Social Purpose Currencies

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Bernard Lietaer:

"The bulk of the social purpose currencies are highly focused on specific problems or social classes, ranging from elderly care to unemployment or educational currencies.

Here are some examples.

Elderly Care: The very first post WW2 complementary currencies systems were conceived in 1950 by and for women in Japan1 for the care of elderly, children and handicapped persons. They also created the first “Volunteer Labor Bank” in 1978, a prototype that was later reinvented in the West as Time Banks in the US and the UK in particular. In Japan, the Fureai Kippu system is today the direct descendant of those earlier pioneering systems. Retirees: Some of the first Time Dollar applications in the US were implemented by Edgar Cahn in retirement homes and encouraged self-help activities among retirees. It also resulted in creating a stronger community feeling.

Unemployed: The first LETS systems originated in Canada in 1982 aimed specifically at addressing the problem of currency scarcity in areas with high unemployment. Still today, a majority of LETS tend to be more widespread in high unemployment areas.

Educational: The MUSE system (Mutual Unit for Sustainable Education) is a complementary currency designed for stimulating learning and teaching by youngsters among each other.2 The Sonoma County, California, Community Service Dollar (C$D) is being developed under the guidance of the nonprofit Skaggs Island Foundation. Both state university and city officials are exploring the possible value of the system for partial payment for educational and other public services and, in the latter case, for taxes and fees. Child Care (Babysitting): There is a long tradition of more or less formal but small scale local babysitting groups constituted by families who in turn take care of each other’s children. A large national-scale Internet-based system is being designed now in Holland, under the name of “Care Miles” to help the 2.3 million families who have trouble finding access to the care centers, particularly for the 0-4 year olds.

Community Building: The most popular reason to start complementary currency systems in neighborhoods where there are no major unemployment or economic stress situations is community healing and rebuilding. Various types of designs have been used for such purpose, including Time Dollar systems, LETS, and Ithaca HOURS . The Balinese Time Currency* could also be considered as a well established system of this nature, operational for more than one thousand years.

Identity Reinforcement: One of the secondary reasons that some complementary currencies were introduced was to reinforce the feeling of belonging to a particular community or area. For example, the logo on Ithaca HOURS bills proudly claims “In Ithaca we trust”, and most paperbased complementary currencies feature prominently local features, plants or history as a means towards local identity reinforcement.

Ecological: Applications of complementary currencies specifically for ecological purposes have recently become more popular, particularly in Japan. One example is the NU smart card system used in Rotterdam, Netherlands, to reward ecological behavior (using public transport, buying more energy efficient devices, buying a bicycle, etc.) charging ‘greenpoints’ on a smartcard.

These points can be used in getting discounts in the same type of activities, thereby creating a double incentive to behave in an ecologically responsible way. A less successful model is the “Earthdaymoney” project in the Shibuya neighborhood of Japan, started by a major advertising firm to honor people who are contributing to the ecological sustainability of the area. A whole family of Japanese complementary currencies are the “ecomoney” projects, but notwithstanding their name only a few of those projects have specifically an ecological purpose. One large scale demonstration project involving over 6 million participants was implemented during the 2005 Aichi world fair.

Other Social Purpose: One could theoretically continue almost ad infinitum a list of specialized social functions for which complementary currencies could be implemented. Indeed, the whole field of complementary currencies is sometimes labeled as “social money.” So the above list is mostly indicative of projects that already do exist somewhere in the world, rather than what could be designed in the future.

Mixed Social Purpose: One could of course easily combine several of these social objectives, such as having the possibility to earn credits through ecological support activities, and use them for obtaining baby sitting hours, or other combinations of the above list." (

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