Local currencies have been shown reduce social exclusion; larger ones show signs of becoming hubs for local organising, both increasing economic resilience and reducing food miles.
At present there are over 20,000 active participants in over 300 currencies that run on the free software maintained by the three platforms behind the proposed LocalPay Technology Project.
In their research published by the United Nations, two of the experts behind the LocaLPay project outlined how local currencies are proving to be successful tools for social inclusion, poverty reduction, community development, local trade and the enabling of more sustainable lifestyles (Bendell, at al 2015). There is huge untapped potential for contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Coupled with innovative thinking in local governments, these local currencies can build and retain value in communities, strengthening their cohesion and help people reduce their consumption of resources through sharing and supporting each other. The Credit Commons Collective has particular reach and impact in France, Belgium, South Africa, and Australia. With the LocalPay project it aims to scale this impact dramatically particularly towards Spain, USA and South America.
The following personal stories illustrate the transformative potential of our local currencies. A couple of names have been changed for personal privacy.
Giorgios who lives in a suburb in Athens, Greece
“I lost my job in 2011 as the financial crisis began to take its toll on the automotive industry. I worked in a garage selling and maintaining cars. My life at the time was fairly typical for the suburbs of Athens. I drove everywhere, I enjoyed trips to the beach, and I didn’t think twice about using the late-night convenience store, a popular chain here in Greece. At first, I thought that I could find another job in the same sector and have something like the same kind of life. But after about 18 months, as many of my friends were also laid off, I began to realise that I might have to change my expectations of life. At first, that was a shock, and looking back now I think I became a bit depressed. But my girlfriend at the time encouraged me to go with her one Wednesday evening to a neighbourhood assembly.
That evening about thirty people were crammed into a small room, a former lawyers’ office. They discussed all manner of activities, from hosting cinema evenings to how to help the elderly, to how to get the kids to school now that so many didn’t have money to run a car or pay a bus. It is there that I discovered a local exchange system or local currency. Being interested in tech and having time on my hands, I signed up and spent a while thinking about what I could offer to the community. I’m good with my hands, so decided to offer services for fixing bicycles, motorbikes and cars. Soon enough I was earning credits by fixing neighbours’ bikes and letting them borrow mine when they needed to. One evening at the assembly I saw that people were taking away huge bags of vegetables, and discovered that these were being grown in peoples back gardens. I decided to join in, and turn my garden over to growing vegetables and bee-keeping for honey.
A few years on and suddenly my life is so different. I now eat at least half of all my food from the local neighbourhood, all sourced and exchanged through the local system. I have got to know my neighbours better and also the neighbourhood, so I don’t miss the long drives to the beach. Now when we go, we plan ahead and all travel in the one minibus that Achillias has and earns credits from. I also go on cycle tours with local friends.
I’ve become active locally in helping the elderly during the times of year when it’s best they team up… whether it is watching telly together in one warm lounge during the winter, or during the really intense heat in August. I did that because they risked being cut off due to not paying their electricity bills. But looking back, I also realise that it was the kind of people I met and the conversations I had that have now shaped me into what you might call an environmentalist. I now realise my new lifestyle is better for the planet, with a far lighter carbon footprint. The convenience store is still there, but I’m happier knowing I’m not pumping out carbon dioxide just to put food on my plate. I’ve done a few part time jobs in the formal economy over the past years, exploring what I like to do in future, but I think I won’t let work dominate my life like it used to.”
Dawn Pilatowicz who lives in Cape Town, South Africa
As fast as I earn the local currency “Talents” I have to spend them, while the faster I spend them the faster I seem to earn them. Belonging to the Talent Exchange here in Cape Town, South Africa, has opened up my entire vista.
I am physically challenged so everything I do from shopping, to going to the doctor, to an evening’s entertainment I need help with.
It got to the stage where I felt I had worn out my friends, constantly asking for help, but the Talent Exchange changed all that. I can shop via the exchange, I can get treatments via the exchange, I can pay someone Talents to do my shopping. Instead of my few loyal friends I have over 1,000 people out there I can call on to help me.
