Eurocat: Interest-free money to finance Catalan small businesses

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This event took place on 04th April 2014 at PIMEC, Barcelona with the aim to present Euro-cat, a new complementary currency which will start working in June all over Catalonia (Spain).

The first speaker who appears after welcome greetings was Ernest Maragall, Vice president of the Fundació Catalunya Europa, who gave the presentation titled “Money and bank: cause or effect of the crisis?”. He started by mentioning that the productivity growth in the US in the last 20 years doesn’t correspond to the median family income, showing that employees in Spain are less paid than European average in terms of the compensation and in the US the percentage of top 10%’s income has increase from 35% to 50% between 1982 to 2007.  He argued that the concentration of the wealth created the bubble and therefore the crisis, criticising the cowardness, spider web effect and the lack of regulation.  He also presented that Germany improved its commercial balance while Spain worsened it after euro was introduced and finished by underlying the importance of regulations and institutions.

The second speaker was Marcel Coderch i Collell, former vice president of the CMT and an Eurocat promoter, who told about “What is money? Where does it come from?”. He started by quoting the phrase of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, founder of the Rotschild family: “Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who writes the laws” and that of Henry Ford: “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and money system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning,” implying the currenet system’s unfairness. His presentation was based on the two books: “Where does money come from?” and “Modern Money Theory,” said that the Bank of England has just published two reports, i.e.: “Money in the modern economy: an introduction” and “Money creation in the modern economy” in which it admitted that most money is created as debt, accentuating also the fact that the commercial banks decide which projects will be financed and criticising the current trend to insist on slashing government debts.

Then followed Jordi Griera Roig, co-founder of the Instituto de la Moneda Social (Social Currency Institute) and president of the Fundación INEVAL, which showed the words of Joan Casals (1925-1998), co-founder of PIMEC and former president of Ecoval, as he foresaw that the fiscal separation between the North and South of Europe would churn out unbearable tensions into the Euro due to the diference in productivity, just as what has happened.  He also told that neither the European Central Bank nor the Bank of England has the goal to make monetary policies serve to reduce unemployment while the Federal Reserve in the US does have it as main goal and therefore US has decreased the unemployment while Europe has increased it.

After the pause came Bernard Lietaer, global expert on social and complementary currencies based in Brussels (Belgium), who gave his lecture titled “Economic Crisis and Regional Initiatives”. He started by summarising the contents of his book “The Future of Money” and addressed the current four challenges of “Aging wave“, “IT revolution“, “Climate change and destruction of biodiversity” and “monetary unstability.” He highlighted the importance to balance between the efficiency and resilience (diversity) in the ecosystem, applying this idea also to the monetary system, proving that the financial system is structurally unstable with the excessive number of crises which have taken place in the last few decades in the world.  He presented the case of WIRBank (the Switzerland) which works to balance small businesses (trades in WIR increase when the Swiss Franc economy stagnates and vice versa) and finished by comparing the patriarchal societies of competitive economy with the single currency with matrifocal socieities of cooperative economy with parallel currencies.

And finally, the new Catalan currency Euro-Cat was presented by Susana Martín Belmonte, author of the book “Nada está perdido(Nothing is lost)” and an Euro-cat promoter, and Fèlix Simon Paraiso, president of the Plataforma Vegueria Penedès and an Euro-cat promoter. Each business which enters the system will have a credit line and the balance increases and decreases as it sells and buys.  Individuals are also welcome to join the system and will change euro into Euro-cat to spend it at local businesses.  The fundamental difference between loans in euro and credit lines in Euro-cat is that the former ones need to be repaid in euro while the credit line can be settled by offering equivalent goods and/or services.  Although Euro-cat will work all over Catalonia, eight territorial networks will be set up to strengthen regional economic activities.  Founding members are accepted up to 04th May and then a work will be done to reach the consensus on the definition among these participants about different aspects before the official launching, plannedfor June.

Social Enterprise Summit 2013 at Hong Kong

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Social Enterprise Summit 2013 took place on 29th and 30th November at Hong Kong with the theme of “Innovation for good”. More than 1,300 people, not only locals but also from Taiwan, Mainland China and some other countries, joined this conference to share their experiences, knowledge etc.

A feature which distinguishes this conference from other similar conferences all over the world is the sponsorship of HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, with its global headquarter located in this city) and British Council. Hong Kong was a British colony as recent as up to 1997, which means that people over 35 spent more time as British subjects than as Chinese citizens, and the pro-Anglo-Saxon atmosphere was found everywhere. You can see past conferences’ programmes at their website and you’ll be surprised to find the predominance of speakers from UK and other English-speaking countries in comparison with the little number of presentations by people from other Asian countries and the lack of speakers from Continental Europe, but this explains what taste people from Hong Kong have.

