Time Banks are systems to exchange one service for another using labor-time as a currency.
Services provided result in labor-time units credited to a time bank that may be redeemed for other services.
The origins of time-based currency exchanges go back to the 1800s in Cincinnati and then Europe, but the first time bank was created in Osaka, Japan in 1973, Japan by Teruko Mizushima, a Japanese woman who saw time as constituting an alternative form of trade to money. Participants contribute time when their lives were less busy and draw down on this later when necessary.
The Volunteer Labour Bank later named the Volunteer Labor Network, became the hub a national network of time banks, expanding to the US in the 1980s. The organization attracted primarily middle-aged women in Japan who often cared for their elders and created a space for them to organize mutual aid and seek relief and support.
Time banks are designed to rethink how economies function and what they value most by assigning different weights to work that may not be valued in the formal economy. The term “Time Banking” was coined and trademarked by American lawyer Edgar Cahn who advocated its use to supplement government social services.
In creating equity amongst contributions based on the amount of time spent on the activity, Time Banks are able to offer credit in an organized fashion for previously non-compensated tasks such as volunteering for an organization. This allows organizations to record and track accountability and contributions fairly amongst participants.
Example Time Banks
The Volunteer Labor Network | Timebanks USA | ASNTB | JCSA | NALC | Time Bank of India | ArchCare
Key Performance Indicators
Key Performance Indicators
Support within a larger business ecosystem
Time banks were designed to solve for underserved social safety nets in the US and Japan, but are now also used to support business ecosystems. In Los Angeles, the Arroyo SECO Network of Time Banks (ASNTB) established a dual-currency loan fund for members who wish to start a small business or a worker-owned cooperative. The fund lends money to ASNTB members through a financial partner, the Permaculture Credit Union. Members of the time bank then use time credits to pay associated loan-processing fees. In comparison to tech incubators where access to mentors and capital is often “free” but in the form of scouts on the lookout for future venture capital investments, ASNTB’s Local Economy Incubator matches borrowers with needed skills in business models, branding, and communications.
Not widely available to support businesses or non-profits
Time banks are being reconsidered as part of a local business ecosystem, but most focus on individual time contributions in exchange for individual benefit.
Difficult to sustain operationally
Time banks have overhead costs and complexity when managing multiple prices or values for different services, and ensuring frequent and healthy exchange of services. They typically struggle to operate with volunteer organizational and operational labor and must seek financing to manage and pay for goods and services which cannot be purchased with time bank-issued labor-time credits.
Mutual aid for COVID19 response
Time banks have seen a resurgence of interest as major gaps in the social safety net were revealed during the global COVID19 pandemic.
Senior care time banks
In locations with an aging population, Seniors participate in Time Banks in order to strengthen ties with their communities and seek help outside of the formal health care and service economy.
Time banks are a thought provoking way to think about the assets and resources that you already have access to that are non-monetary, but can help you build your network. For more currency-based capital sources, consider these alternative capital sources or explore our Capital Library.