugs or silver bars. These can easily accommodate every day household transactions. Barter in its pure form has a beautiful simplicity.

  • Barter via formal barter exchange networks is a growing phenomenon. The UK and French Governments both recently published research reports, announcing that barter was an effective method for businesses trying to alleviate cashflow issues, access interest free credit and offset their existing cash expenses.

    To date much of the trade involving barter is done as large countertrades (government to government and/or government to corporation), with the second biggest type of trades being media barter. There are new and emerging technologies as well in this sector but both individuals and business owners need to be careful that in the more formal, mutual credit, reciprocal trade and barter networks that the exchange operators are not running a deficit (spending barter credits and never repaying them); otherwise it can be just as bad – or worse – than a bank (and potentially a higher risk of collapse). There are some good networks out there though such as the Ormita Commerce Network – http://www.ormita.com http://www.ormitacommerce.com and there are good resource centres providing neutral barter information online (such as the Complimentary Currency Resource Centre – run solely on donations – or the Mutual Credit Library – run as a resource centre for businesses interested in barter – http://www.mutualcreditlibrary.com

    Both are worth checking out for neutral information on the barter segment. Just make sure that the barter exchange network you are dealing with has no “owner” deficits in it (where the owner spends and never repays). Be careful out there! Use a trusted network and ask for their policy on deficit spending. Do your home work.


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