Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Principles of Timebanking: Transforming Communities and Building New Social Economies

By Dr. Artika R. Tyner

“We are all assets and we all have something to give.” The founder of TimeBank USA, Dr. Edgar Cahn, is sharing this empowering message across the world. The message is that our greatest strength is our connection with each other. Therefore, Timebanking is about redefining community building from an assets-based approach. piggy bank with clockTimebanking has fostered new community connections in over 36 countries and led to the development of over 300 TimeBanks worldwide. These efforts have helped to alleviate poverty, build new social networks, and promote interconnectedness. During Dr. Cahn’s 2011 visit to the University of St. Thomas School of Law, he inspired three law students from the Community Justice Project (“CJP”) to put these principles of timebanking into action.

CJP students applied principles of timebanking in their work by employing it as a tool for addressing the challenges of economic disparities impacting communities of color, such as: increasing rates of poverty and widening gaps in unemployment. For instance, Minnesota has the largest unemployment gap disparity in the Nation between blacks and whites (22% vs. 6.4%). In partnership with St. Paul Branch of the NAACP, CJP students worked to create a proposal for the expansion of timebanking in Saint Paul, MN in order to bridge some of these economic gaps. They began the project by exploring the definition of timebanking and identifying its’ core values. Next, CJP students used their research to provide community education on timebanking and support the growth of a local TimeBank, Hour Dollars.


Timebanking provides the framework for building new social economies. The mission of TimeBanks USA is to “nurture and expand a movement that promotes equality and builds caring community economies through inclusive exchange- time and talent” (TimeBanks USA, 2011). Timebanking is an alternative social economy which places premium value on the contributions that each person can make in a community. I characterize this as “village currency” since a village approach is needed to address the economic challenges of the 21st century. This is a form of currency that is based upon human capital hence not limited by one’s financial means and access to resources. Timebanking combines the basic premises of time and banking. Beginning with time, each person can have a lasting impact on the life of another community member, one hour by one hour. Each service equates to one hour of service which can in turn be used as a “TimeDollar.” This acknowledges that everyone has something to give and each contribution is equally as valuable.

Similar to traditional notions of banking, members of TimeBanks earn and redeem TimeDollars with each hour of a service exchange. The recipient of services redeems hours while the service provider earns hours when performing the given task. TimeDollars can be used to pay for services that a community member would normally pay out of pocket for therefore reducing one’s reliance on financial means alone. Combining principles of time and banking provides a framework for meeting the basic economic needs of community members and promoting community building by offering opportunities to exchange services rather than one only being required to pay for services. For instance, a homeowner may redeem TimeDollars for routine home maintenance services (painting, plumbing) or a community member can earn TimeDollars by assisting another member with professional development (coaching, resume writing).
In essence, timebanking defies the logic of money being the only medium of exchange. Instead, members of a TimeBank are able to connect with each other to exchange their abundance of assets through service exchanges.


The guiding principles of timebanking align with the values of service learning. Service learning focuses on promoting civic responsibility and facilitating the process of social change through a collective approach. Similar to service learning, timebanking is based upon an assets-based framework (recognizing each individual has strengths); reciprocity (empowering the recipient); community (acknowledging our interdependence); and respect (honoring each voice). These principles naturally create the synergy needed to foster community building and strengthen social economies by tapping into people power.

There are many ways for your learning community to support timebanking:

Join a timebank– Find a local timebank in your area by visiting the Timebank timebanks.orgUSA website’s directory.

Start a timebank– Partner with community members to create a timebank. You can even create a timebank that will work to address specific social issues in your community, whether it be providing respite care for seniors, offering literacy programs for children, or supporting re-entry initiatives.

Begin a collaborative service learning project– Offer your professional services to a local timebank in need. For instance, marketing students may assist a timebank with the development of a marketing plan and related advertisement. Law students can offer a timebank guidance in legal matters (i.e. contract review, legal entity formation).  Social work students could refer clients to local timebanks for service exchanges.

Share about timebanking– Connect others with more information about timebanking and its economic impact. Recently, timebanking has been featured in international news coverage related to the emergence of new TimeBank, euro-free economies. In Spain, the unemployment rate is near 25 percent. Community members have discovered that time can serve as a valuable commodity for exchange. See “Timebanks Help Spaniards Weather Financial Crisis”

In closing, TimeBanking provides a practical framework for exchanging time and talent one hour at a time. It is a powerful tool for transforming communities and building new social economies.

Dr. Artika R. Tyner, law professor and director of diversity, at the University of St. Thomas School of Law