The Many Habits of Highly Effective Local Currency Organisers

What is the difference between local organisers who succeed in creating sustainable systems over many years and those who lose momentum after the initial enthusiasm and idealism have worn off?

Following is a list of common habits shared by effective organisers. All organisers do not practice all of these habits and many of the habits may be shared around a team.

They articulate values

Advertisers never sell us products these days, they sell us our values wrapped up in goods and services: ‘Just do it’; ‘The power to be your best’; ‘Because I’m worth it’.

Local currency organisers know that people are motivated by values. Edgar Cahn, inventor of Time Banking, formed four core values that continue to inspire the global movement: we treat people as assets; we value all contributions to community as real work; we practice both give and take or reciprocity; we grow our social networks.

The regional currency movement in Germany inspires its members with messages about loyalty to their region, buying locally and creating a ‘money with legs’ that circulates faster and brings more benefits.

They commit themselves to change

Some organisers have remained continuously involved in their local system for 20 years; they are willing to go through all the ups and downs because they are committed to social and economic change.

They focus on goals

A local currency is never an end in itself, it is a means to grow the local economy or weave community networks.

Effective organisers meet local people where they are with their everyday needs and concerns and support them to identify their personal and collective goals; they create a currency system to help them realise them. They review the goals in the light of experience and redesign the system if necessary.

They share the work

Many people have burned themselves out by trying to run a local currency system alone. It doesn’t work. Even fulltime networkers like Paul Glover of Ithaca HOURS gather others around them to share the load. In the Talente Tauschkreis Vorarlberg in Austria, continously operational since 1996, a volunteer 25 person service team shares the tasks of running the system.

They sell benefits

Even when they are not run as businesses, local currencies need to be run like businesses. No business sells features or philosophy, they sell values and benefits.

They channel abundance

The primary purpose of a local currency is to connect underused assets to unmnet needs, that is assets and needs that the money economy ignores.

Local organisers take three steps to identify the assets and get them moving:

1.     Analyse where the assets are:

a.     personal skills – professional skills, hobbies and general help or favours

b.     community assets – underused halls, vehicles, photocopiers etc.

c.      business assets – underused inventory, ‘low’ times, services;

2.     Advertise the assets:

people fill out questionnaires describing the goods and services they can offer and agree to the information being advertised in printed and online directories;

3.    Broker the assets:

many systems offer an extra brokering service to connect assets and needs because it helps people to overcome their initial fears, get to know people and get trading.

They make maps

Expressing values, goals, benefits and assets are all kinds of map making. These activities help people to orientate both internally – Why are we doing this? What’s the purpose?- and externally – Where are we going? How do we get there?.

Physical maps can be very valuable: the most clicked page on the website of the German Regiogeld Association is the map of Germany. It shows all of the active systems and also those in development. It is helpful to academics and journalists researching the subject but even more importantly it motivates people thinking about starting a system to want to be ‘on the map’ of local currencies.

Tools like Google Earth are now making it possible to view real time data about local systems around the world and it will soon be possible to include data about assets and needs and begin to connect them much more powerfully.

They network

Networks are the blood vessels of social and professional life. Networking is the ability to tap into existing networks, create new ones and keep them alive.

They integrate into existing structures

It is tough running a local currency as a standalone operation. It takes people, time and money. If there are existing structures in the community it makes sense to integrate a local currency into them. This brings many benefits both to the host organisation and to the currency itself:

–        governance and management of the currency are integrated into the host structure, saving costs

–        the host has a new mechanism for generating involvement in social and economic activities and rewarding volunteers

–        they can do joint marketing.

The only danger might be association of the currency with one particular organisation rather than as a generic mechanism for the whole community but this depends on local circumstances and scale.

They keep a balance

There are many balances to be kept in running a local currency:

  • Personal balance between life and work: many currency organisers are deeply committed to what they do and need to look after themselves too.
  • Balance between maintaining the community and maintaining the mechanism: you have to develop cooperative structures and processes to maintain the community and develop good monitoring systems to maintain the mechanism.
  • Ideally a local currency serves all sectors of the community: it is good to ensure that individuals, businesses, voluntary organisations and government agencies can all meet on the common playing field of the currency.

They flow with emergence

Nobody has all the answers on day one. New possibilities emerge with new members, new ideas, new funding sources, new technology.

They innovate carefully

Innovation for its own sake is just fashion, it soon passes. Careful innovation means evaluating the costs and benefits of any proposed change and selling it to the potential users. The unceasing pace of technological change means that organisers have to keep themselves informed about new possibilities and judge which innovations might help them to improve service, reduce administration and make life easier for everyone.

Established systems have learned how to learn from their mistakes and to practice patience and persistence for the long haul. They manage the growth of the system by choosing next steps carefully, making sure they have the capacity to handle enquiries and new membership applications and service existing members.

They challenge people to grow

Participation in a local currency teaches you to take responsibility for your transactions with others on every level: socially, emotionally and technically.

Organisers help participants to grow by encouraging them both to give and receive and making opportunities for them to do so. They also encourage people to do as much of their own administration as possible and not become dependent on central organisers.

