Does your local community need and injection of money to usher in prosperity? No worry, just get your scissors out and make some! This is anyway what a group of local community developers in Sweden are trying. The initiative is a cooperation between Transition Towns in Sweden (the organization that works on a local level to prepare for a world without oil) and ISSS, the Institute of Swedish Safety and Security – an organization that is working to promote resilience and disaster preparedness.
Philip Wyer, chairman of ISSS, the project’s lead partner, explains that the role of his institute is to study the changes occurring in society and relate them to the safety, security and well-being of people. Understanding resilience and ways for society to show resilience in the face of change is a perspective that ISSS covers with the other partners, the Swedish Transition movement and Open World Villages. Most important is to understand the risks society might face and ways to mitigate those potential threats. Philip likens it to preparing for a journey: you cannot be sure of what to take with you until you know if the journey will be along smooth roads, in hot jungle or up freezing mountains. Having understood where you will be going, i.e. what situation society will be in, the analysis, assessment and recommendations follow, utilizing tools including R.A.I.D assessments. This acronym stands for risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies, which enable the organization to understand the current perspective on a potential scenario and analyze the effect of future changes.
Says Philip: “In our disaster preparedness work we note a lack of resilience in modern currency systems and realize that, should the electricity go down for a longer period, the cashless society that Swedes are building up would be a money-less society as well. Sweden’s monetary system is totally reliant on functioning electricity and Internet”.
Philip sees many parallels with the work of his organization and Transition: “being able to create and roll out your own currency, should disaster strike, is essential to be able to keep the wheels of society turning. But it also has a lot to do with trust, and everyone finding a role for themselves instead of feeling left out. Local food production, the ability to self-organize, keeping a roof over your head, having everyone involved – these are all essentials of survival after a major disaster and central to Transition as well.”
Stephen Hinton from Transition Sweden with flyers for the project
The experimental currency, called ITK, which translated stands for Voluntary Time Coupons, is based on the German currency Minutos and is self-produced using a printer and rubber stamps. The coupons represent voluntary time in minutes. Although people produce their own notes based on a template downloaded from the project site, they are not valid unless two people endorse them by stamping them their personal stamp. Philip explains: “This currency is actually close to a gift currency as it just represents people’s volunteer hours that they offer to help their community towards resilience”.
And the idea is to give them away! One experiment will be where volunteers give a certain number of voluntary hours via ITK to the local transition group. They will then organize activities and acknowledge people’s engagement with the notes given them by local volunteers.
Here is how the currency will work: each volunteer will get coupons representing hours and minutes in difference denominations. They then ask two other volunteers to verify AND underwrite their coupons. These coupons act like an IOU of voluntary time. Volunteers in a local charity would, for example, offer their time to the charity by giving the charity, say, coupons equivalent to 18 hours work. The charity can then use some of these coupons, for example, to trade them for a musician to come and entertain. The musician might trade the coupons for home-grown vegetables, and the vegetable grower might trade them for a second-hand bike. If the second-hand bike seller is the one who gave vouchers to the charity you can see how a local neighbor-helps-neighbor culture starts to emerge.
Says Philip; “Another thing ISSS notes about Swedish society is the number of people who are feeling excluded. With high unemployment and a society that does not socialize widely we are looking for a way to bring people together via the voluntary community. We hope that this coupon experiment will give young unemployed people incentive to engage with the community, and the community a way to recognize the young people’s contribution.
Says Transition Sweden Core group member Stephen Hinton; “this trial aims to test several things: Firstly, can we use a variant of Minutos to teach people about local currency and how money works in general. Secondly, we hope that just bringing people together to try cooperating locally will strengthen the community and its resilience even further. Finally, we will be asking people to try things out to learn from the experiment, so hopefully we will be able to pass on what we have learnt to other groups and Sweden will be better prepared if, during a long, cold dark winter, disaster strikes and your Internet Bank no longer works!
The experiment will last six months, the planning phase has already started, and the launch will be in June followed by an evaluation after the summer. More information is available in Swedish on the information site at http://transitionsweden.ning.com/page/itk and via ISSS site http://isss.se