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Time Banks

By 04/17/2013September 4th, 2014All Posts

time bankA Time Bank is a currency based on time. It is a group of community members who trade services with each other. If I give you a hair cut, you give me a time credit. I then can spend that time credit on anyone else in the network to fix my bike or cook me a meal. It is a pay it forward system of trade. One hour equals one time credit. Everyone is valued the same. It doesn’t matter what skills you have, a teacher’s time is worth as much as a lawyer’s time.

We trade all kinds of services such as pet care, rides, gourmet meals, accounting, gardening, acupuncture, legal advice, web design, photography, translation, video editing, music lessons, childcare, respite care, tutoring and a lot more.

But the most powerful outcome of the time bank has been the relationships that have formed as a result. It has given our community a sense of security and peace that not many of us in Los Angeles often feel. It is not simply a way to get services but it’s a way to transform our neighborhoods into places where people can trust and depend on each other.

echo park time bankI co-founded the Echo Park Time Bank in 2008 with my friend Lisa Gerstein. We started with 20 friends and today we have 950 members. We grow by 12-15 members per month. Our membership includes thirteen neighborhoods. Pasadena, Altadena, NELA, Glendale, Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, Downtown L.A., West Adams, Echo Park, Silverlake, Los Feliz, Westlake and Koreatown.

Time Banking is based on 5 core values:

1. Assets – We are all assets. Every human being has something to contribute.

Many times people think that they don’t have anything to contribute to the Time Bank. We encourage people to offer services that they enjoy doing, for instance one of our members is a lawyer and she doesn’t want to offer legal services to Time Bank members because she does it for a living, she just wants to teach crochet.

We need to stop valuing each other by our “marketable skills”. I don’t know what kind of carpenter Jesus was, or what kind of teacher Mother Teresa was, or what kind of lawyer Gandhi was and I really don’t care because that is not what they are remembered for. They are remembered for their spirit and what they contributed to the world.

2. Redefining Work – Some work is beyond price.

Work has to be redefined to value whatever it takes to raise healthy children, build strong families, revitalize neighborhoods, make democracy work, advance social justice and make the planet sustainable. That kind of work needs to be honored recorded and rewarded.

If an alien came down to an inner city neighborhood here in the US and saw all the crumbling infrastructure that needed to be repaired and all the kids coming home from school with no one to come home to, no one to take care of them, people with disabilities needing help just getting out of the house.


And then they saw all the people out of work feeling devalued, stuck at home and wanting to be out doing something and if that alien said “What are we waiting for here?” and we said “we need money” they would ask, “What is money?” We’d say, “money is an agreement to make exchange”.


The alien might start to wonder if there is any intelligent life on this planet.

–– from The Future of Money by Bernard Lietare

Why would we use something that is scarce to exchange things that are abundant like civic engagement, creativity, care giving.

3. Reciprocity – Helping works better as a two-way street.

The question: “How can I help you?” needs to change so we ask: “How can we help each other build the world we both will live in?”

Co-production: We have divided the world into givers and receivers. One way charity is not very effective because we are telling people, “I have something you need, but you have nothing that I want” Co-production is about everyone co-creating a world we all want to live in. 40% of productive labor happens outside the cash economy

4. Social Networks – We need each other.

Networks are stronger than individuals. People helping each other reweave communities of support, strength & trust. Community is built upon sinking roots, building trust and creating networks. Special relationships are built on commitment.

Most of the exchanges that happen in the time bank come out of group projects for instance we have a garden group that meets at a members home once a month on a rotating basis. They irrigate, mulch and plant seeds and the next month they do another members house. We call them Barn raisings.

We also just started a language bank where members meet monthly to teach each other different languages.

We have had lots of different classes on disaster preparedness, conflict resolution, seed saving, pasta making, computer training, thai chi and much more.

We also have a commuter club and were able to get our members a group discount on metro passes.

We have food swaps and cash mobs. We can accomplish more together than as individuals.

5. Respect – Every human being matters.

Respect underlies freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and everything we value. Respect supplies the heart and soul of democracy. When respect is denied to anyone, we all are injured. We must respect where people are in the moment, not where we hope they will be at some future point.

This core value is one of the most challenging because we are having to learn how to interact in a non-competitive way in a society that has programed us to think that there is not enough.

One of the most revolutionary lessons people receive from being in the time bank is to gradually realize that there are plenty of resources available for everyone if you just ask and connect untapped resources with unmet needs.

In terms of meeting community needs time banking is filling the gaps where governments are falling short.

In Washington DC there is a successful program called the Homecomers Academy where people returning from prison are earn time credits providing safe passage for middle school kids to and from school through gang territory.

In Vermont the Administration of Aging has invested in a form of time banking called Care Banks. Time bank members provide respite care for seniors as a form of extended family. There is a growing demand for senior care as baby boomers turn 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day.

In Madison WI there is a Time Bank Youth Court were kids who have been sentenced to community service earn time credits serving on a jury.

In Portland Main there are over 40 medical doctors in the time bank that accept time credits for healthcare.

We don’t need permission to make a new system we just need participation and creativity and there is plenty of that to go around. Human potential is an unlimited resource.

It takes a village to raise a child, but what does it take to raise a village?  –– Edgar Cahn

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