I have made so many new friends on the exchange, and yes we quite often swap treatments or services but there is no longer a feeling of resentment because I did more for them or a feeling of indebtedness because they did more for me. We always just bill each other the rate we’re comfortable asking.
I get treatments every week. I could never afford that in Rand, our national currency here in South Africa. I can also afford to try out other treatments that I would normally not be able to afford. I have given gift vouchers for various treatments, to friends for birthdays or Christmas or simply because I can!
When my geyser burst, I completely redecorated the house. I had the walls painted, murals painted, curtains made, a patio made, tiling done – all on the exchange. I am still going to get my furniture re-varnished. I have had my sliding doors and my shower doors serviced.
I have bought a brass bed, a couple of electric heaters, jewellery, handbags, clothes, books, toys, trees, plants, plant pots, ornaments, a vacuum cleaner, table and chairs, a sofa, a popcorn maker, original paintings, a reflexology machine. I’ve had meals cooked for me, and I’ve bought wine. I’ve had a sushi rolling workshop for my birthday. I’ve had deliveries done for me.. I’ve eaten in my local restaurant. I’ve been to the theatre. I’ve bought a network hub, a headphone and speaker for my computer, had my computer serviced, had my printer serviced. I have an email address. I’m having piano lessons. All of this on the exchange!
In return, I’ve rented out accommodation, done BodyTalk treatments, taught Taijiquan, acted as a chauffeur, sold old clothes, shoes, furniture, designed and printed business cards, rented out time on my computer, taken on new members and entered transactions.
My ability to participate actively in my community has been transformed. It is something that everyone, whether in my situation or not, can benefit from.
So why not live a little, and live a little differently! Invite some friends around, get someone to cater, rent space at one of the venues, get a DJ or a musician, get a story-teller and have an evening with a difference. Why not try out a new treatment, learn a new language, learn a new skill. Do something different today and help another Talent Exchanger to earn some Talents. Have fun!”
Marjorie who lives in Sydney, Australia
“I stumbled on LETS, our local currency, via a directory of services pinned up in the environment centre of a regional town here in Australia.
I was living in a garage, having escaped from a third hospitalisation for mental illness. Prior to that I’d been living in a park where I was raped. I got myself on to Newstart, the unemployment program. I had a roof over my head, but had no money, was heavily in debt. I was literally living off food I found in rubbish bins. My family, in another state, had no idea.
I didn’t know anyone in the town. Despite suffering serious delusions, I was able to ‘present’ fairly normally. But I was separated from everyone socially simply through having no money to even buy a coffee. I knew I had to look after myself as best I could, to get as much quality of life for myself as I could out of that situation.
So – LETS – Wow, what a treasure. I listed gardening, weeding and house cleaning as I felt I wouldn’t have to interact with people too much. As I provided these services, I realised people were not recoiling, and were inviting me in for a cup of tea or even a meal after I gardened.
I began to relax and venture into requesting services. I was drawn to healing offers like reiki and massage. I needed someone to type up some legal documents for the sexual assault case. I felt self conscious using the public computers, so I got help from a member who was also a counsellor. I felt I could trust her to keep confidentiality. Over time my interactions with people led me to start questioning my delusions.
And so LETS was a way to quietly contribute, ‘test the waters’, challenge the mental illness, and do a sort of ’physio on the brain’ and heal. Within a year I realised I must have been unwell. After some more support for the counsellor I was able to get on with my life.
As well as its contribution to recovery from what was quite an awful mental illness, LETS has also been a way to make friends, access services otherwise not monetarily available, get training, and make vocational contacts. In a gentle way, it opened up the world to me again, and I am so grateful.
I wish that LETS were more widely available and easy to use, so that more people can connect with their neighbours and help each other become part of a community at their own pace. My case also shows how more LETS could save the social services money, by helping people recover and thrive.”