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Jul 03
Wednesday
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Time Banking

photo by Charles Blackhall

photo by Charles Blackhall

The Nuts and Bolts
of Building the Shambhala Village
Around the School

by Brian Landever

In the recent leadership gathering at Shambhala Mountain Center this June, considerable discussion was given to the overall theme of creating enlightened society. Topics included how we experience basic goodness and wealth, what will increase membership, and what might be required to develop our Shambhala centers into a “village that includes a school.” Many wise and skillful observations and suggestions were made by center directors, teachers, and most notably, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Contemplating all that occurred has been encouraging, and leaves me with the desire to present a skillful community building program that promotes ongoing reciprocity of appreciation and generosity using an exchange of services. It’s called Time Banking and, no, no ordinary money is involved. In this article, I offer my understanding of what it is, why it should matter to Shambhala centers, and the promise it holds to develop our sense of community, enrich our cultural engagement, and lay the basis for a kindness-based economy.

Time Banking is based on the view that everyone can share services that will be valuable to others. From an opera singer who can offer voice lessons, to a 10 year old boy who can read to an elderly man whose eyesight has diminished. This enormous amount of social capital is organized in a centralized network. A coordinator in a given community lists all the services that members would like to share, as well as receive. They then identify the matches available, and contact both members to invite a meeting. As members give one hour of their time, they earn one time dollar, a virtual credit stored in the coordinator’s computer. This is then spent when members receive a service from anyone else in the network.

For example, Fernando spends two hours cooking dinner for Mary’s family one night when she is tired, and then receives two time dollars. The following week he uses these credits to send his son to John’s violin lesson for two hours. John then uses one credit to have his friend’s 13-year old son cut his lawn for one hour, and the other he donates to his elderly mother who needs someone to bring her groceries. The cycle continues, and as it does, a beautiful support network blossoms.

At the leadership gathering, many responses were shared as to how wealth is experienced. They ranged from feeling fear about making enough money, to the rich feelings that result from having community to rely on. When there are others around us that are happy to support us and appreciate what we offer them, a sense of solidarity is developed. When Fernando was able to relieve Mary of having to prepare dinner one night, she was grateful to be able to relax, and delighted to learn he could cook so deliciously. Fernando was happy to offer something that helped Mary through her busy week, and appreciated her compliments on his culinary skill.

At our Shambhala centers, this model could be used as a core piece of creating the Shambhala village around the school, or creating community outside of the center. It could give us important reasons to spend time with one another, allowing us to get to know what specialty we each offer. With each exchange made, we put generosity and appreciation into action while deepening our relationships with fellow members. The result is a steady growth of trust and inclusion.

The Time Banking system is becoming popular across the globe. A brief search for, “Time Bank,” in Facebook will lead to dozens of group pages in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. The largest, and most successful in the world, is right in New York City, run by Ana Miyares (the mother of Time Banking) and Mashi Blech. They currently have over 3,000 members (up from 1,000 in 2010), all of whom make at least one exchange per month. Their members include people from all walks of life – retired grandmothers, five-year-old children, company executives, politicians, plumbers, and more.

There are so many ways that Time Banking could support the Center Leadership: Trading services such as calligraphy or music lessons would expand and enrich our cultural body of wisdom. It would allow people to allocate their financial resources more creatively. Including Time Banking in a Center’s membership package could create a magnetizing aspect to membership, and would lead to a greater fabric of “Society.”

Time Banking is meant to be supplementary to our common income, and we can individually choose the number of weekly hours we contribute to the system. This allows it to be less intrusive and more enriching to our personal lives. It also prevents it from becoming threatening to businesses or the larger economic establishment. Goods are generally excluded from Time Banking, and businesses tend not to see any decline in revenue. If they do, they are typically members offering a portion of their services, and therefore receiving time dollars as payment. Thus, Time Banking is able to remain a friendly way of creating exchanges. Thinking larger, at the level of building a vision, each exchange made offers us the opportunity to reflect on having a world that constantly fosters, and incentivizes, kindness, generosity, and cooperation. It allows us to see a way that an economic system can prioritize social goals, increasing prosperity while building community bonds.

In Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s book, The Shambhala Principle, he refers to societal norms as ceremonies. Normally, we assume rampant accumulation, hoarding and a mentality of “defend me and mine” to be inevitable aspects of this society’s ceremony. Time Banking shows us that something very different is possible, something that fosters feelings of genuine wealth and encourages us to thrive. The ceremony encouraged here, then, is one of appreciating others unique abilities, sharing our particular abilities, and gradually developing a sense of “us.” As this becomes the norm over time, this uplifted ceremony form could create a culture in and of itself. Members may be heard saying, “I Time Bank,” so as to say, “I like being part of a supportive community.”

For me, Time Banking’s fundamental presumptions reflect basic goodness. We all have something valuable to offer because we are all valuable. It will never be otherwise. Creating a system that celebrates and highlights this is one way we can proclaim basic goodness, furthering the heart essence of Shambhala throughout the world.

What do you think? Share your thoughts below in the comments field.

