Since meeting Margrit Kennedy in 2004, our network expert Stephanie Rearick from Wisconsin, USA, has been working with complementary currencies and building, from the ground up, a social and solidarity economy that is true to its name. To take local learning and tools into the world, and being ever curious about what work elsewhere, she has been touring the US many times, as an advocate and trainer of cooperative economics and as the wonderful musician she also is. Since 2010 she has been touring in Europe as well. Due to the pandemic there was a multi-year hiatus to her inter-continental wanderings, but we were thrilled to meet her again last autumn and visit some other experts from our networks with her. Here is her report from this trip and a snapshot of how local initiatives are faring in countries across Europe:
In 2004 I read The Future of Money by Bernard Lietaer and it changed my life. A couple months later, inspired by the book, I went to a conference titled Local Currencies in the 21st Century and the first keynote I heard was Margrit Kennedy, and she changed my life even more. They sold me! I needed to drop what I’d been doing and devote myself to realizing the vision they’d laid out.
Now almost 20 years later, I’m wandering far and wide to meet the others similarly inspired, reach more people with the exciting possibilities, and hook this system up and make it real.
Here’s what happened on that wandering,
and how it’s going to change the world.
On September 24 I left my home in Madison Wisconsin to join friends old and new on a 2 1/2-week Solidarity Sprint through parts of Europe and the UK (more details here). A Solidarity Sprint is a practice we’ve adopted where we travel to meet people and projects who align with our values in working toward a cooperative, human-scaled economy that supports thriving life.
In conducting our decades of experiments and explorations in a human-scaled economy, we realized that the core of it all is work. How we work, who we work with, how we define and divide labor, reward it, and incentivize good clean healthy practices. Not only do we need to be sure that the really important work gets done, and done well – the work of caregiving, creating, growing healthy beings in healthy communities in healthy ecosystems – but we also need to displace people’s need to engage in any old crappy jobs they can find in order to pay the bills. We fully intend to displace exploitative work with rewarding mutual aid-supported work (see our introductory short video here).
And so we’ve embarked on a multi-disciplinary learning and creating journey to take both work and compensation in much more pro-social directions. This report from our recent sprint aims to show a variety of facets of this.
So, who are we? We’re the HUMANs!
Humans United in Mutual Aid Networks is a cooperative open for membership globally. That means individuals, projects, organizations, and businesses can join and each has one vote, along with ownership of the organization and an invitation to shape it.
We create networks of real trust in communities of place or practice, exchanging and sharing resources in mutually beneficial ways. Then we connect those networks with one another through the same means of mutual aid. This creates a web of trust that spans locales and interest areas. Our aim is to build a neighborly global economy and, since this Sprint, we feel well on our way.
What this means in practice is that we use any cooperative economic technology that we know of, if it’s values-aligned, and work to put it together in a way that can facilitate serious economic exchange and displace the need for participation in exploitative economic activities. First of all, we use timebanking, the form of mutual credit that trades only in units of time, where everyone’s hour is valued equally and we don’t put a price on our time. We also build and participate in more commonly-stewarded resources like tool libraries, common gardens, makerspaces, shared spaces, and the like. We also combine this with other forms of mutual credit as much as possible, and are working to build that capacity as quickly as we can. In those mutual credit systems businesses of all sizes can more easily participate, because the credits of those systems are denominated in national currency, and can be accounted for and taxed just like any other business transaction. And we pool conventional money and steward it collectively in order to provide do-it-ourselves risk pooling and voluntary wealth redistribution in our communities.
We connect all that with peer-to-peer work practices, governance, and software tools, in order to build the sophisticated back-end that can make community-enriching work easy to create, plug into, sustain, and be meaningfully remunerated for. This is because we recognize that real wealth is not Dollars and Euros, and we know how to recognize, build, and value it in more expansive and values-aligned ways. As we carry out our mutual-aid-supported projects, we share our processes, documentation, materials, knowledge, and moral support to help others replicate, learn from failures and successes, and stay inspired.