The conference started with a Cross-Country dialogue with four policymakers, with focus on social innovation. Mr. Nigel Jacob, co-chair at the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, Boston (United States) shared his experience of Civil Innovation as an iterative innovation process of “problem”, “hypothesis”, “prototype” and “learn” and summarised his experiences into three points: “Be relevant: work on what matter to people”, “Collaborate deeply: roll up your sleeves and collaborate” and “User experience is everything: building good experiences builds trust”. Ms. Rosemary Addis, founder of Impact Strategist (Australia), underscored the social innovation as a “great umbrella”, and mentioned the tax incentive for affordable housing as a good example of this sort. Mr. Charles Leadbeater from National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (UK) talked about scaling social innovation and showed some examples, such as “replicating and franchising”, “strawberry strategy” (to influence others in the same sector to adopt this social innovation), “outsource to social enterprise” (the public sector ask social innovators to be in charge of some official services), “insourcing” (the public sector employs social innovators within itself), “catalyst for public systems” (the public sector lets social enterprises to link its different departments), “social complement for public” (the social innovation sector complements what’s lacking in the public sector), “new operating systems for the public sector” (the public sector incorporates social innovations into its own administration) and “public resources create social solutions” (allocation of resources for social innovators). Ms. Penny Low from Social innovation Park (Singapore) pointed out that IT both united and divided people all over the world and questioned people’s demanding attitude to ask the governments to do everything for them, suggesting city halls to give incentives so people start looking for solutions. Then a dialogue was done between Dr. Jane Lee, chair of the SMS organising committee and Ms. Carrie Lam, Chief Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong government. Jane asked the government to be the facilitator of social solutions and Carrie mentioned the public sector’s inertia as well as reject to something onerous like social innovation and highlighted the need to build up the critical mass for bottom-up social innovations.
In the afternoon four concurrent sessions took place simultaneously: “social innovation for business”, “social innovation for academia”, “social innovation for NGOs” and “social innovation for policy-makers”. I attended the NGO session and three speakers presented their experiences. Dr. Benjamin Lai from the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong (in traditional Chinese) showed different social enterprises that it runs with handicapped people as employees, such as cleaning service and many shops, saying that social enterprises can employ the mentally handicapped but other stakeholders’ support is essential. Dr. Tik Chi Yuen from the Evangelical Lutheran Church Social Service told about the closed restaurant which used to be a social enterprise and attributed its failure to people’s dependency on the support from the public sector, underscoring the importance of Public-Private Partnership Programme. Mr. Johnny Tsang from the Baptist OI Kwan Social Service (in traditional Chinese) showed his experience of running a social restaurant where dinner is provided only at HK$10 (US$ 1.30 and € 0.95) for low-income people on weekdays (from Monday to Friday), providing them with the opportunity to talk with other people on top of filling their stomach so they can be socially integrated by way of getting a new job. Then two presentations were done at the Plenary Session as examples of “conscientious capitalism”. Mr. Martin Hill from Fairtrade International explained the general trend of fair trade and the role of their Fair Trade Label, referring to the Fair Trade Hong Kong that has been established recently. Finally Dr. Mairi Mackay from British Council explained the three reasons why her institution is working to promote social enterprises: “need to collaborate to bring about the change we want”, “need to treat more seriously the concept of social capital” and “need to involve everybody”.
The second day began with four parallel policy panels on: “education”, “poverty”, “aging” and “environment”. I went to the poverty session and three speakers shared their experiences. Mr. Chan Hung, founder of the Principal Chan Free Tutorial World (in traditional Chinese), started his presentation by saying that the educational gap is still rampant despite the 12-years universal education system recently introduced in Hong Kong, accentuating the importance to tailor-made education for each student to avoid drop-outs. Volunteer tutors support students improve their learning in English and math and some classes of Cantonese is available for immigrants’ children, mostly from South Asia. More than 2,700 volunteer tutors and 2,500 students have joined this system. Ms. Tina Yim from Urdu Neighbour Centre and Bread Bunch (both in traditional Chinese) showed her experience to run a bakery, integrating South Asian women into Hong Kong society by giving them the job training and employing them. Ms. Dora Cheng from St. James’ Settlement told about her community economic mutual help plan and the development of a time currency scheme which has managed to run an organic farm.
Then four parallel skill-based workshops took place simultaneously: fairtrade, social enterprise as your second carrier, media training for social enterprises and social marketing 2.0. I was at the marketing session where, as always, three speakers gave their presentations. Mr. Kee Chi Hing from Fullness Social Enterprises Society gave an overview of the definition of marketing and social marketing and the trend of ethical consumption, criticising people’s attitude to talk about ethical consumption without practicing it. Ms. Salome Lee from ET Net, Hong Kong’s one of the most important economic newspapers, showed her website and how it contributes to social enterprises’ development. And Dr. Clara Kan, from Fullness Social Enterprises Society, talked about the Ethical Consumption Month.
In the afternoon four concurrent sessions were held simultaneously: “Impact”, “Invite”, “invest” and “Incubate”. I was at the incubate session where three speakers gave their presentations. Mr. Cliff Prior from UnLtd from UK explained his job as a counselling service for social enterprises. Mr. Kelvin Cheung of FoodCycle in UK who will set up UnLtd Hong Kong told his experience to run a social restaurant for the poor. Then Dr. KK Tse, Founding Chair of Hong Kong Social Entrepreneurship Forum, presented the Lean Startup strategy by Eric Ries which is intended “to improve the chances of success for startups worldwide”.
The presence of HSBC as platinum sponsor means a lot to the development of social enterprises in Hong Kong: on the positive side, its abundant financial resources work as a driving force to set up social enterprises and to make them grow. The another side of the same coin, obviously, is the epistemological framework imposed by them to see social enterprises as an element to complement the capitalism without questioning it. At least the Latin American approach of solidarity economy as an alternative to capitalism will be always rejected in this global financial centre, so it would be necessary to set up another platform if we really want to introduce solidarity economy there.
There are two points I found curious at the Cross-Country Dialogue: all speakers were talking about the significance of social innovation but none of them ever tried to define it. This gives social innovators a huge width of free hand to implement whatever they find good, but the lack of definition and the of legal framework means that governments and city halls find it hard on promoting social innovation. This points leads to the second one that, when I asked them what they think about the Social Enterprise Promotion Act, which took effect in 2007 in Korea, none of these speakers showed interest, neither as public servants not as individuals. Perhaps this attitude is related to the ruling pro-British atmosphere at this summit which pays no value to practices out of the Commonwealth of Nations, but I have to admit that this attitude not to respect that Asian experience sounded odd to me.

