As the conventional monetary system foundered following the financial crisis in 2008, interest in new types of money and how they can be used positively within our society has surged. Projects like Bitcoin have hit the headlines. Less noted, however, are the communities around the world which have started to experiment with their own currencies and methods of exchange.
Such experiments indicate that people are not simply interested in money in terms of how they can get more of it. Rather, a set of more profound questions are being posed: What exactly is money and where does it come from? What problems are caused by the dominant forms of money we use? And, perhaps most intriguingly, how can money be re-designed to better serve our individual and collective needs?
Designing a community currency
We set out to answer these questions in our new book, People Powered Money: designing, developing and delivering community currencies. The book challenges the assumption that there is any one, universal, or “natural” kind of money. On the contrary, money exists in multiple forms for different purposes and has done so throughout history. If we want a new kind of money which encourages new kinds of social and economic relations, then we can create it.
The book draws on findings from Community Currencies in Action (CCIA) project – a four-year-long transnational project looking at several examples of community currencies across Europe. As well as the specifics of currency design, the book outlines a set of principles which can be adapted and used by different communities, and to strengthen the evidence base for building on these ideas.
Why we need to measure the impact of currencies
While innovation and interest in local currencies has reached an all-time high, we have only just begun to understand and measure the impact they can actually have. We’re launching a new NEF report that assesses the effectiveness of community currencies against the social, economic and environmental outcomes they were set up to achieve.
We assessed the potential social and economic benefits of these schemes under four main outcomes:
- Countering inequality and social exclusion: Spice Time Credits and the Makkie recognise people’s contributions to community projects by giving them a credit for each hour they volunteered. These can then be spent on everything from family days out to vocational training. Currencies can break down social isolation, increase self-confidence and give people access to goods, services and activities they otherwise could not afford.
- Supporting the SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) economy: SoNantes and TradeQoin have developed business-to-business trading networks. By building a strong member network and providing an alternative means of exchange, currencies can foster closer links between local SMEs and support them financially through the provision of interest-free credit. The Brixton Pound allows wealth to flow around and the local economy, supporting independent businesses and building a sense of local pride and belonging.
- Positive environmental impact: The e-Portemonnee currency rewards environmentally sustainable behaviour with points that can be exchanged for sustainable products and services. Similarly, by supporting local SMEs, the currencies cited above can help shorten supply and production chains, thereby reducing the environmental impact of transporting goods.
- Democratising services and organisations: Through its Time Credits programmes, Spice works with the staff and users of organisations and public services to develop more equal and reciprocal relationships between professionals, communities and individuals.
By using community currencies effectively, local economies can unlock a range of social, economic, and environmental benefits for their local people. We need to challenge orthodox thinking about how money works, and realise that money is a tool that should be working for us, not making us work for it.
The community currency field is still in its infancy, yet it is already showing that this reversal of our relationship to money is possible. Rather than dividing and dominating societies, money can be re-designed to unite and empower us around common needs and objectives. This book tells you how it can be done.
People Powered Money (PDF):
You can also download the plain-text translations of the text:
Plain text French/Francais (DOC):
Plain text German/Deutsch (DOC):
Plain Text Dutch/Nederlands (DOC):