My Time Bank Meetup experience: On social matching in alternative marketplaces

All images in this post (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) by Christiane Désir & Fabian Neuville

Hi Matthias and all,

on Friday night I went to a local meeting in Brussels with @guaka. It was an interesting experience and it gave me a few ideas about how we can make Edgeryders and Makerfox even better :slight_smile:

Organising physical meetups is crucial for people to get to know and understand how to help one another in a community

I went to the event because I made a decision recently to embed myself into the city where I currently live, Brussels. It’s a place where there are a lot of expatriates and if you are not careful you can very easily spend 10 years here without making Belgian friends or really getting to know the place. Also I want to learn Flemish and improve my French. So when a Belgian acquaintance told me he was going to this thing and shared the link to the FB event, I wrote an email to the organisers and invited myself along :slight_smile: @guaka joined me too.

When we got to the venue, a nice bar, the organizers gave each one of us a flyer. They also gave us a folded A4 with space to fill in your name, email address, what you need and what you offer… as well as some questions and topics to help get a conversation started.

First they described the political history of time banks and their personal motivations for doing this. They also described how time banks work in general. There was a discussion about the potential legal issues: some participants seemed to know about the topic. With others I got the impression they just saw a flyer and dropped in our of curiosity. A friend who runs an art gallery in a rougher part of New York always prints A4 flyers for his gallery events and puts them up on lamp posts etc in the neighbourhood to encourage a diverse mix of people to show up. It really works and is part of the reason I think his events are cool - you never know who will show up.

The event organizers also showed they eat their own dog food- they used the time bank to share the work of organizing the meetup. For example: The photos in this post were shot by a member of the time bank, and the flyer was contributed by another one.

… they then asked us to pick a person that we didn’t know and help one another to fill in our needs and offers.

I ended up next to a number of people I probably never would have otherwise met. They move in completely different physical, professional and social environments from my own. The part that hit home was how much everyone wanted to help others and how difficult it is to do so. Firstly, a lot of people have a hard time articulating what they can offer help with, because there are so many things that we don’t think of as being valuable. Even though they are huge stumbling blocks for other people.

As an example, one person had written a list of things they needed help with which I couldn’t understand. Like “editor” and “informatics”. I thought he looked cool so I asked him what he means? It turns out he feels he is unable to write. As we talked on he described his passion for building things, especially vertical gardens. And that what he requires is a website… that’s what the writing and informatics was about.  Really what he needs is someone to act as a sounding board to help him clarify his ideas, and then articulate them in writing. Maybe also introduce him to wordpress. Which clearly I can help him out with.

Many of these conversations took place, and we all seemed to really get into it. At some point the organizers asked us to get the form filled out, which we did. And then people who brought laptops helped entered the contents into the the site manually. So the onboarding was also social and easy…

This social aspect is very important: meeting so many new people in an environment where you are encouraged to to know one another is great. No one really wanted to leave :slight_smile:

So I think this is something we can build on for local events. I liked the simplicity, but I think there needs to be a bit of inspiration…or people introducing what they are working on or would like to learn, and then others helping one another figure out what they need and what they can offer. The other thing I feel is missing is a learning path. Time banks assume everyone is already skilled at something or knows what they can offer. And they are focused on the one-on-one interaction. Edgeryders strength lies in the knowledge transfer and mass collaboration at scale/

Maybe it would make sense to collaborate with the time bank crowd. The software they are using is not sophisticated enough to handle large numbers of exchange so I think this is something we could contribute of value.

In any case I really liked this crowd and will be using the time bank for myself and seeing how I can contribute to it.


So why does it not work?

This seems to be the kind of crowd that we like best, doers and people with a realistic model of how to engage fellow humans.

And yet, time banks never took off. We have had the idea for decades, but you would be hard put to name a few success stories – in fact, I can’t even name one! I always thought the problem was one of scale, but then again I am wrong… what do people think?

And what do the time bankers themselves think? Do they see time banks as an emerging model, a piece of the future? Is it on the rise? I certainly don’t have this impression.

I dont know

There was mention of as an example, but I dont know how it works. Honestly though I doubt I would signup on something like Timerepublik. It feels far too sleek :slight_smile:

I think @Carlien_Roodink has looked into timebanks more. I just went to this thing because I wanted to use it myself.

What’s that?

