Creative Currencies

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"Renata Lemos-Morais: You have recently produced and directed a short documentary about Creative Currencies in Latin America. Could you tell us a bit about its process and its findings?

Gilson Schwartz: The “Creative Currencies” project is a work-in-progress platform which unfolds as an action research agenda connected both to the production of audiovisual content and the development of social currency software. The initiative dates back to 2003 when I led an experimental project supported by the Presidency of Brazil. At that time, we issued paper currency in a small, touristic village in the Northeast Region which stimulated local cultural projects. But it was only in 2009 that the Central Bank of Brazil acknowledged “social currencies” as a legitimate economic agenda, calling for more debate at the I Financial Inclusion Forum. This year, the monetary authorities organized a second forum that also opened the room to discussions on mobile payment systems and new perspectives on poverty alleviation via State subsidies. The Ministry of Culture funded the “Creative Currencies” project in 2009-2010 and our next stage in this discovery process is to be supported by the National Social and Economic Development Bank (BNDES). In short, there is genuine interest among public officials in different areas and public funding for social currencies is on the rise in Brazil.

However, after all these years we are still at a very early stage of research and practice. Some of the most successful initiatives (such as Banco Palmas) actually evolved out of local monetary creation to become correspondent banking operations for commercial banks and other financial groups. After eight years of price stability and social inclusion, Brazil stands out as a major opportunity for social experimentation, even the Grameen Bank is now entering the Brazilian market and many NGOs are geared towards different forms of entrepreneurialism in the base of the pyramid, riding solidarity economic models, microfinance and microcredit for local development. It is yet to be seen, however, whether these developments are just one more stage of “bankarization”, that is to say, an extension of regular banking services or actually a new form of social and symbolic self-determination at the local level. So far, the Central Bank of Brazil is open to new forms of credit and local finance as long as they are strictly territorial and very close to barter among the poor.

In other words, whether the process of monetary creation could be made to fit an open source paradigm is yet to be seen. Community banking and social currencies might as well end up as just another channel for access to and use of banking services. The “Creative Currencies” project aims at promoting the discussion of more fundamental issues, such as the limits of central banking, the prospects for local financial development and the possibility of creating and managing financial icons as cultural assets. The purpose of this project is to produce short documentaries that will bear testimony to this evolving regulatory framework while inducing more discussion about the fundamental iconomic issues concealed in the process of money and wealth creation." (

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