Trapeza Chronou Time Bank
= collaborative initiative between Municipality of Thessaloniki, PRAKSIS NGO and ARSIS NGO, established at October 2013.
"Time bank is an exchange network of both services and products. Based on the principles of solidarity and collaborative economy it addresses poverty through creating alternative to money means of exchange. The service tries to promote an economic model based not on exchange values that generate profiting, but on use values of services and products; for this reason, dominant currency is abandoned- considering that sustains unequal distribution of wealth within economic system- and a time currency is used instead. Time is literally a good that anyone can afford; in that way everyone can contribute independently his/her income. Both goods and services are equalized based on time modules; basic currency is thus a time-module called TEM.
Everyone can handle his/her account online, which gives flexibility in how the network operates in terms of spatial limitations: people can connect from home, work from home or accomplish exchanges through distance if it is necessary; provided that there have internet access. If access to internet is not easy or doable, time-bank’s central offices as meeting point, while the management group serves as mediator that enables connections between members or strengthen trust bonds between them.
The system is designed to allow distributed action by peers coordinated by a central committee which proceeds to necessary controls and manages general function enquiries within the network. All services/products go through a general control by time-banks managing committee, apart from that, it is made clear to members are responsible for themselves and for anything they offer or accept39. In that way the system tries to establish responsible exchange behaviors, trust bonds and self-management between members.
Voting systems are supposed to serve as mechanisms to strengthen trust bonds between time-bank members while eliminating antisocial behaviors, such as insulting, abusing or hurting peers. Other principles relate with protection of members privacy and personal rights: no one is forced to provide any service or take any service if she/he doesn’t want to, everyone can leave the bank at any time without any ratification while gifting modules to another members is welcome. Penalties relate with the use of money –which is concerned illegal- within the bank and any types of antisocial, racist, anti-environmental, harmful behavior towards other members or the members of committee.
Time- bank initiatives try to create a socially inclusive alternative economy/service exchange system, which doesn’t seek to substitute real economy but provide alternatives within local levels, bring people closer, enhance trust and social cohesion, and enable lower incomes to participate in exchange activities. Time-bank works as a community space/social space, trying to enhance or even re-establish social bonds between citizens through exchanges. These exchanges couldn’t be described as purely economic ones, but they embrace a great deal of social values. These types of social-based exchanges happen anyway in informal means within the city in crisis; the emergent needs of growing numbers of people cause the expression of that. What time bank and other relevant initiatives seek to do is to broaden these types of exchange within the city, legitimize sharing habits through creating a system that can support and sustain them, moreover establish broader ‘sharing’ cultures and open them to the digital and spatial dimension of the city. Time-bank tries to function as a common space based on common currencies. The obvious motivation for involvement is real needs, but apart from that, the questions lie whether the system is designed in a way to create further motives for involvement, generate distributed action and if it generally promotes equality and inclusion and trust as well as virtue for a further action in the means exchanges are implemented both in spatial as well as digital dimensions of the model.
An interview by Neli Stathakidou (Exostis press cultural magazine) in December 2013 -three months after the time bank took place- illustrates some points for further discussion. The initiation begun as an emergent action to deal with rising levels of poverty in the area of Thessaloniki: due to debt crisis, many previously healthy social groups suddenly saw themselves facing poverty lines, starting having serious difficulties accessing certain range of services due to their limited incomes. Management group members claim that the network has great potential to grow, doing their best to advertise it through social media. Back in 2013, the network started with 60 members and 30 posts, covering mostly house-keeping, education and light medical services, while gradually doctors, accountants and other professions were added. People were not used to doing exchanges with alternative means, so parallel information accompanied the venture.
A closer look to Time-bank initiatives in 2015 raises question related with particular functional characteristics, its design as a digital communal space and alternative economic network and its relations to local social infrastructure (local community structures, local social and economic context). For instance, is time-module effectively working as a valid alternative to services, or creates misconceptions during exchanges? Is time-bank an inclusive alternative- that means allowing people from totally different social base to equally both get advantage of and contribute to the network- and if yes, how do different ‘speeds’ of peers coexist? Are there are certain ‘leader peers’ upon them the whole network is established? Does the initiative actively engage peers in various activities within time-bank; does it enhance virtue and trust? Through what digital and spatial practices is that implemented? Do these activities relate with direct democratic processes? Finally, how the digital dimension of the network relates with spatial dimensions of exchange, and with particular local economic context. The platform may work successfully in bringing many different people together, but can the network be sustained within the city or create valid economic alternatives independent from a local community’s or cooperatives action? Is there the need for establishing the network within a certain community’s action, and if yes, doesn’t this need for rooting within locality contradict with the hybrid dimension of the network which creates tensions towards distributed action and disconnection from the local? Further research through open interviews from management group members and participants of the network throws light to some of these questions, simultaneously producing new ones."