Pay it forward: the New Zealand town where your time is a currency

When the port town of Lyttleton was devastated by a series of earthquakes, time banking helped the community harness the resources to rebuild

By Edgar Cahn, Julie Ozanne and Lucie Ozanne

The port town of Lyttelton in New Zealand is best known for its beautiful landscapes and as a major trade gateway to the South Island. What visitors to the town might not know is that this is also the home of New Zealand’s first time bank, which has helped the local community through some very tough times.

The currency that trades in time
Time banking is a form of complementary currency that uses time rather than money as the medium of exchange. Every hour of service given earns a time bank member one credit and all hours earned are valued equally, meaning one hour of babysitting, for example, earns the same as one hour of legal help or gardening.

Lyttelton’s time bank was started in 2005 by Margaret Jefferies, who learned about time banking the year before at Bard College, New York, when she was seeking out a complementary currency to build social capacity in her home town. Over the following years, participants built up a local marketplace of members’ skills and abilities, creating a publicly available community skills inventory.

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