Stephanie, Matthew, Sybille and Gorazd in Ljubljana
Now back to the topic of real trust and vibrant community – upon my arrival in beautiful Ljubljana Slovenia, I was met by Sybille Saint-Girons from France, seeing her in person for the first time in 6 years. We first met in 2013, traveling around Paris doing training and outreach as “The Economistresses” and have worked together ever since. She designed our first tech home, the Mutual Aid Platform, and helped create the vision for its next iteration, our current and very functional HOME, which stands for HomeOstatic Mutual Environment. This is the open source tech- and exchange-ecosystem we’re building together in order to facilitate all of that work flow and knowledge sharing stuff mentioned in the previous paragraph.
The other creator of our new HOME, Gorazd Norcic, was our host in Ljubljana. It was lovely to meet him in person for the very first time, at the LJU airport. Trained as a mechanical engineer, and old enough to have graduated in socialist Yugoslavia/Slovenia and then gone on to get his MBA in capitalist USA, Gorazd is now combining his previous life experience as an entrepreneur in turnaround management, marketing, software projects, distributed animation production in the extractive capitalist realm with the experience of Yugoslavian self-management practices. He is now contributing to the creation of non-extractive, sustainable, self-managed ecosystems, and we’re proud to say he’s the main architect of our HOME.
Proudly presenting: the new HOME-homepage
Gorazd and his lovely wife Mateja hosted us for the week. Mateja is a magician in the kitchen and we were treated to the most delicious healthy food for the week, courtesy of her catering business (and HOME partner) Pomander. Pomander z.b.o. is a cooperative created as an incubator. Currently it’s hosting a thriving and mostly vegan zero waste catering business, along with the Humanum Institute and several projects in the making – effectively using our HOME software tools to manage their operations. They help to show us how we can use these tools to really connect the business/production world with the world of human-scaled economics, so that we all support each other better and begin to co-opt business-as-usual into more pro-social practices. Everything is based on the same non-extractive Reciprocity Loop model that we’re implementing in our HOME project, which you can read about in detail here (PDF for download).
Matthew Slater, who’s been helping and supporting us since working on making Madison HOURs in the early 2000s (that’s the local currency my community launched back in 1996 as a paper currency, then tried to move to mutual credit before shutting down to become a component of our local MAN). He has consistently continued to introduce us to amazing new partners and ideas, and now joined us for the week in Slovenia where we were able to dive deeply into our tech picture. Matthew is the primary creator of the Community Forge mutual credit software, which is what the HUMANs and my own Madison Wisconsin Mutual Aid Network use for our marketplaces. Matthew wrote the mutual credit module for the Drupal CMS that many if not most timebanks and LETS systems base their exchanges on. Matthew is upgrading and maintaining our current marketplaces in addition to working on Murmurations, a way to aggregate organizations and also offers and needs, across platforms (more about this later). We’re excited to be early testers of Murmurations between our local and global systems, as a key piece of the direction we’re taking in the HOME project.
Matjaz, our friendly local Odoo wizard, came for an afternoon to help us work out important details (Odoo is a primary component of the open-source technology under the hood of our HOME). Zach of Moneyless Society came to Ljubljana to film us for a full-length documentary he’s working on, and graciously gave us lots of great footage to use in our own reporting and on our upcoming Mutual Aid Podcast. In fact, the Moneyless Society podcast we made together at his instigation has been published just as this is going to press.
Last but not least, Kate came over from Hull to share her experiences of their flourishing Mutual Aid sister site, work with us through their own tech and support needs, and connect with all of us on wider strategy questions. What a fruitful week! And that was just the first half…
Onward to Austria
Gorazd and I hit the road and traveled the rest of the way together, meeting many friends and partners old and new. At the start of this, I played a show (original piano music) in Vienna with Edward Reardon, my old friend and producer of most of my music. If you like, you can watch the concert on Peertube, a video-sharing platform which I use through a shared interface with Communecter, one of our cooperative tech partners.
Project management tools in the new HOME
In our HUMAN economy we’ll use mutual aid networks to find people to help promote shows like this, we’ll make tickets available in the network, we’ll exchange air miles and hosting to lighten the costs of performing and make shows more accessible and known to more people. We started toward that by logging our time with our hosts, in our HOME marketplace. This is the global network we’re already experimenting with and connecting to other networks through above mentioned Murmurations.
