For a deeper discussion of time banking and community resilience in the context of Hong Kong, see this Medium Article.
Community-based exchanges do not only happen with fiat money, but also through other forms of transactions such as barter and credit. From our experiences of research and community engagement with grassroots communities in the past decade, we found out that credit — a measure of trust one party has in the counter-party's ability to pay particular goods and services at some point in the future — are not necessarily displayed by fiat money, but can also be represented by community-based currencies. For many communities who are structurally excluded from the global economy such as those in remote and rural areas, refugee camps, urban villages, and slums, they exchange with each other with their valuable assets — time, instead of money. Time, allocated to every human being relatively equally, can be tokenized as community currencies that facilitate and ease local transactions. In fact, the idea of a time bank is not new, but existing initiatives remain micro and small-scale, members having little incentives to earn time tokens that have only a few locations of production and consumption.
Over the past two years, we have been working with major NGOs in Hong Kong for a collaborative city-wide time bank project, helping each organization to digitize and tokenize their district-based time vouchers, consolidating and scaling them into a time exchange platform with the support of cloud and blockchain technologies. During the pandemic, there have been a lot more people participating in the program to exchange health-related goods and services, and the project with a theme of community resilience and digital transformation has attracted especially much attention from the government and large-scale charity foundations in face of global health crisis.
Time currency is one type of community currencies, which can be categorized by its bottom-up or top-down nature, as well as decentralized and centralized formats
Since 2019, Shanzhai City has been partnering with the Hong Kong Council of Social Services (HKCSS) and 4 different NGOs to develop technology solutions that digitize the time vouchers marketplace and enable cross-district value exchanges.
The technology allows different groups of community members including lower-income households, single parents, elderly, youths, farmers, as well as local stores to participate in the exchange of goods and services through a user-friendly mobile application. The mobile application includes the following features:
The technology is powered inertly on the backend by high-tech cloud-based data tools such as a decentralized ledger technology (blockchain) for immutable data systems as well as artificial intelligence (machine learning) for the discovery of significant patterns in data. Ultimately, these patterns in data collected through TVP will become important information that supports social needs identification and end-beneficiary targeting for different types of poverty alleviation projects, programs and policies, including but not limited to social welfare and microfinance provision. Overall, bringing together and transforming multiple NGO-based time voucher programs into a city-wide digital time marketplace helps to:
Ultimately, the technology solution aims to support the Time Voucher Program to effectively achieve its goals and objectives in unleashing the potential of local communities especially the aging populations in contributing their knowledge and skills to the community, empowering vulnerable populations to access to alternative employment opportunities, promoting social trust among community members and that between the people and organizations, and last but not least, stabilizing the local economy amidst global economic and health crisis.
Learning from our users who participated in the pilot in the past year, we identify the critical bottlenecks that prevent the time vouchers program to scale in the city:
In response to the problems identified, we extend our partnership of time vouchers program among 4 NGOs to a broader pool of stakeholders including more social purpose organizations who facilitate community-based mutual support, corporates who are interested in donating their products and services for corporate social responsibility (CSR), and charities who intend to improve the sustainability of their funds. In short, we are building a collaborative program — The Time Consortium, a group of actors who implement different community currency programs built on the same vision and same technology protocols designed for community development contexts.
The technology will be continuously built on the IDCC (Impact Data Consortium) public data infrastructure. , and will expand as we work with more like-minded practitioners and community members, global and local. We have been working closely with Grassroots Economics on designing the fractional reserve for community currencies, and with Alphabonds for smart philanthropy.
To sum up, we aim to facilitate a decentralized network of community-driven economies for the grassroots and our society as a whole. We believe that resources from within the communities will contribute largely to the SDG funding gap.