January 2015

Santa Fe Time Bank: Mobilizing the Currency of Human Value


Earl James and Susan Waterman


When a community builds itself around the intrinsic value of the people living together in the community, it’s a likely bet that the place will be buzzing with enthusiasm and a sense of well-being. When we acknowledge that everyone has something of value to contribute, each person becomes an asset. As we learn to share in the community network of friendship, support, strength and trust, neighborhoods grow from strong roots, and networks will expand. The Santa Fe Time Bank (SFTB) has been a quiet and effective facilitator of such vital community relationships since 2009.


How does a time bank work, and how does it build community? SFTB is a reciprocal service exchange that uses time as currency—one hour of service earns one time dollar. All services are equal; one hour is always equal to one hour, regardless of whether you are providing dentistry services or landscape services or driving someone to the airport. SFTB is working to bring dozens of alternative, complementary currency opportunities into our community awareness. Everyone has a skill to offer or needs assistance at some time, whether it is getting your office organized, sharing or needing advice on how to care for a beloved dog with cancer, learning to navigate Excel spreadsheets, house painting and many other possibilities. If you can think of it, someone needs it, and another one can do it.


While time banking facilitates exchanges like money, it is designed to facilitate community building in ways that money cannot. It rekindles timeless patterns of give and take to reweave healthy families and communities that everything else depends on. New Mexico boasts a rich history of indigenous and Hispanic agrarian and subsistence cultures that have thrived for many generations on cooperative relationships within communities and with nature as well. Some of these practices have survived the crushing weight of so-called democratic capitalism. And a new tide of collaborative community endeavors is rolling in, often in little-noticed ways and ignored by the mainstream media.


David Bollier, author of Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons, writes “…the story of our time is the rise of the commons as a new way to emancipate oneself from predatory markets and to collaborate with peers to protect and expand one’s shared wealth [which] can be seen…in the growth of alternative currencies, in many land trusts and cooperatives, and in seed-sharing collectives and countless natural resource commons.”


Here’s an example of alternative currency at work: writing this article will “bank” an hour or so of my time that I am using to trade for hours given to me by a web builder. I have also installed a basketball goal for a teen and given advice to a nonprofit startup. All of these services have equal value as “time dollars.” And I am interacting positively with others in my community in ways I might not have the opportunity otherwise. How does that compare, in your mind, to the strictly monetary economy, where you often have to put yourself into a box that works for Wall Street but ignores your many skills and interests?


Now in its fifth year of operations, SFTB has provided nonmonetary access to opportunities to hundreds of neighbors across Santa Fe. Now, SFTB is planning a major initiative to build upon its successes—21,223 hours exchanged, so far—and to demonstrate a new twist on the traditional time-bank model. Time Bank Coordinator Margaret Kuhlen and the SFTB board have inaugurated The Children’s Art Space, an arts-enrichment program designed to expand the education opportunities for learners and teachers of all ages. The intergenerational environment will stress the reciprocity and creativity in all aspects of the play and learning experience.


The program comprises opportunities for preschool children accompanied by a parent, home-school groups, after-school activities for ages 5 to 9 and 10 to 16, service-learning opportunities for college interns, and a variety of workshops for adults. The intention is to support lifelong learning in the arts. Children will receive instruction in drawing, painting, collage, book arts, bead-stringing jewelry, fabric arts and puppets, and parents will know their child is in a safe, creative environment. Completing the circle of community value, art students at local colleges gain service-learning credits, SFTB members assist—and earn time dollars—and local families have a low-cost after-school alternative for their children. SFTB raises modest funds to support its operations.

Becoming a member is easy, and SFTB has sponsor- and business-membership opportunities, as well. If you log on to the SFTB website, you can get started “reweaving community one hour at a time”: http://www.santafetimebank.org/

Earl James is nonprofit fundraising consultant and the author of the award-winning eco-novel Bella Coola: The Rainforest Brought Them Home. www.earldjames.com. Susan Waterman is the executive administrator for the New Mexico Book Association. www.nmbook.org



Banking in the Public Interest

What is a public bank?

A public bank is owned by the people through their representative governments—tribe, city, county, state, or federal. Its mission is to serve the public interest. It is funded with public funds such as tax dollars, fees and penalties.

The motivation behind public banking is to grow a democratic, sustainable local economy, services and projects. Public banking invests public funds safely and locally and ends the debt cycle.

To learn more about public banking:




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