Interview with Auta Main
by Jane Gerloff
Main is executive director of New England Time Banks (formerly
Maine Time Dollar Network). She has owned and operated two
small businesses in southern Maine, in addition to her involvement
with various community development and social entrepreneurship
endeavors. She is also director of the neighbor-to-neighbor
division of Time Banks USA (formerly the Time Dollar Institute),
where she and other Time Dollar pioneers from around the country
are working with Dr. Edgar Cahn, the founder of Time Dollars,
on developing a national network of time banks.
How did the first Time Dollar network get started in Maine?
A number of years ago, Edgar Cahn, then a civil rights lawyer
in Washington, D.C., had a heart attack at age 44. There
he was, a lawyer who was used to working 80 hours a week,
lying in bed needing all sorts of help-feeling useless,
and missing community in his life. His wife and children
were helping him, and he had insurance, so he was able to
pay people to take care of him; but as he lay there he wondered:
What does somebody do who doesn't have insurance or money?
And how does somebody make a personal difference in the
world when they're working 80 hours a week in their job
and using just a little bit of who they are? We've become
a society of disconnected people and we often don't know
our neighbors, let alone trust them. He developed the Time
Dollar concept as a way to keep people engaged in helping
each other and in making a difference in our world. In the
1980s he began writing and speaking about the idea.
A means of exchange other than conventional money,
used in local communities to link unmet needs with
unused resources. Complementary currencies do not
have interest, and elicit cooperation rather than
competition among users.
Time Dollar network or time bank
A system of currency in which exchanges are made
based on time rather than money.
that Richard Rockefeller heard Edgar speak at a conference.
Richard had already invested a lot of his money in environmental
issues, and it occurred to him that people aren't going to
take care of the environment until they begin taking care
of each other. He saw Time Dollars as a way to make that happen.
Richard brought the concept to Maine in 1996. We launched
a pilot Time Dollar exchange in Portland's East End in 1998.
Richard continues to be an active participant, board member,
and funding supporter.
How would you describe the goal of Time Dollar networks?
The goal of Time Dollars is to rebuild the core economy
of family, neighborhood, and community, which is fundamental
to our existence. The broader vision is about social justice
and systemic social change. As we swap services with each
other, we become interconnected. We get to know our neighbors.
We get to access services we may have never accessed before.
It's a way of bridging diverse populations of people that
just never would have met each other otherwise. We're changing
the face of communities. It's wonderful work.
a lot about money, and it's a lot not about money. One of
the core values of a Time Dollar network is equality: one
hour equals one hour, regardless of the service. With Time
Dollars it doesn't matter if you're giving a health exam
or if you're mopping somebody's floor. What matters is that
we come together as human beings, sharing the things we
know with each other. We have members that might watch someone's
dog for two hours and earn two Time Dollars, and in exchange
for that have acupuncture or chiropractic work.
Could people get all their necessary services, like medical
and dental care, through Time Dollars?
I love that question. At the first open house we ever had
in Maine, a woman came up and said, "I'm going to quit my
job because I feel like I could do everything with Time
Dollars. This is just so much more wonderful to me [than
using regular money]." We said, "Not yet, not yet!" But
I truly hope and think that there may well be a time when
happen because, increasingly, people are
buying into the Time Dollar idea. The truth is, we live
in a capitalist economy and there are healthy things about
capitalism. We're not trying to get rid of it in any way.
Time Dollars are another way of connecting people, accessing
services, and at the same time valuing the skills that
has to offer.
Dollar networks] permit people to do things that they
would never do for cash. "A retired bank president
would never mow a sick person's yard for money, but
he'll do it for Time Dollars," Cahn [author of No
More Throw-away People] says. "Market wages incorporate
status hierarchies. Ask yourself if you would ask
your mother to accept market wages to go next door
to clean up a neighbour's house. Then ask yourself
if you would have the same reservations about asking
her to go over and help a sick neighbour by cleaning
up and accepting Time Dollars so that Granny, living
across town, could be picked up and taken in to the
doctor. Price is not the issue. It is status. To accept
money for such a task implies one has accepted the
market status defined by the wage."
