It's strange, isn't it, that we can imagine solutions to global poverty, just as we can imagine the greatest buildings of civilisation, but find that we can't afford them. Our imagination gives out when it comes to the simple matter of money. It seems endlessly to be the end of arguments: Ah yes, what a pity, if only we could make it pay. Luckily there are some people around who are busily trying to re-imagine money in practical ways, convinced, as John Maynard Keynes put it, that what we could create, we could afford.
Time banks originated in the USA in the mid-1980s when civil rights lawyer Dr Edgar Cahn piloted the first Time Dollar programmes.
How do time banks work? Join up to your local time bank and for every hour you spend helping someone out, you will earn a time credit. Everyone's time is valued equally and one hour always equals one time credit. You can draw on your time credits when you need something done - attend a yoga class, want your gate fixed etc. or you can choose to donate your credits to someone else or a local community organisation. Anyone can join a time bank, it's free to join and taking part does not affect your tax position or your entitlement to state benefits. At the heart of time banking is the belief in "give and take" everyone becomes both a giver and a receiver of time.
There are now more than 250 time bank projects in the USA rebuilding community and rewarding participation. For example, Time Dollars reward young people for time spent peer-tutoring, residents on social housing projects who make a contribution, older people who look after their own health and young jurors in youth courts.
Since time banks arrived in the UK, with Fair Shares in Gloucestershire in 1998, they have received widespread coverage. There are now over 100 active and developing time banks nationally which have exchanged over 160,000 hours to date.
In fact, time banks are taking off all around the world; in Japan they are being used to care for growing numbers of elderly people. From a Slovakian children's home to a Tibetan refugee's camp; in Spain, China, France, New Zealand, Portugal, Israel, Brazil, Italy and Curaco, time banks are springing up to form what is becoming the "small plus small plus small equals big" international movement.
To find out more, visit Time Dollar, or Time Banks UK.