Most people are only really good at a few things in life. And lots of us have friends with similar skills (like writing) when we might need help with other tasks (like bike repair).
Enter time banks. The concept originated three decades ago, when Ed Cahn—founder of the Antioch School of Law—wondered what could be done to offset President Ronald Reagan’s devastating cuts in social services. The solution was not governmental at all, but rather social: Create a structure for citizens to “volunteer” their skills, but tally the number of hours they spent, and allow them to use those “time dollars” to “buy” help from someone else.
Over the years, the concept has slowly caught on in the U.S., with successful applications in Chicago and Maine and even—of a sort—in D.C., with the Time Dollar Youth Court (which Cahn runs, as a professor at the University of the District of Columbia school of law). Now, D.C.’s finally getting a proper time bank, run by the folks at HubDC.
OK, now what’s HubDC? It’s a piece of another idealistic social innovation project, but with more international reach. There are “hubs”—defined as a “member’s club, an innovation agency, a serviced office and a think-tank”—in 25 cities on five continents. HubDC is run by Allison Basile, who was trained at yet another global social entrepreneurship outfit, Ashoka. Currently, Basile is raising money to open a physical Hub somewhere in D.C., where innovators (not necessarily businesspeople, like at Affinity Lab and Anacostia’s Hive) can work and collaborate.
But back to Time Banks. The D.C. version has 100-odd members and is shooting to double that by the end of October. As Basile described the concept, it started sounding more and more like Craigslist.
“The one distinction is that because it’s an exchange, it becomes a two-way transaction rather than a one way transaction,” she caveated.