The next morning we caught the train to Wörgl, then met up with dear old friend Leander Bindewald of monneta. We came this way to meet with the wonderful Veronika Spielbichler who showed us around the then yet-to-open-in-its-new-location museum and the Unterguggenberger Institute. In case you don’t happen to know that name, Unterguggenberger was the surname of Wörgl’s mayor during the Great Depression, when a local group introduced a local currency that lifted the city out of poverty and into international notoriety. The experiment was being celebrated and replicated worldwide, seen as a key to ending the Depression. But the nascent League of Nations (precursor to the United Nations) realized this could be problematic for them and the recent bail-out deals they had brokered with international financiers. We can read their reasoning and speculate on it ourselves, but in the end, such opposition meant that the project was forcefully terminated (there is great movie from 2018 about the experiment if you want to see more about it). Besides ending and outlawing these local currency experiments (in parallel, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, US President during the Great Depression, outlawed local currencies in the US when announcing his New Deal), the world’s plunge into chaos and war all added to mo
re waves of poverty and mayhem. We learned a lot of detail about this, and other histories of complementary currencies in Wörgl. This can all help us chart a more resilient path in our new chaotic circumstances.
Meeting monneta-experts Veronika Spielbichler and Leander Bindewald
Some of the key lessons of this visit were:
- Here as elsewhere, one political figure is generally given credit for a currency experiment, when it was actually a community effort designed by a dedicated group of volunteers.
- The currency’s success was a big part of what put it in danger. Drawing attention to a solution that gets people out from under the artificial central control of the money supply creates a palpable threat to the people in control, and they respond by asserting their authority to suppress it. Any economic solution we’re creating needs to be resilient to these types of threats, and we need to be prepared for them.
- Community-created currencies really are capable of solving local supply and demand problems, and we need to take them seriously. At the same time, when the conventional money supply loosens up, people tend to prefer its flexibility.
- We need to be aware of the political context in which we operate and the very real dangers and possibilities it supplies.
- Want to see pictures and little videos of our learning? Check them out here, at our values-aligned file sharing space.
Onward to serious practical solutions
operating in the here and now
A few hours‘ drive from Wörgl we saw a long-standing and well-organized system based in Dornbirn, the westernmost city of Austria. There, the Allmenda cooperative connects a very systematic model of timebanking and other local currencies. Their current flagship ”Zeitpolster“ allows adults to care for others while they’re able, then shift into a receiving mode when they age into needing care themselves. A sensible business model brings in money from members who pay for care (without having contributed care-services first) and the money pays for future help when it isn’t available via timebanking. In the state of Vorarlberg, where Allmenda is situated, they also run regionwide timebanks (called“Talente”) that they connect with some euro-backed local currencies, often at big pop-up markets that also help build their communities.
In addition, Allmenda franchises their Zeitpolster model, and are seeking partners in more countries including Germany, the US and Slovenia. This can be a good way to adopt a well-developed model, get needed support, and support their work in turn. Gernot Jochum-Müller, Allmenda’s brilliant founder and director, is a wealth of knowledge and experience in this realm and my notes from this visit fill 6 pages!
With Gernot Jochum-Müller at the office of his Zeitpolster (literaly meaning time-cushion)
Here I’ll aim to summarize a few of the many gems we’re bringing away from our meetings with him:
- This approach to timebanking is much more structured and rigid than our approach in the US, and in the HUMANs overall. While we tend to view timebanking as very fluid, and adopt an approach that has no debit limit (members can spend hours before earning any, and are welcome to have as large a negative balance as they need as long as they offer reciprocity in some form – when able), Allmenda’s systems are built to provide serious levels of care and sustainability. Plus timebanking itself appears to be more tightly regulated in Austria. An example of how their system works: If someone comes into the Zeitploster system needing care, they pay a modest sum in Euros, half of which go to sustain the system overall, the other half going to paid carers. When a member joins as a giver, they give hours of service and accumulate credits in their account. Then when a member ages into needing more care than they can provide, their membership switches into a receiving member, and they then receive hours of care paid for with the time credits they accumulated earlier.
- The leaders of Allmenda have a tremendous amount of legal knowledge and institutional respect, and are available to help other projects.
- The Allmenda business model includes creating franchises, and you can become a franchisee and thus avail yourself and your community of their incredible pool of knowledge.