6th Mont-Blanc Meeting

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The 6th Mont-Blanc Meeting, a biennal conference for social and solidarity economy (SSE) leaders, took place from 09th to 11th November 2013. Some 350 people from 45 countries were present at Chamonix, France, just next to the famous Mont-Blanc, to debate, to exchange experiences and to elaborate projects.

The conference began with the presentation by Prof. Abdou Salam Fall (Senegal) and Ms. Sudha Reddy (India) on achievements and challenges of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) of the United Nations which expire in 2015, proposing for SSE after 2015, “Be aware of the interdependence of this planet’s inhabitants“, “Define the values of the commons in the global scale and create a partnership for the production and the fair access of these goods“, “Forbid the private appropriation and management of commons and realise an appropriate governance“, “replace the logics of competence and achieve social and environmental results, but also on the basis of the entrepreneurial models of ESS which privilege the individual emancipation and the prosperity“, “Creation of qualitative indices on welfare, as well as new indices to measure the progresses of the MDG post-2015, such as the creation of SSE enterprises, the number of created and mantained jobs, the stability of created structures and the ecological footprint of different human activities“, “People’s participation by way of SSE vision in favour of a responsible production and consumption, a fair sharing of wealth” and “Structuring of exchanges around the three strategic axes: Change the course, Change the entrepreneurial method and model and Change the scale“. Then Ms. Bouchra Taouifk (Morocco), director of the social economy in the Ministry of Handicrafts and of Social and Solidarity Economy, appeared and mentioned that the poverty still exists today despite efforts to eradicate it, highlighting the importance to establish other goals after 2015. She underscored the new Constitution of 2011 which is more progressive in her country’s democratisation, deals with the Human Development National Initiative which was put into effect in 2005, and shared the phrase by the King Mohammed VI: “No social development is possible in the absence of economic growth. Also, it’s necessary to build a new economy capable of accompanying the globalisation and facing with its challenges. Although we’ve opted for market economy, it doesn’t mean that we should look for a market society, but a social economy where the economic efficiency and social solidarity play together“. She also said that cooperatives integrate women and more and more youth is interested in cooperatives, that 24 mutual societies exist in her country and explained this sector’s limits (lack of resources, of creativity, of innovations, of access to market, of synergy and coordination, among others) and finished by presenting the Moroccan government’s strategies to promote SSE.

After that another session took place on public policies and three speakers presented each country’s situation. Mr. Benoît Hamon (France), Delegated Minister in the Ministry of Economy and Finances in charge of Social and Solidarity Economy and Consumption, explained about the Social and Solidarity Economy Act project, which is in process in the National Assembly, saying that France is quite eager to learn from what’s happening in Latin America (and actually an agreement was signed between the French and Ecuadorean governments) and also to collaborate with other countries in the world (Africa and US, among others) and defined SSE as strategy of inclusive growth. Ms. Doris Josefina Solis Carrión (Ecuador), Minister of Economic and Social Inclusion, told that, even SSE was made visible with the new Constitution of 2008, it has always been an important part of her country’s economy as it churns out jobs, income and redistributes the wealth, referring to the concept of Buen Vivir. On top of that she said that 17,000 SSE bodies produce 25% of GDP, 60% of jobs and 65% of basic consumption and that the government helped poor craftsmen get out from subsidies. Ms. Nadira El Guermai (Morocco), governor of the Ministry of the Interior and coordinator of the Human Development National Initiative, presented her work as “struggle against poverty, exclusion and precarity“, explained its structure at the local, regional and national level, and highlighted that between 2005 and 2012 7 million people and 32,000 projects benefited from this programme, with the global investment of 20.6 billion dirhams (1.86 billion €, 2.50 billon $). Then a partnership agreement was signed between Québec and France on l’Accorderie (time banks) and the following projects were presented: Carrot Mob (France), APES (Association for Solidarity Economy Togo) and Microfinance sans Frontières (France).

