Fusing Cooperatives and Time Banks to Meet Community Needs
Cooperatives and Time Banks
Cooperatives are, as we know, an excellent way to do business in harmony with our values. It is why the two of us, and our third partner, Stephen Beckett, formed hOurworld cooperative five years ago. Although hOurworld’s foundational mission is to provide immersion training, social architecture and free software to time banks, we quickly realized that the social architecture component extended beyond the world of time banking.
Time Banks, or Service Exchanges, date back to 1973 in Osaka, Japan (Teruku Mizushima) and interestingly, around the same time in St. Louis, Missouri (Grace Hill Settlement House). What was first described as “modified barter”, however, has roots in the cooperative movement of the 1930s depression era as well. Roll back farther and we know that exchanging services among neighbors was a way of life long before money was invented. Then add the concept of valuing a service exchange in the currency of time, reinforce with the beautiful principles of reciprocity and equality, and we have the time bank system today. The resurgence of time banking is now a worldwide event, in many cases flowing as a current alongside, or within, other social movements.
That brings us to a full circle opportunity for a divine marriage between time banking and co-ops that we call Community Cooperatives. Our definition is this: A community cooperative is a business, club, program or project where the product or service is created using Time Credits.
Here are the stories of three examples of community co-ops, each one benefiting from lessons learned from their predecessors.
Long Island Home Enterprise
Terry Daniels: In 2005, I was living in Long Island, NY. At that time, the high price of houses made it impossible for many good wage earners, including friends of mine, to purchase homes. A concept formed about how our circle of friends might be able to pool our tools, skills and enough cash to purchase a modest house. If we cooperated, and it was fun, perhaps we could not only buy, but renovate a home. One of us knew a realtor who was inspired by our cooperative spirit and she found our first property. Between us we had enough money for the down payment and more than enough enthusiasm to do the required work. We collected tools, equipment, home decorating materials/ideas and more friends. The first home was easily restored and we decided to sell it at a good profit. Long Island Home Enterprise was structured as an LLC with worker co-op bylaws. All of our worker-owners decided to invest all of the profits into our second house. We only had to purchase tools we didn’t already have in our attics or garages. Additionally, we funded payroll for our lead project manager and a few workers to have full time employment. All decisions were made by a straight up majority vote and we had no major conflicts. We were really having fun with this.
Most of us had other employment, but as co-op members, we began to view ourselves as investors and shareholders as well as workers. We created a profit sharing formula where the total profits were divided by the total amount of hours earned by all the members. Each member’s equity depended on how many hours they worked. We raised the $14,000 we needed to start up by converting cash into “Shares” or “Hours” at $20 per share. Over the three years we bought, renovated and flipped 5 houses. We recorded roughly 2000 hours of labor for each house, much of it mentored by professionals. All the skills were valued equally, so an hour of a licensed tradesperson was the same as an hour by the floor sweeper. In a few cases shareholders “cashed out” by having work done on their own homes, such as renovating a kitchen or building a deck. We were each creatively getting our needs met. Someone asked if we were a time bank, but none of us had ever heard of that. I looked up time banking and we traveled to Portland, ME for training. We also looked up the Cooperative Development Institute and received co-op training. Then we realized Home Enterprise was an unintentional blending of the two, but we didn’t have a name for this. The real estate collapse erased the profits we had accrued but most members received the benefits either as paid staff or by the exchanges of Hours between our members. In 2008, by mutual agreement we successfully ended Home Enterprise, having satisfied, and exceeded, our original goals.
Hour Weatherization Cooperative
Linda Hogan: In 2009, I was the director of Hour Exchange Portland (HEP), then a vibrant time bank open to all kinds of alliances. Terry moved there to work with HEP and inspired us with his story of Home Enterprise. That fall, a HEP member was concerned about the dramatic rise in oil prices and the financial and physical effect it would have on Mainers for the winter ahead. Unannounced, he walked into the HEP office and offered us a cash gift to be used to weatherize the homes of fellow members. We had no experience doing this, but the need was great and the mission aligned, simply because it meant neighbors would help neighbors.
Every need we had was met quickly from local members and local sources
Hour Weatherization Cooperative, a legally separate business, was birthed to do this professional work at affordable rates, starting with HEP member homes. We quickly realized the difference between full scale winterization, and that of basic, step one weatherization. We revised our business plan to reflect a hybrid. The name that eluded Terry in Home Enterprise announced itself here—we were a Community Cooperative.