- The legal recognition they win for their methods benefits all other projects in the EU.
- They have a business model which is much tighter than anything we have developed, which makes it harder for the world to learn, adopt, and adapt their practices freely but which keeps the integrity of their model as they have designed it, and which provides long-term economic sustenance for their projects. This is good inspiration for us to chart and adopt a course somewhere in the middle of our two very disparate-so-far approaches to collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Thus concluded our work in Austria –
onward to the UK
Gorazd and I flew to London and schlepped over to the lovely home of Dil Green, a co-founder of both the Credit Commons Society (CCS) and Mutual Credit Services (MCS). Mutual Credit Services provide software tools to clear invoices in a local business community, much like banks do among themselves, where they zero out their debts to one another before transferring any outstanding amount of money. We can do the same! And MCS can help. Credit Commons Society, on the other hand, is the non-profit educational arm of the project, creating useful ways to do mutual credit accounting (called Credit Commons) and educating people about its usefulness in a fair economy context.
Dil hosting us in his London home
Dil hosted us for the night so we were able to talk deep and wide about common experiences and values, and ways we could collaborate. We came up with some exciting ideas! One major one is exploring working together to make the Credit Commons mutual credit tool our main means of exchange, and creating opportunities to connect with many other exchange systems (timebanks, LETS systems, Community Exchange systems, business-to-business mutual credit networks). Another possibility is offering our own HOME odoo-based tools to do some of the functions needed by MCS. These are exactly the connections we’ve been seeking to make, ways that each of us can reduce our individual work-load while increasing our impact and the scope of our peer support network.
Dil made a lovely statement which I’ve often quoted since, something like – „without material interdependence communities tend to fall prey to the narcissism of small differences“.
In the development of our own material interdependency, we have now decided to partner up with Dil and are working regularly toward using the Credit Commons to facilitate exchange in the HUMANs network and beyond. All this working with a standard Value Flows vocabulary (more on that in another article, see this link to get the gist) in order to create a way to exchange in and among a huge variety of communities around the world, in a network of neighborly economic exchange sophisticated enough to meet any needs.
From Dil’s we went straight to the man we’ve all known online only as Oli SB, full name Oliver Sylvester Bradley, a founder of Open Cooperative and meet.coop, and a key driver of the Murmurations project. We’ve heard of Oli’s work over the years and have been excited with how vision-aligned it all is with what we want to do. Visiting in person, we found more overlap of work and interests, especially with the tech used for Murmurations, which is capable of aggregating and showing offers and needs across different exchange systems and which we’re trying out as a means to manage our own cross-system exchanges, and maybe all our offers and needs over time.
We also participated in a web meeting with Robert Woolf of madeopen, who recently created the new timebanking software for timebanks.org. We plan to continue exploring how we can apply mutual credit, mutual aid, and peer support to make our own work easier as individuals and organizations, pool the risk and pool the reward in ways that nourish us AND the system we’re building.
We are now partnering to connect Murmurations‘ aggregated offers and needs with the functionality of the Credit Commons, and the standard vocabulary of Value Flows, to hook up the beating heart of the economic system we’re building at HOME.
Onward to our last stop, Hull in the northeast UK,
where we land for the rest of the Sprint
Here we see Kate again, as she picks us up at the Beverley train station with her adorable little dog Ted who can ‚circus walk‘ – meaning he walks on two legs like a furry little man, and goes really fast! This alone was worth the trip. This leg may have been the sprintiest of the sprint.
Meeting Kate and her incredible dog
The HUMANs have had a strong connection with Hull since I met Kate Macdonald, Director of the thriving 893-member Timebank Hull and East Riding, at a Timebanking UK conference back in 2014. Since that meeting, Kate came to Madison for our initial 10-day MAN Up Summit and became a HUMANs sister site steward. I’ve always been impressed with the breadth and depth of their work. They now run a thriving community center and have been sparking food sharing and food business incubators, among many other great activities. We’ve gone to Hull three times and appeared on the BBC talking about restorative justice. In 2016 we co-hosted a MAN Up Summit there, spending about a week in shared learning, visioning, and implementing sessions.
