Time Banking is used as an alternative economy that protects its members from volatile world markets while giving participants a high standard of living.
We have all heard the saying “time is money”, but the African cooperative concept of ‘time banking’ takes that saying literally. Here’s how time banking works, and some ways it’s already being practiced in America today.
Time banking, also called service exchanging, is a means of gaining goods or services in exchange for your time rather than your money. Each hour of time is considered a unit of currency (called a time bill or a time dollar) that can be used to “buy” medical care, food, legal representation, and everything else that you currently use money to buy.
Simply put, for every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one hour to use to have someone do something for you.
In this way, Sub Saharan African villagers managed to get everything they needed to survive and be happy BEFORE the arrival of monetary systems from the north. Time banking also brought communities together (one can be rich and alone in this monetary system, but in a time banking system individuals must come together to provide for one another).
Time Banking in the West
According to , there are time banks in 26 countries, 108 in the U.K. alone, and 53 officially recognized time banks in the United States alone. Time banks have been organized not only to combat economic disparities, but to combat racial ones as well.
The Racial Justice Initiative of Timebank, USA has committed itself to bringing an end to structural racism in the juvenile delinquency, child welfare and special education systems. They have highlighted the following disparities in the juvenile detention system:
- Latino, Native, Asian, Pacific Islanders, and African Americans are 35% of the U.S. youth population but comprise 65% of all youth who are imprisoned pre adjudication.
- On average, African American and Latino juveniles are confined, respectively, 61 and 112 days longer than white youth.
- Research shows that incarcerating youth does not make us safer—in fact, it undermines public safety. Detention often propels a youth in a direction that leads to behaviors responsible for the recidivism rates of 50% to 80% for incarcerated youth. Incarcerating delinquent youth in close proximity to one another promotes the development of antisocial behavior.
- Incarcerated youth typically do not receive the education or health care they need.
- Despite a long-term and substantial investment of government resources, most jurisdictions have seen virtually no reductions in disparities in treatment of minority youth.
The solution to these disparities, called The Time Dollar Youth Court has been leveraged in Washington, D.C. and across the nation with the following results:
- In Washington, D.C., The Time Dollar Youth Court (TDYC) provides alternative youth peer sentencing to first-time juvenile offenders in the District of Columbia, providing a constructive means of instilling respect and responsibility for self and others. The recidivism rate for Youth Court participants is 9% for those who successfully completed the Youth Court Diversion Program (as opposed to 30% for those in the D.C. area who were not referred to Youth Court).
- Youth Court programs across the nation experience immediate returns on investment. Even in programs with only two years of operation, more than 80% of the youth offenders have completed their sentences successfully. In 30% of the participating programs, 1 in 5 youth offenders returns to the program as a volunteer.
Through the Racial Justice Initiative, there is now a moral, economic and legal force underway to compel judges and other officials to choose from an array of proven practices that help (not harm) America’s youth. Its solutions and policies like these that we as Black men and women should be pioneering and pushing into prominence. So distracted have we become by trying to do things according to the principles of raw capitalism, fueled by a Eurocentric values system, that we have lost sight of potential solutions right under our nose!
Time Banking for Black Men and Women in America
Beyond leverage as an innovative means of reducing crime and disparity, time banking solves three problems for us:
Gives access to goods and services to those of us who normally couldn’t afford them.
Time Banking levels the economic playing field because everyone’s labor is equally valuable. The physician that needs his car repaired is equal in “worth” to the mechanic that fixes his car. The grandmother who helps set up the community garden is just as valued as the chef that prepares meals from that garden. No one lacks for anything as long as they are willing to labor in some form or another.
Helps us to organically and genuinely reconnect and rebuild our communities.
Many times you hear armchair revolutionaries talk about the need to rebuild our communities. Making such a basic statement does nothing to actually address the problem. Nor do temporary calls to action. Time Banking , however, positively reinforces long term community engagement. It gives you an excuse to commune with other Black men and women in your neighborhoods and cities, get to know them, and provides you with the opportunity to build something tangible with them.
Helps to protect us from negative changes in the macro economy or the political environment.
Time Banking is not influenced by fluctuations in the global marketplace and therefore is resistant to recessions and depressions. Members of time banks can maintain a high quality of life despite economic fluctuations.
8 Steps to Creating Your Time Bank
Start experimenting with time banking amongst family and friends. Introduce them to this article and the concept of time banking, and draft an agreement. These can be time banks for specific work (there a Child Care time banks, Language Lesson banks, Auto Repair banks, Barber Shop banks, etc), or banks can be set up for general work. A farm near my city gives families that help harvest for one day all the food they need for a week. The farm saves money on labor and the families save money that would have gone to buying food. They are also better off eating apples that they have picked up the street than they are eating avocados that have travelled 3000 miles from some mystery plantation!
So heres what you need to do to get started:
1. First thoughts:
What do you want to achieve with your TimeBank?
Who do you see joining?
Who can you ask for help and support?
2. Learn about TimeBanking and brainstorm:
Time Banks USA, an advocacy group, maintains a list of community time banks throughout the US on their site. They also offer a DIY start-up kit for those who want to start a time bank where they live.
3. Get ready to organize:
Form your advisory group
Get buy-in from those who will help your TimeBanks succeed
Think about who will take on the coordinating roles: a paid coordinator? A small team of members?
Create an action plan with an operating budget and start date
Begin looking into funding sources
4. Set up a base for your TimeBank:
Find an office (best of all, where people can gather), a computer, and a phone for your TimeBank
Have your TimeBank coordinator/s begin
5. Start your outreach work
Create a brochure for new members and do outreach
Prepare a members’ handbook and orientation materials
Send out invitations to your first new members’ orientation
6. Hold your first meeting:
Hold an orientation for new members
Sign up your first new members
7. Set up the first exchanges:
Help members set up their exchanges
Seek out opportunities for targeted group activities
8. Keep Going and Growing:
Turn to your members for ongoing ideas, support and energy.
Remember: Small + Small = Big!
(List courtesy of The Michigan Alliance of Time Banks)
As more individuals come into the time bank, it may become necessary to employ a paid coordinator to keep track of everyone’s hours and match goods and services. There are also computer programs and applications out there that can be used to keep track of hours and individuals.
The bank coordinator will need to accept “requests” from people who need goods or services, and “offers” from individuals who have goods or services to provide.
Example 1: You need help moving (a request for 3 hours of work), and in exchange, you agree to landscape the purchasers lawn (an offer worth three hours of work).
Example 2: You need help setting up an urban garden ( a request for 2 hours of work). An elderly local woman agrees to help you in exchange for you doing her grocery shopping for the week (an offer worth about two hours of work). Her knowledge helps you, your muscle power helps her (groceries can be heavy!)
Example 3: You need a conference room to use for your Accountability Group meetings (a request for three hours) and are proficient with WordPress. You agree to set up the company’s website in exchange for using the conference room ( an offer worth about three hours).
This isn’t just a “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” agreement, but a sophisticated alternative monetary system. Time banking won’t replace hard currency completely -rent still needs to be paid (but some landlords will let you stay free for regularly maintaining the property), and you’re not going to be able to negotiate time exchanges with bartenders – but Time banking can greatly reduce your dependence on money while improving your quality of live and connection to your community.
In the future, I will be updating you on the local time bank that I am organizing in my city, so if you havent done so already, subscribe!