Brian Landever~~
Brian Landever studied economics in graduate school at The New School for Social Research, looking at various ways we can prioritize social goals of cooperation and trust-building with economic planning. He prefers focusing on Time Banking for its simple and gentle approach. If you would like his assistance in setting up a Time Bank for your Shambhala Center, feel free to contact him.

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18 responses to “ Time Banking ”
  1. Brian Landever
    Aug 9, 2013
    Reply

    I want to be supportive to those interested in getting time banks going. There are several start up manuals that have been written over time. The first one I suggest seems to touch all the bases:

    http://timebankswork.net/tiki/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=76

    The basic steps to starting a time bank are:
    1) Identify what would be useful to the majority of members in the time bank
    or alternatively, to start small, simply sit down and have the discussion with a base group of 5 people.
    2) Identify what services people would enjoy offering, and how much they would like to offer them per month.
    3) From this collected list, create a check sheet that would allow people to identify what services they would like to receive.
    4) Decide who will be the coordinator.
    5) The coordinator sits down and connects those desiring a service with the person offering the service. The amount of time in the exchange is reported to the coordinator, and the earned/spent time hour credits are recorded.

    This is a general overview of how to get it moving. Many more details are included in the manuals.

    Another manual that is tailored to having the time bank started and run by the members themselves is here:
    http://timebankswork.net/tiki/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=73

    This includes tips on the organization of the time bank, and how to attract more members.

    Please let me know what questions you have as you begin.

    Kindly,

    Brian

  2. Great Article, good ideas, but how to we implement this in our Shambhala communities? Anyone like to share info from places that have put this into practice? Perhaps you can post how you started this all on the Network.
    Yours in Enlightened Society
    Fern LaRocca CFP

  3. Brian Landever
    Jul 20, 2013
    Reply

    Hello Everyone,

    The conversation is important, and action is even better. For those ready to sit down and take the first steps, I am recommending two links which contain guides and materials for starting a time bank. Perhaps in time we can have these revised to specify our Shambhala Centers.

    timebankswork.net/tiki/tiki-index.php?page=Tony’s+Quick+Startup+Guide

    http://hourworld.org/_StartupMaterials.htm?p=3

    Kindly,

    Brian

  4. Robert Alan Paul
    Jul 16, 2013
    Reply

    Two major points, both practical and what I would call realistic, although that is somewhat biased, eh?

    1. If the time bank has the purpose of social networking, then it is certainly a great idea. No argument. However, if it has the purpose of providing economic benefit then there are severe limitations. The prime limitation is its failure to implement a supremely reasonable economic principle called supply and demand. For example, can you imagine a lawyer used to and able to charge and get $250 an hour for her work having an incentive to volunteer for an hour in order to obtain a chit for someone to mow her lawn, something that she might get a teenager to take $15 an hour to do? Absurd! Similarly for any professional getting more than $30 an hour. For the lawyer or other professional, this is pro-bono work, pure volunteer work out of the goodness of their heart, which may be quite good and they may be quite willing. But it is outside of the time bank idea. The time bank may work well for all the work that can be provided under the more rational economic system that is currently in place called money exchange in the range of $10 to $20 an hour. But for work outside that range it makes little sense. Again, it sounds great for social networking, community, etc, within limits.

    2. On the topic of rejecting the economic establishment as being aggressive, perhaps it is not aggressive, but it is naive, and dangerously so. The collapse of the economic establishment would be a disaster making the Syria civil war look like a garden party. Assuredly we do not want that. However, we do want something that embodies more kindness and gentleness. What is required is an attitude shift (such as can be achieved through meditation, I am told) that will provide sufficient critical mass for enough people to become verbal about modifying our current system with laws, regulation and standard practices that implement kindness and gentleness. One such law would be the separation of banks and investment firms, such as Dodd-Franks is intended to do, as a start, and such as was done away with in ~1999 in favor of deregulation that led to the fiscal crisis of 2008. That deregulation provided the economic incentive for overwhelming greed, and confused people who thought that would achieve happiness were encouraged to follow their confusion. Regulation can provide better limits to that tendency. Kindness and gentleness is needed, along with awareness informed by realistic knowledge of and respect for current economic, political and social practices, along with a desire to work with the system to make it better rather than throwing stones from the outside (which only increases the target’s aggressiveness and makes things worse).

    Lets be real, folks. The system sucks, but it can be made better. We don’t want to tear down, we want to build it up.

  5. Well thought out. You make good points.

  6. Brian, I’m surprised you characterize rejecting the economic establishment as aggressive. I’ve been amazed to see viable forms of mutual aid like Time Banking, Occupy Sandy, Move Your Money and the Rolling Jubilee coming into such visibility over the past few years. It certainly seems this movement has come about as a response to the global recession; a proactive, peaceful grappling with the need to find new ways of working together. People around the world are self-organizing in creative and visionary ways in response to the awful failure of a system that quite literally celebrates aggression and predation. Acknowledging this, knowing to reject it and instead celebrating the creation of actual, new and even sacred economic realities in our lives, is an active way of weakening the imposed and thanatotic excesses of a system in which our interconnectedness became a liability at the hands of financial institutions whose very purpose was to gamble on the well being of others. Celebrating our aspiration to opt out of that system – to “threaten” the economic “establishment” – in whatever small ways we can might be analogous to civil disobedience but it hardly seems aggressive in a Buddhist sense. Thanks for the piece and for bringing Time Banking into visibility within Shambhala.

