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Why Europe needs community currencies

Time banking, business-to-business currencies, local payment schemes: community currencies such as these are rapidly rising to prominence in the wake of the financial crisis, in Europe and elsewhere.

By creating new ways to exchange time and goods, complementary currencies provide a valuable supplement to conventional money and the narrowly profit orientated economies it created. They allow people to build connections across their communities – whether SME networks or local neighbourhoods - that don’t depend on Euros or Pounds.

nef’s longstanding role in supporting such economic innovation reached an exciting milestone last year when we co-founded the Community Currencies in Action (CCIA) project.

Co-funded by the European Regional Development Program Interreg IVb, CCIA brings together the city of Amsterdam, the city of Nantes, the borough of Lambeth in London, a large public company in Belgium and three expert organisations in community currencies: Qoin, Spice and nef. It’s the biggest transnational collaboration project in this field to date, and connects the public and non-profit sectors.

Six currency pilots will be launched or scaled-up by 2015 and the foundation for international research and knowledge sharing will be laid. This will support further currency start-ups internationally and provide the data and research needed to improve the practice of the schemes already making changes in their communities. 

The project has come a long way since launching in 2012. Last month CCIA drew in a packed audience of politicians and international organisations at the EcoCity World Summit in Nantes. This is where our partner Credit Municipal de Nantes will launch the first modern municipal complementary currency, the SoNantes, in Spring 2014. Backed by former mayor of the city and current French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, this entirely digital currency allows both business-to-business lending and electronic payment for local goods and services by citizens across the entire Nantes region.

The technology used there was developed by the CCIA partners and also sits at the heart of the latest pilot currency going live in the Netherlands: TradeQoin –the first business-to-business lending platform in Europe that to be governed cooperatively by its participants.

Both these currencies provide a democratic answer to the shortfall in SME lending since the 2008 financial crisis. They allow businesses to support one another independent of a banking system out of touch with the needs of those making a living under great financial strain.

In Amsterdam, meanwhile, is our Makkie pilot. This currency – its name translates as “easy” – is earned in exchange for time spent volunteering in local communities.

The pilot is taking place in Amsterdam East, an economically deprived area of the Dutch capital. At the EcoCity summit, Councillor Nevin Özütok explained how the Makkie is accomplishing its immediate goals of bringing the people of Amsterdam East together, with sights set on building a close-knit and economically resilient community for the long term. These ambitions were backed by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte who visited the scheme earlier this month – earning 2.5 Makkie for his 2.5 hours of participation.

A question that arose during the EcoCity summit was how these often local schemes can be made most valuable on a global scale? As a community of community currencies, so to speak, the CCIA project provides an answer to this. Sharing expertise across borders to strengthen the ground from which future currencies can launch, we hope our actions will prompt further responses to the challenge.

You can follow the project and progress of our partners here on the nef blog or on our own website: www.communitycurrenciesinaction.eu

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