Now it gets interesting … what exactly you mean by “too sleak”? Maybe there’s a hidden insight for the Makerfox here …

I went to the site, I dont trust it

Feels like yet another silicon valley startup. Something about the photos and communication. Feels too commercial. Knowing how hard and costly it is to build smooth user experiences and beautiful esthetics I get very suspicious of stuff that looks too glossy.

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Time banking as a local success

Nadia’s example of is a good example of an attempt to do timebanking on scale. I am a member there for over a year, but nothing much happens there, and I have no incentive to do something there either. It’s two aspects of the collective credit problem: first, because I can’t be sure I could spend again the time credits I earn there, second, because a currency needs proper management and I have no proper reason to trust them (they occasionally hand out “free time credits” for various activities like offering more services, and that obviously makes me suspicious as it’s debasing the currency and everyone’s savings …).

My guess for the reason why time banks work on local scale is that the incentives then come from the social aspects instead, and Nadia’s article illustrates it quite nicely. So the local time banks are the success of time banking, it indeed works and helps on local / social scales. It’s just that time banks (and all other mutual credit LETS currencies) are more community practice than trade mechanism. Their advantage is of course that  they are more flexible than bartering, as they can offset current against past and future trades – so one inspiration I draw from this is that network bartering with Makerfox could be used to connect local currencies and time banks, it does not have to replace them. In each trade, the trade balance of each currency system would be zero (true barter), while credit relations between members within one system could change (mutual credit). It’s easy to do with Makerfox by offering and ordering the different currencies as products.

End note: I recently stumbled on a nice quote about alternative currencies from 2013 by economist Yanis Varoufakis, now having the tough job of Greek finance minister. It seems to complement the view above. I transcribed it from the video, and linked the video at the respective position below:

"You mentioned the question about parallel currencies and to what extent these could be helpful in the context of the crisis. […] While a parallel currency per se would be a complete and utter flop, there are ways of introducing Euro parallel [?] currencies. So, […] if Greece were to introduce the Drachma in parallel to the Euro […]. Gresham’s Law says something very simple, that the bad money drives out the good. […] It is a very simple idea: Why would would you want to get paid in Drachmas, if you knew that the Drachma was created in order to be divided? So unless the state imposes the new parallel currency as the currency in which taxes are paid, it simply won’t catch on. It would simply flop.

But: There are ways of introducing, as I said, proxy parallel currencies, and I’ve made such suggestions. One of the things that the state could do is, it could issue tax credits. This would be pieces of paper which, say, could be cashed in next year. You buy one for […] 100 Euros today, and [it] can be cashed in next year with your tax return, and it extinguishes 120 […] Euros of taxes that you owe the state. And if these are made transferrable and electronic, and transferrable over mobile phones, as in Kenya, you can have a very good Euro parallel currency that is not controlled by the ECB. And that would give lots of degrees of freedom to a progressive government.

Communal practices: civil society finds ways around problems. I remember, back in Australia in the 1991 recession, there was a village up on the Blue Mountains that developed its own currency. And it was based on IOUs between people. So, I would paint your house, and I would get, you know, three credits for that, and then […] I could use it in order to buy groceries from the local store. The local store then would pass it on to somebody who would supply them with agricultural-- … . And it actually worked very well.

The problem with these practices of course is that they rely on trust and they are highly localized and they create a degree of parochialism, because these people from these villages, they can neither accept newcomers nor […] go to the big cities or travel and use those […] spontaneously emerged currencies. So they are an excellent device for short term localized protection against a collapsing economic system, but it can’t be the basis or the foundation." (Yanis Varoufakis, portion of “Confessions of an Erratic Marxist”, 2013-05-14)

With that quote in mind, I’m curious to see all the ideas Greece will come up with to solve its financial misery :slight_smile:

Why Time Banks Fail

Alberto, my suggestion is that Time Banks fail because they’re necessarily local, and local communities control too little of the means of production. For them to work (and I have to say I’m far more enthusiastic about INFORMAL self-help and local economies than I am about over-audited Time Banking) then they simply need to OWN MORE.

Edgeryders is bringing together people who have similar problems - lots of skills and enthusiasm but few physical assets and little real ownership. (And let’s not get slippery about what “ownership” means - “use of” is NOT NOT NOT the same as “ownership of”.)

So what’s the solution? I suggest it’s to do the OPPOSITE of what the networked economy induces you to do.