The Dollar that Does Not Want to Be Money
" by Richard Douthwaite
If I'm a member and need something, do I have to accumulate
Time Dollars before I can use them?
tell people that it's fine to go into debt with Time Dollars.
What we're doing is building social capital, so if people
go into debt doing that it's a pretty healthy thing to do!
said that, at any given time we have less than 5% of our
members in Time Dollar debt. Reciprocity is key. We don't
want 300 of our members being givers and 300 being receivers-that
would defeat the whole purpose. Everybody gives and everybody
receives. There's a huge lesson in that. Our social service
delivery system is set up so that we have thousands of passive
receivers who don't feel good about being passive receivers.
Time Dollars provide them the opportunity to give back.
They all have wonderful skills that, for one reason or another,
are not in demand right now in the market economy. Both
receiving and giving back seem to be something that most
people enjoy. Of course, many of us have learned that it's
better to give than to receive, so some of us have had to
learn how to receive, and Time Dollars have given us that
Does the Time Dollar system get in the way of the kinds
of natural, neighborly things that people used to do for
each other without expecting any remuneration?
A couple of members have said, "I've been doing this my
whole life"- and that's true; a lot of people still do neighborly
things for each other. One member said she loves Time Dollars
because it helps her place a value on neighborly exchanges.
For example, it used to be that when her neighbor helped
her put up a ceiling fan, she was never quite sure how to
value it; she always felt as if she still owed him. But
with Time Dollars, when someone does something for her,
it feels clearer to her where they stand with each other.
so, some members just get to know each other really well
and they don't want to charge each other Time Dollars. In
those cases, we still try to get them to do a Time Dollar
exchange, because we're trying to keep track of all the
social capital we're building in neighborhoods. We'll get
people to just call it a wash. For instance, in companion
care situations where people have become really good friends
and now they go to the beach together, we give each person
a credit and a debit, as a way of recording that an exchange
occurred. The question hasn't come up too much, though,
because usually we're building connections where they don't
Do you have any "Time Dollar stories"-interesting experiences
you would like to share?
had two babies delivered for Time Dollars by midwives who
are members -including all the pre-natal visits.
had a Time Dollar member that got married to another Time
Dollar member. They did their entire wedding for Time Dollars
(about 400): the justice of the peace, a nice bed and breakfast
inn for the wedding and reception, and all the catered food.
The bride and her mother both had their hair done by a Time
Dollar member, and another member taught the couple ballroom
dancing. It was just incredible. It would have cost $5,000
or $6,000 at a minimum.
Can you give Time Dollars to other people; for example,
as a wedding gift?
Absolutely. Time Dollar gift certificates are very popular,
especially around the holidays.
How successful have you been in getting people of higher
income levels to participate-especially to offer professional
services that would otherwise be expensive?
Initially, it wasn't our intent to specifically recruit
professionals. At the beginning we thought of the network
more as neighborly. But we listened to our members, who
said they really wanted health care and other professional
services. Many of our members are the working poor. They're
making too much money to be eligible for many free services,
but they don't get health insurance through their jobs.
So we decided to target healthcare professionals and market
it takes a certain amount of altruism to participate. Not
everybody is going to join. I talked to an accountant who
said, "Why would I do this? I pay $10 or $20 an hour for
someone to clean my house, and I make $87 an hour." Joining
just didn't make sense to him. The group of physicians,
acupuncturists, midwives, and chiropractors that have joined-and
we have more than 50 now-want to be connected to their community
in a deeper way. Some physicians who have joined have shared
with others their experiences of how it's working for them.
Professionals often join now because of referrals from other
Do you run into any particular challenges?
There are two big challenges. One is that people think they
have nothing to offer. Oddly enough, most people undervalue,
rather than overvalue, what they can do. But as we go through
a list of possible offerings with people, they immediately
see that they have lots to offer.
other challenge is getting people to ask for what they want.
For some reason, most people who join want to give instead
of receive. They do want things, but they?fre reluctant
to ask for them.
I've been told that one of the reasons the Maine Time Dollar
Network has been so successful is that you have had regular
funding. Would you comment on that?