At the time we were all excited to partner up with Hull Coin, a project new to town and focused on bringing a blockchain-based complementary currency to the city, with the intention of a formal partnership with the city. We saw ways Hull Coin could fill a function that in the HUMANs we expect to fill with things like price-based mutual credit or the Common Good card. Saving details for a different, longer story, I’ll share now that Hull Coin never came to fruition in the way it was intended, which was to incentivize volunteering with blockchain-based tokens good for discounts at local shops.
In my experience, it’s quite common for complementary currency efforts that are more tied to money and the corporate economy to be more easily picked up by the press and public, as they relate more directly and are more recognizable within an economy based on transactions alone – payment as opposed to reciprocity and relationships. But in my view this is too much a replication of the system that is driving the atomization of our communities, whereas mutual credit provides more individual agency, can drive more systemic change, and is more readily deployable. Using the two in synergy with one another could have been a powerful bridge, but alas it was not to be. A common factor in most communities I’ve met, we continue to have much to learn about how to create effective partnerships that build on synergies and strengthen all parties.
We then had a full-day training on The Art of Invitation, with a full room of participants being led by a Ruth Ben-Tovim online, with lots of active support from the staff of Timebank Hull and East Riding. It was a great example of engaging the community in a fun way, and also building leadership and capacity through co-hosting and apprenticeship. People often overlook the essential fact that changing our economy means changing our behavior and how we relate with each other and our communities. It is absolutely key that we recognize the importance of bringing together our unintentional communities and build our capacity to do so.
Speaking of which, the next day the Timebank hosted a party at their Marfleet Community Center, and I played some music followed by the DJ Earthman. It was a very cool event that brought together a great mix of people. Sunday was a meetup in the Plotting Room of Ye Olde White Harte Pub. A historic site of anti-establishment planning! With a couple different ‚official‘ histories, interesting in themselves. And our conversation was rich, and fitting of the setting. We were joined by a few members of Cooperation Hull, our DJ from the night before, some members and friends of Timebank Hull and East Riding, a couple artists, a generally interesting and inspiring group. The topics were loosely the role of creativity in building the mutual aid economy, but even more just an open exploration of our common dreams, desires, strategies, tactics, and how we can better support each other to build the world we’re dreaming of. Very fruitful! We’ve since sent notes and contact info around and are following up on action steps, including mutual support and timebanking between Coop Hull and the other mutual aid efforts based in the timebank.
Working at the community center in Hull
Following the meetup we went to tour DJ Earthman Steve’s incredible, ever-giving community garden plot planted with permaculture principles and bearing tons of food and beauty. The same allotment also hosts a garden plot owned and run by the timebank and its members, along with plots owned by the NHS for people needing mental health support. It’s cool to see that large institutions recognize the value of gardening and community to people’s mental health.
Monday was our last work day and it was a big, fun, and focused one. We went back to the Marfleet Community Center where we were joined by some friends, partners and members for a virtual tour of our HOME tech ecosystem, and what dreamer and sister site membership might mean for them. Most exciting was the participation of our partners from Alderman Kneeshaw Park, where they’re doing fantastic work making gardening and community available to people of all stripes. The staff of the park have found themselves in that common quandary brought by success – it’s time to incorporate officially, get money, and develop a staffing picture along with outreach and infrastructure.
It looks like our tech HOME and associated peer support network can be very helpful now to both our Hull sister site/timebank and their partners in Alderman Kneeshaw Park, and we’re working together to develop the tech presence and support they need, while documenting the experience to make it smoother and more helpful to future participants.
After a celebratory meal, we each flew to our respective homes and have now been working every week to follow up on all the connections and avenues we discovered on the Sprint.
We couldn’t have done it without the support of monneta, and now we look forward to connecting with more of monneta’s followers, working together to bring to fruition the vision that Margrit Kennedy so beautifully espoused during her lifetime, and now being carried on by Kathrin Latsch, Declan Kennedy, Leander Bindewald, and all those supporting and following this work. A big thank you to all, and looking forward to the day we realize we’ve succeeded.
You can see and benefit from what we’ve accomplished so far by joining our coop, posting offers and needs at our marketplace, or participating in our upcoming Solidarity Sprint where we’ll showcase some of the fruits of our labors.