They simplify what can be simplified

Einstein counselled us to ‘keep things as simple as possible and no simpler.’ Organisers aim to simplify the design of the system, administration and management, user interfaces, explanations and messages about the currency.

They work with limits

Organisers work within the limits of geography, participation levels and the currency mechanism they have designed or inherited. They keep currency moving as much as possible within these limits.

They model best practice

Organisers show people how to use the currency by trading in it! They model the values the currency embodies by engaging in reciprocity and local exchange.

They implement common standards

Some ‘brands’ of local currency are more advanced with common standards through decades of trial and error. Time Banks are expected to subscribe to the common set of values advocated by Edgar Cahn and Time Banks USA; regional money systems in Germany are expected to sign up to the quality criteria set out by the national Regiogeld Association; business exchange networks can also voluntarily subscribe to the common standards laid out by the International Reciprocal Trade Association.

They use appropriate technology

Every locality, every region and its circumstances is different. Some places have distinct geographical features or strong historical traditions that inspire people to create circulating notes with great designs that build local loyalty and are collectable by tourists. Others embrace the latest electronic technology of swipe cards and mobile payment systems. Some use both. The point is to analyse local conditions carefully and use the most appropriate technology for the groups of users.

They manage internal relationships

Many systems fall apart through internal conflicts over values, personalities or organisational style. Organisers manage internal relationships through transparent decision making and communications.

TEXT COPYRIGHT John Rogers, Germany


What An Interesting Week!

Architect of the French and American Revolutions, Tom Paine, is the face of a local currency in Lewes, England, where he first became politically active.

The ‘Masters of the Universe’ in Wall St. have been challenged on their own doorstep this week

The Wall St. protest and its supporters around the world have identified a dysfunctional money system as the cause of many of their grievances. They have become a new civil rights movement for financial justice.

The history of all successful social movements is a history of effective organising: anti-slavery, womens’ rights, universal voting rights, civil rights, environmental and peace campaigners have all had to learn the hard way how to mobilise and organise in a disciplined way to achieve their goals. We can’t create the world we want unless we learn how to organise.

There are active monetary reform movements whose agenda is to persuade governments to issue their own interest-free currencies without debt and independently of commercial banks:

American Monetary Institute:

Positive Money Campaign:

Even if any of these proposals succeed, there will still be a need for local currencies owned and run by local citizens, businesses or government to provide all the liquidity we need for local exchange and to strengthen the links between people and environment.

So while others are on the barricades, I have been talking to people who hold one of the Keys to the Universe: local currency organisers.

And what great stories they have to tell!

Henk van Arkel from Holland ran his first environmental campaign in 1965 at the age of 14.

            An old man explained to him how a financial system based on compound interest and constant growth was the cause of many social and environmental problems. He showed him historical examples of attempts to organise alternatives in France:

and in Austria:

Many years later this seed blossomed into his life’s work with Strohalm – now called the Social Trade Organisation – and the world’s leading research and development agency for local currencies:

Henk realised that you have to ‘beat capitalist monopoly money within the market’ and this led him to an intensive study of money and alternative forms of currency.

Stro has developed several different models of local currency and constantly innovates through its work with local organisations and governments, particularly in South and Central America.

It has also developed and patented a key technology platform for running local currencies, its Cyclos software:

    Another pioneer of new exchange systems is Richard Logie, founder of the Business Exchange in Aberdeen, Scotland:

He grew up in poverty in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands. If you did favours for others in the community, you got things in exchange. He learned to do all kinds of odd jobs in the community and learned how to barter his skills at school. “We didn’t have any money but we were rich, we always had stuff.”

These early experiences again sowed seeds for his life’s work developing business to business exchanges. After many challenges in an unregulated industry, he has survived to build one of the UK’s most successful business exchanges.

His key learnings include the need for standards and the best technology available to support the work, which has led him also to patent software to support local exchange systems of every type:

    One night as he was thinking about what to do next in his life, Peter Krause-Keusemann from Germany had a dream.  He woke and went back to sleep several times, each time writing down the details of  a new currency to bring people and nature together.

Peter says he knew nothing about local currencies but this dream became the basis of a new local currency system called Coinstatt in the industrial Ruhr area involving hundreds of local businesses:

Since launching the currency in 2007 he has learned many important lessons about organising, in particular the challenges of weaning people off an ego-based economic system, getting people to state their needs clearly and how to market and administrate effectively.

     Will Ruddick is a physics graduate who went to Kenya as a US Peace Corps volunteer and then partnered with the Green World Campaign. He too was searching for ways to link currency mechanisms to environmental improvements. In 2010, he designed and launched the ECO-Pesa currency, which has supported the people of an informal settlement area to collect waste and plant trees:

The next stage of the project is to set up a co-operative to manage a large forest area and incorporate the currency into its design.

All of these stories will appear in full in the new English edition of the book on regional currencies by Margrit Kennedy, Bernard Lietaer and John Rogers to be published by Triarchy Press in 2012.

TEXT COPYRIGHT John Rogers, Germany