What if there was a way to exchange goods and services without needing your wallet stuffed with cash and credit cards?
Well, there actually is: a new-old method of currency called “timebanking.” Timebanking provides participants with the opportunity to exchange time credits for work. One time credit is equal to one hour of service, for any and every service.
St. Louis is home to such a form of currency in The Cowry Collective Timebank, founded by Chinyere E. Oteh. She said that timebanking provides wider access to goods and services for community members.
“You can use that one time credit to receive one hour of service from anyone else in the timebank,” said Oteh. “So, basically, you’re taking money out of the equation and you’re able to get services and skills that you need.”
While Japan is credited with creating the world’s first timebank in 1973, St. Louis’ first timebank came along soon thereafter.
“In 1981, Grace Hill Settlement House had the first timebank,” Oteh said. “That timebank was thriving in the ‘80s — it had hundreds of members and thousands of hours were being exchanged.”
Founded in 2010, The Cowry Collective has exchanged over 1,800 hours of service to this day.
“Everyone’s hour is worth everybody else's hour equally,” said Oteh.
For example, an hour of cooking lessons could be exchanged for an hour of carpentry work.
Interested in learning more about how timebanking unfolds locally? Oteh laid out the steps for getting involved with Cowry Collective:
- Attend a Timebanking 101 session. Cowry Collective offers info sessions on a monthly basis which go over the basics of timebanking and give new members a chance to meet before making exchanges.
- Register through hOURworld, an international online platform that records and exchanges time credits for Cowry Collective and other timebanks. There is a $25 annual registration cost, which cover overhead costs for operations and events.
- List the services and/or goods you would like to offer. Oteh suggests listing a few to get started.
- Request services. Members can use hOURworld to initiate exchanges. Members earn one time credit for every hour of service. Services can be requested from other members at the same rate.
Timebanking is just the next step in a centuries-long human history of neighbor-to-neighbor exchanges for goods and services, Oteh said. She originally got involved in timebanking as new mom and it changed her life. Because she decided to stay home to raise her daughter, her income consisted of small teaching contracts here and there.
“My bills were piling up and I was starting to feel really crippled by that,” she said.
Timebanking gave her an outlet to give of her time when she could and receive needed services in return.
Oteh sees timebanking as a network where everyone, regardless of skill set or background, can benefit and contribute.
“There’s an unequal payment for services in the market economy,” Oteh said. “In the timebank, which is a complementary currency, every service and every person is equally valued.”
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