Between Saturday, 09th in the afternoon and Sunday, 10th in the afternoon a number of workshops took place on the three above-mentioned axes (“Change the course”, “Change the entrepreneurial method and model” and “Change the scale”) to come up with proposals, such as:

  • Education to strengthen SSE identity
  • Territorial development with other players
  • Visualisation of SSE
  • Micro- and macro-economic indices
  • Influence international organisations
  • A working group within the Mont-Blanc Meeting to ponder on the transformation of the commons
  • Understand the partnership mechanism and look for institutions in charge
  • Favour collaborative projects for SSE
  • Collaborative processes
  • Creation of a group for deliberation
  • Understand the needs
  • Intervention for the cooperativism
  • Favour the intersectorialities
  • Promote the farming space
  • Elaboration of SSE action plans for women
  • Elaboration of appropriate regulations to promote women in SSE
  • Change the evaluation method
  • Emancipation of young women
  • Access to the land and financing offered for women
  • Promotion of women’s network
  • Co-construction of education
  • Education adapted for SSE values
  • Enhancement of formal and informal education
  • Search for commons
  • Establishment of indices for SSE education
  • Strengthen the financial capacity by professional warrant
  • Leverage national development banks

There were other presentations too. Mr. Yousef Alayasa (Palestine), Managing Director of Cooperatives in the Ministry of Labour, highlighted the importance and potential of cooperatives in his country’s economy despite so many hurdles. Dr. Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández (Costa Rica), president of Banco Popular y de Desarrollo Comunal, showed the role that his institution plays, highlighting that it has 4 billion $ of active and 3 billion $ of credit, among others. Mr. James Mwai (Kenya), executive director of Fairtrade Africa, talked about its growth (its annual budget grew from 300,000 $ to 2,000,000 $) and compared the private sector which monetarises everything with the commons economy. Ms. Pauline Green (UK), president of the International Cooperative Alliance, pointed out five challenges of the cooperativism: participatory governance (especially inclusion of the youth), sustainability, identity, legal framework and capital. Ms. Simel Esim (Turkey) from International Labour Organisation explained the projects by United Nations in terms of SSE, highlighting that cooperatives do contribute to MDGs, although commitments are still lacking from cooperatives’ side.

On Sunday other projects were presented, such as Utile in Montréal (student housing), GERES CO2 Solidaire in France andAPROFEM in Mali. Sergi Morales Díaz (Spain) told about the insertion cooperative SUARA.

On Monday, 11th November the following projects were presented: “SSE month” (November will be SSE month when different events will take place to visualise SSE), “Le Labo“(a think tank on SSE), “International Network of SSE Women” and Latin America’s commitment for SSE. And finally the Final Declaration was read.

I found it interesting that Mont-Blanc is making efforts to include the youth into SSE: this meeting’s organisation had already sent youth to other events to establish relationships and also to stimulate projects, and this congress was a step forward to concretise them. I hope it to continue to be a place not only of reflection but also of socioeconomic laboratory where new SSE initiatives kick off.

It’s been a pity for me, however, that not enough attention was paid to the solidarity economy in Latin America nor to how to link Latin American experiences with other continents: I had the impression that, despite the trilingualism (the official languages were French, English and Spanish), the atmosphere was predominantely French-speaking and it seemed to me that all discussions went around the French-speaking countries. It would be better if next editions could think of increasing Latin American participation to allow its wonderful experiences to be shared with other continents.

5th RIPESS Conference

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The 5th RIPESS (Réseau Intercontinental de Promotion de l’Économie Sociale et Solidaire) global conference took place from Tue, 15th to Fri, 18th October 2013 at the University of the Philippines, Quezon (Metro Manila), the Philippines as the first global event on Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) in Asia, with the participation of some 400 people from all the six continents of the world (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and Oceania).