Right now, the networked economy encourages us to develop “transferrable high-tech and communication skills” and high mobility, so we can flit from role to role, scurrying to serve the needs of capital or government. What we need to do is to BECOME CAPITAL - by old-style OWNERSHIP of the MEANS OF PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION and SALES.

I’ve taken incremental steps to do this in my own life:

  • By bicycling, I have taken ownership of the power-generation infrastructure that powers my local transport.
  • By installing solar panels, I've started to own a proportion of my electricity generation infrastructure.
  • By installing wood fires, and developing a system to acquire and process scrap wood from my neighbours, I've started to take control of waste disposal and heat generation.

But incremental steps are simply not enough - and definitely not enough to support local economies and local circles of self-help.

  • By setting up laser cutters in a mini-factory, I've started to aquire production capability.
  • By buying a shop, I've started to control the infrastructure that generates income.
  • By setting up a making workshop, I'm starting to gain control over skill acquisition & dissemination.

This is individual vertical integration - attempting to acquire control of an increasing proportion of the value chain from raw material through to point-of-sale. It makes me LESS mobile but MORE flexible, more able to fulfil my, and my locality’s requirements. As other people join me, then we’ll collectively acquire more and more options for what we can trade with each other and how we can work together.

Only by ownership of substantial and wide-ranging production capability can local economies and time banks emerge to challenge the dominant tendency to centralise (and, of course, to extract tolls at every gateway of the value chain).

Phew - perhaps not 100% on-topic - but I’m sure you see my point - Time Banking needs capital infrastructure - and lots of it. Worth also reflecting that mobility may be the enemy of localisation - high mobility chops up trust, and outsources trustworthiness assurance to remote, centralised systems.

Best Regards,



This resonates with me

I wrote this post some time ago about how a consumer collective in Japan, Seikatsu club, started as a neighborhood collectively buying better quality staples like milk…and then moved on to actually buying their suppliers. What actually made it feasible was locality, excess capacity and culture. So in Japan apparently there are a lot of housewives who have time and incentives to coordinate for better quality produce as they were concerned about the quality of food they were feeding their kids. I’ve been thinking along the same lines about how we could get those dynamics going in this community and one of the ways we can look at it is offsetting costs of living and pouring the savings into buying collectively owned assets.

I see some variant of timebanks as a possible way for community members to start building those networks and dynamics within their local communities, or connect with existing initiatives. But yes I agree with you that too much auditing and a transactional mindset makes this kind of thing less interesting. Perhaps focusing on clear actionable goals like taking control of supply of one thing that enough people care about could be a good way.

Hi Nadia !

Thanks for having been there, it’s been a great moment for us !

Before anything else, there are a few things that popped out as misunderstandings in your article which need to be rectified.

Our project is just starting and we can’t let incorrect informations spread over the webs.

- There is no difference between organizers and members.

We organizers are members as anyone else. Our contribution to the community is to shape and coordinate the project, and that is how we get our hours, which we then exchange for personal use.

When we do not have the skills required for a Timebank task, we inform other members, and if anyone has them, then they also get hours that way.

- does not assume everybody is already skilled or know what to offer.

We see this network as a way to empower people by creating a space where one can get to learn new things. We just think it is a fact that everyone knows how to do at least one thing, it being walking a dog or cleaning windows and we see this thing as a starting point to start exchanging with others.

We know how difficult it can be for people to identify what they have to offer, and this is why we decided to go for the conversation with a stranger thing, so that people mutually mirror their strengths and needs.

- We are still in an introduction phase for Brussels so we keep emphasizing on the one-to-one for members to feel more comfortable but this is temporary.

The “normal” meetings, the “live sessions” we presented, are round tables where members can discuss topics, build projects etc. all together.

This all being said, thanks for the article !

We’re glad the meeting gave you some ideas, and glad if it can help your communities and projects.

See you soon ! BXL’s team

Hi and welcome :slight_smile:

So I wrote this at the very top of the post (its not an article, and I am not a journalist) its personal reflections on an experience I liked and wanted to share with others trying to do difficult or novel things in different parts of the world:

“The event organizers also showed they eat their own dog food- they used the time bank to share the work of organizing the meetup. For example: The photos in this post were shot by a member of the time bank, and the flyer was contributed by another one.”

Do you feel this is not clear? And if so what am I missing?