Jun 11 2009

Time Banks and Rural Communities

by at 4:40 pm under Uncategorized

Time banking systems possess the potential to be more effective in the sparsely populated networks of rural communities than the thicker, more developed networks of urban environments.  In many ways, a time bank development project would seek to pattern its own implementation on the ways in which rural communities are already creating wealth: through the sharing of resources, the development of multiple kinds of expertise, and the cultivation of weak ties throughout a locality.  A new time bank would need to capitalize on these existing social systems to achieve successful adoption and diffusion.

Described very briefly, time banks are alternative currency systems that value goods and services by the amount of time invested in the commodity’s creation.  Participants accrue credit by producing materials for other participants in the system.  A time bank is not based on barter, in which a particular good is exchanged for another, rather it is designed to normalize the value of each participant’s contributions to the system according to their time spent.  An hour’s worth of baking a cake is valued the same as an hour of child care, or an hour of auto repair.  Time banks have been implemented in a number of different types of communities, but I believe they are most well-suited to rural communities based around small population centers.  These types of communities already possess a number of characteristics conducive to the widespread adoption and diffusion of the time banking system.

While Garcia (2006) is interested in rural communities’ survival on a world stage, focusing primarily on the role they might play in competing within much larger economies than their local one, a time bank system is primarily interested in creating wealth within the local economy.  As such, it relies very heavily on the type of social connections already in place within a small community.  Some characteristics of these connections include:

  • Social connections in the style of weak ties, that extend beyond homophylic relationships, for in rural communities, expertise might be more sparsely located and individually possessed.
  • Shared and universally recognizable opinion leaders, individuals who have many ties to many areas of a rural community have significantly more proportional influence on the rural community than even the most significant node within an urban social network.
  • Established non-monetary systems of exchange, such as networks of friends who already exchange pots of soup for help removing dead trees.

Additionally, time banks are particularly potent solutions for problems that afflict rural areas.  Especially in current times, as wallets are pinched and credit becomes more difficult to attain, rural communities might be particularly well served by non-monetary systems of exchange that value effort, time, and expertise over stable employment or prudent financial habits of years gone by.

In implementing a new time bank system, I would advise a development strategist to identify some existing social connections that are similar to those that would be present in a successful, sustainable time bank.   Examples include, groups of people, like church groups or existing cooperatives, which come together in times of duress, new businesses that are seeking to attract clientele, individuals who, because of some exogenous pressure, might look for other ways of slimming their monthly or weekly financial burden.  Each of these communities most likely shares individuals, some of whom may be recruited for roles as change agents.  These ambassadors of the system might be able to present the time bank to his or her peers as simply a more efficient way of doing what is already common in their communities.  Care would need to be taken that the diffusion of the community was not restricted to certain strata of the network, though that is an issue to be taken up at length in the near future.

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