The conference began with the speech by Mr. Jun Simon, former mayor of Quezon City, who criticised harshly the neoliberalism and told decades of his experience as an activist against this economic dogma, showing pictures of the Philippines’ traditional terrace ricefields as a good example of SSE. Then there was a plenary in which Mr. Michael Lewis, from Canadian Centre for Community Renewal, underscored the importance to build the yin-yang at the SSE on the basis of the slogan for RIPESS 2001 at Québec “Resist and Build”. He also referred to the importance to link the three basic needs (food, energy and housing) with SSE’s three tools (Request for finance, request of the commons, democratisation and localisation of the property) and mentioned the examples of affordable housing at Vancouver, of Teikei (Community-Supported Agriculture) in Japan and of the Peak Oil. Then appeared Paul Singer, National Secretary of Solidarity Economy in Brazil, who started by saying that SSE’s story is as long as the humanity and that it can be found at every corner of the world. He underscored the practices of native American and Afro-Brazilian communities, added that solidarity economy is a pacific process without bloodshed and finished by relating SSE with the “happiness” that Bhutan promotes.

The next speaker was Peter Utting from UNRISD (United Nations Research Institute for Social Development) who questioned the paradigm of development as the conventional one brought about different issues such as poverty, unequality between genders, crisis in values and individualisation, highlighting the Latin American concept of “buen vivir” (to live a decent life in harmony with the Mother Nature). Then he told that United Nations is an important player too on promoting SSE, referring to the conference that had took place at Geneva, the Switzerland in May 2013.  The last speaker of the first morning was Nancy Neatman, from Chantier d’Economie Sociale (Québec), who said that neither capitalism nor communism worked on reducing the poverty, accentuating the need that grass-root organisations should self-manage their resources.

The afternoon on Day 1 was spent for the presentation of the current situation in all the six continents. Daniel Tygel, general secretary of RIPESS, explained the latest news of the world, such as the renewal of its website with videos and its integration with other related websites, progresses at United Nations and different public policies in favour of the SSE, including the approval of the laws in some countries, highlighting the need for SSE to get linked with other social movements too. Abdeljalil Cherkaoui from Morocco told the African perspective  where SSE keeps growing since the 3rd RIPESS conference in 2005 at Dakar, Senegal, focusing on the need to take into account the diversity of socioeconomic contexts within the continent, lamenting the refusal by the Philippine authority to issue visa for different African delegtions which prevented this continent from having more presence at Manila, and highlighting the construction of the Mediterranean network. Benjamin Quiñones from the Philippines presented the Asian perspective in which SSE bodies can be classified into two categories: self-managed organisations and other organisations which support the poor. He criticised the lack of solidarity among solidarity-based businesses and posed a question: is it worth keeping the developed-country model of social enterprise or should Asia learn more from Latin-American experiences?

Jason Nardi from Italy shared the European panorama where different alternatives have emerged on the basis of protests to the predominant neoliberal regime, talked about the state-of-the-art of RIPESS Europe which is trying to include Northern and Eastern Europe too, on top of showing examples like Ethical Bank, social currencies and solidarity-based tourism. Luis Eduardo Salcedo from Colombia talked about Latin America, showing progresses in the legislation in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador and pointed out, as challenges, free trade agreements and the extractivism. Emily Kawano from United States represented North America, showing different cooperatives in the region. And David Thompson from New Zealand talked briefly that also in Oceania new organisations of social economy are emerging with the collapse of the neoliberalism.

Betwen the day 2 and 4 we saw, in parallel with workshops and conferences, the SEE fair where products from different countries were on sale (the author could find goods from the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Mexico, Guatemala and Peru but perhaps there were products from more countries).

The Day 2 in the morning had 12 simultaneous workshops (3 workshops by language (English, French and Spanish) and 9 thematic ones), whose result was summarised by organisers as follows: we’ve sufferd from the failure of the neoliberalism and of the disregard on sociocultural and spiritual values and of human rights while SEE condemns it with affirmative actions, respecting the practices of indigenous and traditional communities.  A the same time SSE is full of creativity, defined as “strategy of inclusive development”, “people-centered economy” y “economy to assure the sustainability and the resilience” and different needs emerged: to see SEE within the context of global financial and environmental crisis, to establish solid links with financial bodies to stimulate investments in SSE and to realise cultural researches in the Philippine context  to show that the indigenous culture also has some elements related to SSE.  Different proposals were done, among others, about the education and the mobilisation of the youth, about the inclusion of SSE in the academic curriculum, about spreading it out by way of different media, about the empowerment, about the promotion of SSE practices, about the leverage of human rights paradigm, about the leverage of institutions, about the application of the gender issue, about the inclusion of SSE at the Draft Declaration of People’s Right and about the researches on SSE.  On the second day in the afternoon we visited SSE experiences in Quezon.

