Economy of Hours – a growing Echo from a flourishing community

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In the first of two parts, photographer and writer Paul Gambin takes us into the world of Echo, a revolutionary organisation that puts a whole new spin on trading by using time as money: Echo money, where every hour is worth one Echo.

The origins of Time Banking

Time banking was first established in Japan in 1973 with the creation of the world’s first time bank, the Volunteer Labour Bank (VLB). Teruko Mizushima, who initially published her idea of a time-based complementary currency in 1950, envisaged an alternative economy in which individuals could offer help during less busy periods to earn time credits which could be spent on other services in later life. In so doing, Mizushina had created a method of dealing with the fastest ageing population in the world by encouraging voluntary care of the elderly and disabled.

Having logged an astonishing 480,000 service hours by 1983, the VLB expanded its operations across the Pacific into California and set up its first American branch. The concept quickly evolved and other time banking organisations came to fruition which focussed their time on a variety of other services in exchange for time credits. Time Banking has since developed across the globe to deal with what former speech writer to R. Kennedy and distinguished legal professor, Edgar S. Cahn, referred to as the “drying up of money for social programs”, in light of their “failure…to rebuild genuine community”.

The Economy of Hours

Enter Echo, which is shorthand for Economy of Hours, an organisation that firmly believes everybody’s hours are equivalent in value. Supported by the London Legacy Corporation, Echo is using its revamped online platform to shift the focus away from traditional time banking by encouraging business to business trading and professional skills sharing. Since its coming to existence two and a half years ago, it has become a hub for freelancers, start-ups and larger corporate entities to offer niche services in return for time credits to spend on developing other areas of their business.

By including an alternative, time-based currency to everyday trading; Echo is adding a human element to an exchange of skills or services which are often considered frictionless and devoid of meaning beyond commercial value. It has become a platform for building relationships among professionals on a local scale and it encourages the coming together of people who would have otherwise only rarely been able to meet. Where other modern time banking entities rely on people’s willingness to give altruistically, Echo establishes itself as a modern marketplace, and not another volunteer program.

Knitting, Video Directing and Positive Externalities

The good news is the platform is straightforward enough, one hour of your time equals one Echo credit to spend on another service.The better news is that there is a member pool of over 2700, meaning one is arguably spoilt for choice when it comes to spending those Echoes. By earning credits offering a few short hours of your time teaching a skill so natural to you that you practice it in your sleep, you could find yourself learning about the meditative qualities of knitting, or how to go about directing your own commercial.

Echo effectively opens up a world of opportunity for its members to learn about things they have always been curious about, or even gain knowledge in an area of expertise which could benefit them professionally. In a recent survey, Echo found that 75% of its members  had developed a personal connection through Echo, whilst 85% had generated a valuable professional connection. In fact, 25% of those surveyed were able to find commercial work through Echo.

The benefits of such a system clearly go beyond the simple skill-share and above all Echo has become a place to develop that idea you’ve been holding off for lack of help or to build a business with the support of other experienced professionals.

Business Acceleration: Echo ++

In line with its business-centric ethos, Echo has begun offering the world’s first time banking business acceleration program known as Echo ++. In exchange for a few Echoes a young business can sign up to a selection of 6 weeks, 3 or 6-month programs. As with most acceleration programs, through their weekly workshops and access to a wide network of other businesses, a participant on the Echo ++ program can expect guidance and mentoring on all aspects of their business, from idea development to seed investment building.

Once a business has applied, been vetted and finally accepted onto the program, Echo issues the new member with an overdraft of Echoes in order to pay for the course. The participant is then encouraged to earn Echoes back by offering their services on their platform. By pushing the use of time credits in this way, Echo is able to blend their professional members with their everyday users and encourages the sharing of skills which one would normally only gain through expensive workshops or professional training programs.

With Echo ++, the Economy of Hours team is practicing that risky idiom of putting their money where their mouth is. Given its outstanding success, having aided over 700 businesses, Echo ++ stands as a successful exercise in the demonstration of how far time banking has come and just how useful this complementary economy can be at reinvigorating compassionate business thinking.

Head over to economyofhours.com to find out more.

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