  7. Brian Landever
    Jul 10, 2013
    Reply

    Dear Alice,

    I agree whole heartedly. For those that volunteer at centers, earning time dollar credits could be a great way of getting valuable services while becoming more active in the larger community.

    Indeed, the centers should certainly be members of the banks, able to trade time dollars as their own entities. Centers could spend their credits when they accept assistance from people such as yourself, and then earn credits by coming up with interesting offers such as space usage or offering meditation instruction to elementary schools. This could be yet another way to get the Shambhala center out into the community.

    I see a win-win situation.

    Kindly,

    Brian Landever

  8. Brian Landever
    Jul 10, 2013
    Reply

    Dear Shel and Joe,

    I appreciate your comments, and do acknowledge that movements always require many faces. However, I hold that social transformation that sticks comes about from non-aggressive means. Actions that are based on aggression are too likely to create systems that are aggressive, if they succeed at all.

    As for the tax question, this depends. Some counties have been reported to require all members to hold a small business license in the case that the time bank was a for-profit model. Obviously, this time bank failed. Those that have succeeded are non-profit, if they are registered as anything at all, and have thus been determined exempt from taxes. More about this can be read here:

    http://timebankswork.net/tiki/tiki-list_file_gallery.php?galleryId=7

    Kindly,

    Brian Landever

  9. Brian Landever
    Jul 10, 2013
    Reply

    Dear Angela,

    Thank you for sharing your appreciation. Indeed, offering the center itself as a member of LETS or time banking can be a skillful way of obtaining needed services while strengthening community ties.

    Kindly,

    Brian

  10. We have a LETS (Local Economic Trading System) in Tatamagouche and I understand such systems are in a number of different countries. You’ve inspired me to investigate whether our local Shambhala Group could become a member of that instead of setting up our own. This would expand the reach and the opportunity of opening Enlightened Society outwards. Thank you, Brian

  11. Hi Joe,
    Yes, I twigged on that too. I think that perhaps that is an important consideration in getting started, as it skillfully avoids the all too likely possibility of (big) businesses and lobby groups targetting the time bank for legal action and political intervention.
    Otherwise, I fully agree with what I think you are implying : the carrying on of (unsustainable) business as usual should feel threatened… however not only by innovations such as Time Banking, rather much more by the growing supply and demand crisis that we inexorably marching towards.

    Brian,
    What are the tax implications of Time Banking?

  12. Many of us who are older donate hours of time to our Shambhala Centers–how wonderful if this could be recognized and valued, and in return we might receive some assistance with odd jobs that are difficult for us!

  13. Mark Hazell
    Jul 8, 2013
    Reply

    While not specifically about Time Banking, The Abundant Community by Peter Block and John McKnight is a wonderful description of how seeking out and sharing skills can build and strengthen community. I see there is now a website at http://www.abundantcommunity.com . Peter Block’s book, Community — The Structure of Belonging is another wonderful resource.

    The Shambhala teachings are wonderful and precious, but we don’t have to reinvent every wheel — there are so many people doing wonderful work that we can learn from, and in turn offer whatever insights we might have to……

    Mark

  14. Sala Sweet
    Jul 8, 2013
    Reply

    I also participated in a time bank and found it useful in making connections with people and exchanging skills. It was important in that time bank that each person’s contibution was given the same value – one hour of their time. Regardless of the service given.

    The organization was Shift and can be found at http://www.shiftonline.org. The person running the time bank, or having knowledge about it was Jay McManus. You could contact him if you want further insight by going to the website and requesting a contact with him.

    Good luck!

  15. “It also prevents it from becoming threatening to … the larger economic establishment.”

    This is meant to be encouraging?

  16. Edwin Tang
    Jul 4, 2013
    Reply

    Great article! Very inspiring!

  17. Sara Demetry
    Jul 4, 2013
    Reply

    Thank you for the article. Time Banking is very much on my mind and I have joined the local Equal Exchange Time Bank in St Johnsbury, but it is really not active yet. I feel that if our community participated and used the structure that is already in place for a web-based way for people to connect and give and receive services, it would enrich both our community and the larger community. Our local time bank also allows organizations to join which means that if you are a time bank member and you volunteer for that organization, you can “bank” the hours you volunteer.

  18. Thanks for your article Brian. I was involved In time banking for a few years berfore moving to an area without it and found the relationship building which you describe to be quite true. Wouldn’t it be nice if shambhala centers themselves also accepted time dollars for programs and perhaps offered them for staffing, cleaning, etc. It would seem not so implausible for the entire mandala to be involved so that attending larger programs at land centers could be paid for, at least in part with time dollars.


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