On the day 3 we had four workshops. The workshop 1 (Global vision on SSE) had debates to define SSE as something “to transform the whole socioeconomic system” accentuating the self-management which needs to be better organised to have a comparable force with that of the capitalism and also to receive supports from governments, requesting a fairer redistribution of wealth and suggesting the use of different indicators such as “buen vivir”. Three proposals came up at the workshop 2 (SSE practices in the territories): “strengthen the cooperation and solidarity at the local level”, “organise the territorial democratic governance” and “consider the contributions of territorial approaches as alternative model”. The workshop 3 (networking and organisation of SSE) proposed the mutual learning without imposing, the face-to-face communication, bringing different people together for common goals, reading the RIPESS chart and the publication of RIPESS resources for the grass-root (in more languages and also in other media, such as printed pamphlets). The workshop 4 (communication and visibility) showed the needs to share SSE experiences, to visualise them for the public in general, to map SSE bodies, to have a global vision on SSE and a proposal was made to work for mapping, for documenting experiences (including video) and for strengthening internal communications at RIPESS.

Then the summary at the workshop on gender was shown, with the following proposals:

  • SSE must not replicate any forms of oppression around gender, race, sexuality, class, nationality, etc.
  • SSE must actively engage and address power relations in the household, community, organisations and society
  • Women must create and redefine women’s leadership that is sustainable in SSE organisations and movements
  • Gender needs to be a key issue in SSE
  • Women and men need space to discuss and develop SSE gender’s perspective
  • We need to bring up local contexts and share SSE women’s experiences into discussions
  • Gender must be officially included in all RIPESS meeting’s and platforms

In 2014 RIPESS will host regional events in: Africa (at Marrakech, Morocco in April), East Asia (in Japan, date to be defined) and Latin America (at León, Nicaragua, date to be defined).

I’d like to leave some remarks about this conference. First of all, this conference seemed to me rather focused on debating pending issues for RIPESS executives than on satisfying the concerns of SSE’s own grass-root players. Some of the workshops on the Day 3, for instance, were rather to progress RIPESS works without necessarily contributing to these practitioners’ own activities, and it seems better to introduce Paulo Freire’s dialogical education methodology onto the very process of organising conferences so these meetings should be for the participants.

Secondly, it was a pity that there was no break which would have allow us to know each other more deeply: for intercontinental participants it’s one of few opportunities to see so many people from different socioeconomic, political and cultural contexts.  It would have been better it there had been two breaks every day (half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon), on top of lunch breaks.

In the third place, it would be better that the workshops on the Day 2 hadn’t been split by language (English for Asia, Oceania and US / French for Europe, Québec and Africa / Spanish for Latin America) but by continent with translation, as it would have been able to help intercontinental dialogues too.  Some Asians curious about Latin America, for instance, would have been able to attend the workshop on Latin America to learn their reality.

2nd International Conference on Social and Complementary Currencies

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The 2nd International Conference on Social and Complementary Currencies took place at ISS, the Hague, Netherlands from Wed, 19th to Sun, 23rd June 2013.  Some 500 people from 34 countries in all the 6 continents (North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania) took part in to learn, discuss and exchange ideas and experiences.  Here you can read abstracts of all the presentations.

On Tue, 18th in the evening a preconference talk was given by Dr. Thomas Greco (Arizona, US) as a special speaker.  After criticising the current monetary system he mentioned the importance to “re-conceive in the most fundamental sense, the very idea of currency, credit, and payment” on the basis of a similar phrase by the former president of the Visa International and showed the following three currencies: “Currency SOLD for cash”, “Currency DISTIRBUTED with no formal obligation to reciprocate” and “Currency SPENT into circulation as a credit obligation” and referred to the “Free and Open Markets“, “Interest-free credit“, “An Honest Means of Payment Based on Sound Principles that Assure Reciprocity” and “An Objective and Stable Unit of Measure of Value” as requirements for efficient, effective, fair and sustainable exchange,  He told o the need that the issuer should accept the currency (s)he issued and showed, as elements to restrict the growth of social to reach the scale.

On Wed, 19th June the event started officially with a minute of silence for Sandra Magalhães, co-founder of the Banco Palmas at Fortaleza, Brazil who had passed away on the previous Thursday, and two keynote speeches were done.  The first was given by Katherine Gibson from the University of Western Sydney, Australia and was about the recovery of people’s sovereignty on the economy on the basis of her book “Take back the Economy” that has come out this year.  She began by criticising the capitalocentrism which alienates employees, CEOs, consumers, property owners and investors and proposed the restructuring of the economy.  She made clear different ways of economy and talked about three types of economy for the three categories: Labour (wage, alternative paid and unpaid), market (market, alternative market and non-market) and capital (capitalist, alternative capitalist and non-capitalist), showing examples that in the Filipino economy all sorts of abovementioned economies exist.  She underscored the importance to know the origin of each product to be aware of the workers’ situation and argued that social currencies are “building relationships”.

The second keynote speaker (the whole text of his presentation can be found at: http://thememorybank.co.uk/2013/06/18/money-in-the-making-of-a-human-economy-beyond-national-capitalism/ ) is Prof. Keith Hart from University of Pretoria, South Arica who directs the human economy programme, an expression coined by him to transmit the idea of social and solidarity economy in English-speaking countries’ sociocultural contexts.  He starte by talking about years of his involvement with the LETS model, defined that Europe is having the same problem as the one in Argentina in 2001 – 2002, judged the introduction of Euro as a mistake, mentioned the collapse of the national capitalism and proposed the human economy approach on the basis of his book “human economy” published in 2010 together with Jean-Louis Laville and Antonio David Cattani.

