Posted on February 3, 2014by 

First Come First Series

By Dan Nowman Niswander

© 2014 by Daniel Niswander

“Time banking is…rooted and based outside the commercial economy where money changes hands and it’s really in the economy of family and neighborhood, community, kinfolk, civil society.”

“Helping professionals are trained to say how can I help you, but they’re not trained to say I need what you can do as badly as you need what I can do.”

Dr. Edgar Cahn


Dr. Edgar Cahn, is a distinguished law Professor and was former counsel and a speech writer for Robert F. Kennedy.  He is the co-founder, former Dean of the School of Law and now Professor of Law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia, and is the creator of a concept called ‘time banking.’

After recovering from a heart attack in 1980, he came to the conclusion that even though great strides were made in the legal system there was no real progress addressing the needs for greater equality and opportunity for people in general.

He also came to the conclusion that unless we can change the world perception, children, youth, the elderly, and the people on public assistance will continue to be seen as just “objects of charity” and  “they would get the crumbs.” If their contributions were seen as being of greater value, then they would be accepted as part of the labor force.  Seen as part of the labor force, more people would contribute to “building community, to raise children, to take care of the elderly, to make democracy work, to fight for social justice.”

Professor Cahn saw the importance of creating social networks long before the Internet and the term social network really became mainstream.  By envisioning a better way for humans to connect to each other, he recognized that we can even change perceptions of human relationships from just being strangers to actual persons interacting with each other, getting to know one another, and making exchanges with each other that would place actual value on ‘paying it forward.’

Of course exchanges not only have to be honored, but they should also be recorded and that is the purpose behind creating currencies in the first place.  Starting with the concept of time, which can be measurable, he created the time dollar as a “tax exempt barter currency that operates something like a baby-sitting pool.”  (1)


Arroyo Seco Network of TIme Banks hosts a seminar on micro loans in Pasadena

Time banking has gone international and its’ local focus has only just begun to connect communities together into larger networks.  Time bankers are very innovative in creating events and exchanges of all kinds that have already started evolving into sub-groups. There are community gardens, fruit picking groups, arts and crafts, animal walking, house sitting, repair café with seamstresses, auto mechanics, knife sharpeners, etc., educational classes, car rides and errand running, social gatherings with direct personal exchanges in coffee shops and public parks, and on and on. The possibilities are endless and will always be works in progress.

A major development in the L.A. area with the Arroyo Seco Network of Time Banks brought about a partnership with the Metro transit company allowing time bankers who agree to participate the opportunity to get discounted yearly unlimited light rail and bus passes.


The Internet has made it possible for time bank groups to create websites where time bankers can create online profiles complete with photos and more detailed information about a person’s talents, skills, and abilities as ‘offers’ and exchanges that can likewise be ‘requests’ from other time bankers.  The exchanges can be direct bartering or as ‘paying it forward.’ You can go into debt or get credits in time dollars measured as whole numbers in real time hours or in percentages such as one quarter of a time dollar (15 minutes), one half (30 minutes), three- quarters (45 minutes), etc.


Film-makers Lenore and Mark Eklund have produced a documentary called ‘Time As Money’ (2013) that covers the story of time banking as an alternative to the present cash model and a way of transition into a “collaborative collective.” (2)

The film features an appearance by Dr. Edgar Cahn.

“More than a currency: TimeBanking is a movement. There are three levels of rules: the rules that define value; the rules for changing the rules; and the rules for changing the rules for changing the rules. TimeBanking goes to the third level -empowering us all to change the rules for changing the rules that dictate how the rules are to be made. This film captures the spirit and heart of the movement.”  Dr. Edgar Cahn

If you are interested in learning even more about time banks or want to get a packet to begin creating one in your community, you can check out TimeBanks USA.


The Core Values of Time Banking

  1. Assets. We are all assets. Every human being has something to contribute.
  2. Redefining Work. Some work is beyond price. Work has to be redefined to value whatever it takes to raise healthy children, build strong families, revitalize neighborhoods, make democracy work, advance social justice, make the planet sustainable. That kind of work needs to be honored, recorded and rewarded.
  3. Reciprocity. Helping works better as a two-way street. The question: “How can I help you?” needs to change so we ask: “How can we help each other build the world we both will live in?”
  4. Social Networks. We need each other. Networks are stronger than individuals. People helping each other reweave communities of support, strength & trust. Community is built upon sinking roots, building trust, creating networks. Special relationships are built on commitment.

5.   Respect. Every human being matters. Respect underlies freedom of speech, freedom      of religion, and everything we value. Respect supplies the heart and soul of democracy. When respect is denied to anyone, we all are injured. We must respect where people are in the moment, not where we hope they will be in the future.

(courtesy of the Arroyo Seco Network of Time Banks)

(1) ‘Time Bank Founder Edgar Cahn’ from the Santarchy You Tube Channel

(2) ‘Time As Money’  – a film by Lenore and Mark Eklund (2013)


Categories: Activism, Economics, Local Communities, Movement Building, Sustainability, United States, Workshops


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