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Time, Money and the Alternative

Gross National Happiness USA is part of the growing global happiness movement to put wellbeing at the center of our decision-making and policy discussions – at both the personal and systemic levels. One of the ways to accomplish this objective is by connecting with related movements and then raising awareness and harnessing that collective energy.

Well, timebanking is a related movement if there ever were such a thing. Like the movement for an alternative to GDP, timebanking seeks to redefine how we value and measure the economy. 

A Brief History of Timebanking

The modern timebanking movement was developed by Edgar Cahn in 1980 after he had a close brush with death The nearly fatal heart attack he suffered allowed him to quickly reprioritize his values and identify what truly mattered. Following this experience he released a book called “No More Throw Away People” which laid the theoretical framework for timebanking. One of the key ideas Edgar Cahn addresses in his book, an idea later taken up for study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, was the notion that the work that occurs outside of the traditional market system is important and substantial. The BEA proved resoundingly that this unmeasured economy is substantial – estimating that if it were measured it would increase GDP by 26%! The same BEA analysis found that the unquantified economy led to good outcomes in the measured economy and was a critical component to it. Cahn called this significant yet unmeasured sector the “Core Economy.”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? We adopt a system of measurement which leaves out a significant portion of the story because it’s inconvenient to measure, only to later realize our mistake. Where have I heard this one before?

The Core Economy looks like housework and caregiving and a ride to the airport and it’s also helping a neighbor delimb a tree after a storm. In short, it’s the things that members of healthy homes and communities do for one another already. Timebanking seeks to bring this unmeasured economy out of the shadows by first recognizing this effort as “real work” and then by facilitating exchange. Because timebanking really specializes in the core economy niche it can be said to be a complementary currency.

Q: But how does it work?

A: By creating a system of currency where the unit of account in exchange is a time credit representing one hour of labor.


According to “Timebanking is a kind of money. Give one hour of service to another, and receive one time credit. For one person to earn a time credit, however, someone else has to agree to give it. Timebanking happens when a network or circle of members have agreed that they will give and receive credits for services that other members provide. Those networks are called timebanks.” Most of these networks are now managed on digital platforms which credit, debit and track time credits. 

In addition to the idea of the “Core Economy,” Cahn also gave us five principles for how timebanks ought to operate:

A Deeper Dive

To get a deeper understanding of the how and why of timebanking we decided to catch up with Anitha Beberg, founder of a Silicon Valley based timebanking app called Seva X. Anitha became interested in timebanking after her experience volunteering for her children’s school. Beberg wished that there was a way to record the contributions busy parents like herself were making in the community. After a conversation with the father of modern timebanking, Edgar Cahn, Beberg was convinced that she had to build Seva Exchange.

It’s a good thing she did because today multitudes of members nationwide are using and benefiting from Seva. Everything from hospitals to schools and neighborhoods are using Seva Exchange. The word seva means service in Sanskrit and in the name of service Seva X is making good on Cahn’s five core principles. Beberg told me stories about how members of Seva Exchange are using the app to strengthen their communities and help those in need all while doing work that they love. Their slogan captures this idea perfectly: Give what you love and get what you need to get things done!

Seva Exchange’s app is one of many great timebanking solutions in the marketplace but it is notable for how it’s using technology.

When you run a timebank you instantly begin to think like a chief economist or central banker and your focus turns to identifying ways to increase the velocity of exchange. More people trading time credits means more people connecting with one another. To increase the rate of exchange Seva has developed AI to assist with matching supply with demand. The app utilizes predictive modeling to match members with services they’re likely to be interested in, resulting in members finding what they’re looking for more often and exchanging with one another more frequently.

It’s heartening to see cutting edge technology used to create a better timebanking mousetrap. Generally, increased use of digital technology has served to make us feel more disconnected and less happy. It’s ingenious and heartening to use a medium which is correlated with low general happiness (digital technology) and convert it directly into high yielding general happiness activities such as social interaction and volunteering. 

Efforts such as Seva Exchange will help time banking reach its full potential. If timebanking is able to realize its potential and the five core principles are satisfied then prime conditions will arise for well-being. Fundamentally, we all have the same goal but are just working different angles. To succeed in this massive goal of delivering transformative change in how we decide what is of value we will need to keep our friends close and stay connected to keep all of the related movements stronger. 

If you are interested in learning more about timebanks in general visit and if you’re interested in joining Seva Exchange and setting up a timebanking community click here.

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