In the afternoon two workshops took place and the first one I attend had four presentations.  Profesor Baeg Eui, Hong from Seoul National University, South Korea shared the perspective of the social currencies in his country where two experiences were highlighted: Hanbat LETS at Daejeon and Gwacheon Pumasi at Gwacheon, Greater Seoul, on top of the recent initiative by the Seoul Welfare Foundation to set up 25 initiatives and classified the experiences in four categories: “neighbourhood community type” (more conservative), “alternative community type” (more anticapitalist and challenging), “active community” (more ecologist) and “ecological community” (more ecological an challenging).  Mike Unrau from Calgary Dollars at Calgary, Alberta, Canadá gave the following six steps to get the support from the local government: 1) Find Organisational Support, 2) Find Small Grant Funding (to lead to larger ones), 3) Build Relationships with City Councillors, 4) Gain City Council Endorsement, 5) Apply for Larger Funding and 6) Speak Their Language / Be Opportunistic.  Juliana Braz from theUniversidad de São Paulo, Brazil showed her research on credit clients of Banco Palmas at Fortaleza, Ceará, proving that 60% of the interviewees answered that their commitment to the community increased and that 80% found themselves identified with this social currency although most of them have stopped to use it as the time passed by.  And finally Ruth Naughton-Doe from University of Bristol, UK demythified Time Banks as they aren’t self-managed, their management actually costs quite expensive, only few members exchange and evidences are lacking on other positive aspects.

In the second workshop other four workshops were given.  Joey Renert from mentioned the importance to back social currencies with fundamental high-demand and exportable resources but that they should be different that those which warrant the oficial tender.  András Novoszáth from the Open University, United Kingdom explained about the importance that the knowledge of a social currency can bring onto the users’ behaviour.  Hugo Godschalk from Paysys Consultancy GmbH, Germany explained different aspects of financial regulations on social currencies, making clear that the diversity of their features make it complicated to apply laws, on top of the fact that each country has different legal system without any unification in the whole Eurozone.  After that Takeshi Hashimoto showed the result of his researchbetween the awareness on the money and the use of social currencies.

The Thu, 20th started with another keynote speech.  Prof. Akinobu Kuroda from the University of Tokyo, Japan highlighted the high social cohesion at LETS in comparison with the official currency’s anonymity and defined that the currency’s quality is up to the social relationship, although some voices said the contrary (the social relationship is up to the currency’s quality).  After that three simultaneous workshops took place in which Ricardo Orzi, from the Universidad de Luján, Argentina compared some French experiences of social currency with the historical practice of barter clubes (clubes de trueque) in Argentina, implying that the use of official tender as collateral, the more assistencialist and interventionist attitude of the State and the lack of personal charisma in France, among other factors, triggered different practices.  I myself (Miguel Yasuyuki Hirota) from the Universidad de Valencia, Spain talked about social currency’s marketing as ofer of values for different stakeholders, providing other concepts such as social marketing, relational marketing and presenting the future experience of ORUE in Valencia, Spain.  Marcelo Gryckiewicz de Buenos Aires, Argentina showed a video of a brief history of barter clubs in Argentina and Uruguay (you can watch the video here (in Spanish)).

In the afternoon other workshops took place.  Leander Bindewald, UK and Christophe Place, France presented mechanisms for the evaluation of social currencies on the basis of their typology and goals, applying the impact assessment to achieve more funding from the sponsors.  Irene Sotiropoulou from Chania, Greece presented the ups and downs of prices at a LETS in this Cretan city, proving the unstable offer of some basic products and the deflationary tendency of prices.  And Peplluis de la Rosa from Universitat de Girona, Catalonia and of RES Catalunya and James Stodder from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Hartford, Connecticut, United States showed his study on the velocity of different social currencies, with further doubts to explain in the future.  And this academic session closed by asking signatures for the Central Bank of Kenya not to punish Will Ruddick, founder of a social currency Bangla-Pesa, because this social currency will help to improve its users’ life quality.

 On Fri, 21st June the second part on “public policies” was held, although most of the workshops were of another character.  On the plenary Bernard Lietaer from Belgium defined that we’re in the ripe information age and that money is an information system.  Edgar Kampers from Qoin, the Netherlands presented two Timebank-style initiatives.  Later a number of simultaneously workshops took place to have a variety of arguments, but personally what surprised me the most were the words pronounced by Dariusz, who has a commercial barter system in Poland, that his business wasn’t banking but “educational”.  Other commercial barter initiatives agreed with this vision, posing the need to reposition these experiences within the theoretical framework of social currencies.  Another interesting vision which was presented in this conference was the workshop on interest-free banking where the experience of JAK bank experiences from Sweden as well as the definition of the Islamic banking were shown.