It's absolutely true. We did a survey of all the Time Dollar
programs started across the country and found that about
30% of them had folded because they received a grant for
two or three years?f worth of funding, and at the end of
that time couldn't scurry up the money to keep it going.
vitally important in those first three years to have a coordinator,
even if only part time. That person brings in the community
partners, recruits and engages members, and coordinates
and tracks exchanges. We are working on a sustainability
plan for new Time Dollar communities that would ensure that
the members take over ownership of the Time Dollar exchange
after three years. We think it's very do-able, though we
haven't proven it yet.
If people want to start a Time Dollar Exchange in their
community, what can they do?
They can contact New England Time Banks if they are in New
England. We are the first regional hub in what will be a
national network of time banks coordinated through Time
Banks USA (formerly the Time Dollar Institute). We provide
a kit to help get started. We have already helped 11 Time
Dollar communities get started in New England, with another
22 interested in launching during the next year. People
from other parts of the U.S. may contact Time Banks USA
More Than Money board member Mark McDonough heard
about the concept of Time Dollars, he immediately
recognized it as a highly effective strategy for promoting
social justice. He decided to devote the next ten
years of his life to building the time banking movement.
He is currently co-CEO, with social entrepreneur and
Massachusetts Institute of Technology senior lecturer
Andrew Wolk, of Time Banks USA.
In a Time Dollar network, when you
offer your time to fulfill some need in the community
you receive a credit of Time Dollars in exchange,
which means that someone else will perform a service
(or give you something) to fill a need or want of
yours. For example, you might go get groceries for
a neighbor and receive two hours' worth of Time
Dollars. You can then use those Time Dollars to
"purchase" a good or service that you want.
Your act of helping out your neighbor
is not charity. It contains a built-in reciprocity.
You receive something back from someone else in
your community, whether or not it's the neighbor
for whom you bought the groceries. It's the builtin
reciprocity that makes Time Dollars an innovation
in social service. It's not based only on the idea,
"I need you." It's based on the idea, "We need each
other." Time Dollars give everyone a way to give
to and receive from others in the community. In
doing this, Time Dollars help build community in
the original sense of the word. As Bernard Lietaer
has pointed out, the word "community" comes from
the Latin word
, which literally
means "to give among each other."
"Creating a Giving Culture, An Interview with Bernard
Lietaer" by Pamela Gerloff,
More Than Money Journal
Issue 34, "The Art of Giving," Fall 2003.
As related by Mark McDonough
There are four core values on which
a Time Dollar currency system is based:
is an asset. Everyone has something to give. Each
person's time is valued equally.
create reciprocal transactions. When you give your
time, skills, or expertise, you are automatically
entitled to receive time, skills, or expertise from
someone else. A reciprocal, relational exchange
is likely to occur.
Redefinition of work
standard money economy, work is generally considered
to be anything that the market will pay for. A Time
Dollar system allows us to redefine work as, basically,
anything that it takes to build a healthy society.
There is a lot of caring to be done in our communities.
With standard monetary systems, we often don't have
a way to pay for it. Time Dollars give us a way.
-Just as building
an infrastructure of bridges and roads is important
to building a community that works, creating an
infrastructure of social capital-that is, social
interactions among community members-is also important.
It is the fabric of interactions in a community
that creates healthy communities.
Provides a support network for people interested in advancing
complementary currency theory and application.
for Community Futures
Offers a how-to guide for running your own community currency
Exchange Trading System
Has an online manual of the LETSystem approach to developing
a local currency initiative.
England Time Banks
(formerly Maine Time Dollar Network)
Gives tips, forms, and other resources for starting a Time
(formerly the Time Dollar Institute)
Provides resources and information for starting a Time Dollar
network and lists regional coordinator offices so you can
find a network near you.
a Giving Culture: An Interview with Bernard Lietaer"
By Pamela Gerloff,
More Than Money Journal
, Issue 34,
"The Art of Giving," Fall 2003.
Discusses the impact of money systems on society.
The Future of Money: Creating New
Wealth, Work, and a Wiser World
By Bernard Lietaer
Provides an analysis of current monetary systems, as well
as information for starting your own complementary currency.
No More Throw-Away People: The Co-Production
By Edgar S. Cahn
(Essential Information, 2000)
Shows how and why Time Dollars support and build community,
and how they operate as a force for social change.
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