Hour Weatherization Cooperative invited time bank members to earn hours working as “Green Teams” under the supervision of the Co-op Energy Technician. Members could then spend their hours for wanted services offered within the HEP membership. We had a need, a mission and a ready labor pool. To our delight, the necessary materials, tools and equipment were easily donated from the State of Maine, Greater Portland United Way, the local community action agency, Habitat for Humanity and individuals. As demand grew, we required a HEP Step One Coordinator to recruit and train Green Teamers in basic safety, and to schedule the weatherization days. Local publicity for this collaborative approach to the energy crisis attracted grants from several foundations, a bank and individuals, which provided the funds for that position. Other HEP members who were uninterested in actual weatherization but who wanted to support the program earned time providing transportation, lunches or tools for Green Teamers. A non-profit member agency with many hours in their account “sold” a van, for Time, to the program. In reality, every need we had was met quickly from local members and local sources.
In the three years this program operated, it grew steadily in size and dimension. In year one, 36 homes were weatherized; year two, 56; and year three, 101. Three HEP Green Team members became professionally interested in becoming energy auditors or energy technicians. Each passed his state licensing exam and found employment. In the Co-op, the Time labor from HEP members reduced its costs, yielding a year end profit. That profit was then granted to HEP to support the operation of the time bank. This was a full circle venture.
The Cooperative Farm Network
Terry Daniels: In 2013, after Linda and I provided an hOurworld Immersion Training to a small, local time bank in Lake County, CA, I decided to live there. It’s a beautiful area of farm land, but I learned that only 0.2% of the food in the stores was locally grown. The time bank, THRIVE, had a strong relationship with North Coast Opportunity (NCO), the local community action agency. A major focus of NCO is food security, since the poverty index is very high for unemployment, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and welfare. NCO operates food pantries and nutrition programs. It supported the birth of a food cooperative and the time bank. These are all good, networked services, but it seemed ironic that people were both unemployed and hungry while living in a soil rich community where small farmers needed labor. We chose to individually interview the farmers to learn how we could support them and increase the amount of food grown locally. Could the community come to the farm and help co-produce some of its own food? We asked the farmers what they needed and they answered—help with planting, weeding and harvesting their products. We asked the time bank members what they needed and they said affordable, healthy food. Members had the gift of time to contribute, earning hours that could be redeemed for other services, possibly including food. The Cooperative Farm Network (CFN) was born.
In the last year ten farms have been supported by 38 time bankers who worked 800 hours assisting with the production of 30 different products. Great foods such as walnuts, berries, peaches and kale have been harvested along with poultry and wine grapes. While the farmers increased their production, CFN members went home with food from the fields. This past summer we established a relationship with a local Grange Hall where foods gleaned were brought in to be canned. Those canned goods were sold for Time. It just keeps getting better.
What have we learned from these three examples? We know there are only two degrees of separation from the skills we need to co-create Community Cooperatives. Time Bankers are ready and willing networks of people who are workers, investors and customers. If you are teaching and doing work, in reciprocity, the guiding principles of cooperation and equality are in place. Therefore, community cooperatives can become natural extensions of any existing type of cooperative, anywhere in the world. These include manufacturing, food, resale stores, artist collectives, all variations. One big opportunity looming in front of us is is the credit union. Credit Unions are cooperatives known and valued for to returning investments to its neighbors, many for food security. Wouldn’t it be a natural extension to join forces with time bank members for farming or hunger relief activities that already part of that culture of social activity? More hands working together could have the mutual benefit of attracting new credit union members who invest their money and time locally.
Finally, for newly emerging co-ops, now is the time to reach out to your time bank neighbors to explore the myriad of ways in which services can flow between you. Your business strategy can be reinforced by local gifts of time right from the onset. Quite possibly, everyone and every resource you want to receive is just a neighbor and skill away, waiting to be asked to give. By combining the gifts of time and talents with the spirit of cooperation, 2015 could be an exceptional year for all of us. Peace.
Go to the GEO front page
Linda Hogan (2014). Community Cooperatives: Fusing Cooperatives and Time Banks to Meet Community Needs. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO). https://geo.coop/story/community-cooperatives