On Sat, 22nd and Sun, 23rd June the last part of the conference for practitioners took place, discussing different topics in relation with social currencies.  Dozens of spontaneous workshops were organized and their results can be found at the following link.

In this conference I’ve found some keywords: the first phrase which impressed me was that of the Polish commercial barter which accentuated that his business wasn’t banking but “educational”, referring to the need to teach its philosophy member businesses.  Another concept which left an important trace in my mind was the “local development”, said by the Costa Rican technician Erik Brenes which developed different experiences in Central America.  It’s necessary for us to get used to the fact that most people, including politicians and entrepreneurs, don’t understand anything at all or even show their refusal on hearing the word “social currency” and we have to choose an adequate language which should be comprehensible for this sector of people.  What appealed me on top of that was the vision posed by Mike Unrau, of Calgary Dollar, Canada who sees social currencies as “social enterprise”.  Although the definition on social enterprises varies from country to country and that social currency practices aren’t necessarily linked with the job creation for marginalised workers, it will be urgently needed for us to contemplate such a possibility so that social currencies should count with more supports.

Report on the Local Currency Gathering at Seville, Spain

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The “Encuentro de Monedas Locales” (Local Currency Gathering) took place from Thu, 09th to Sun, 12th May 2013 at Seville, Andalusia, Spain. 136 people from Spain’s 9 autonomous communities (Andalusia, Aragón, Basque Country, Canary Islands, Catalonia, Extremadura, Madrid, Murcia and Valencia) and also from Brazil, Chile, France and UK joined this meeting, sharing their experiences and strengthening the human relationship for future collaborations.

On Thu, 09th and Fri, 10th the event took place basically at “Casa de Pumarejo” (Pumarejo House), a wonderful building in the 18th century at Plaza de Pumarejo which unfortunately suffers from degradation and is on the verge of being demolished by developers who want to build a modern hotel there. A non-profit was set up to preserve this invaluable heritage and in March 2012 it started to use its own social currency called Puma to strengthen people’s bond. The conference began with the presentation of Jara in the Aljarafe county (just to the next of Seville City) with the aim of increasing the local self-sufficiency of housing, education, health, clothes, food and energy. Their problem is the bad road network (roads are usually heading from this county for Seville Capital with few roads linking towns within the county), but they have already 273 members. Then followed the presentation of Puma as a currency for the “Cuidadanía” (a new word coined from “ciudadanía” (citizenship) and “cuidado” (care), meaning “care citizenship”), having fairs and food supply centre to stimulate trades and currently it has 608 members, of which 38% are men, 52% are women and 10% are local businesses. Both Jara and Puma are based on the online LETS CES.

The Fri, 10th began with the presentation by Enric Montesa for Rubit, a social currency to be launched soon at Russafa, Valencia City. This local currency, with a mobile phone payment system, will promote and support social and cultural initiatives and the local economy, will be issued as a non-convertible currency to link local businesses, non-profits and inhabitants there. Then Alejandro Rodríguez talked about his project Málaga Común (Málaga, Andalusia) as an online LETS. Then Jorge Timón from Cáceres (Extremadura) spoke about the project Freicoin, a demurrage-charging electronic currency (similar to Bitcoin) which started last December, Israel Sánchez from Puma talked about the food supply centre where food is sold both in puma and euro, and Miguel Figueroa from Gran Canaria showed their social currency DEMOS which gives its members some basic income. And Ciaran Mundy gave the general picture on Bristol Pound, UK, proving that since its launch in September 2012 this system goes on growing, with more than 150,000 Bristol Pounds in circulation as of March 2013.

In the afternoon two experiences in rural zones were presented. Eva Ramírez Hidalgo talked about Las Pitas, a bustling LETS-type experience in Bajo Andarax (Almería). It’s quite important to underscore the fact that this experience evolved from a timebank (Note that Spain has more than 300 timebanks!) as it faced with the hardship in allowing its members to get goods, especially food. Chelo Farina talked about a similar experience La Mora in Sierra Norte (Madrid). Then a panel discussion was held in terms of legal issues where Enric Montesa talked about the Code of Commerce, Civil Code and how to deal with VAT for turnovers in social currencies, dealing with a currency as “civil contract”. Then six workshops took place simultaneously on: “exchange platforms, payment system and security”, “Self-organisation of Local Networks: Stimulate and Take Care of the Collective Creation Process”, “Facilitator’s Role in the Group Process and the Conflict Resolution”, “Tornado of Ideas and Proposals to Innovate in our Local Currencies”, “Emotional Relationship with the Money” and “Strategies to Sustain Social Currency Local Networks: How to Take Care of People who Work for the Public”.

On Sat, 11th and Sun, 12th the session continued at the IES Velázquez school. Julio Gisbert talked about the recent trend of local currencies in Spain with a map of initiatives and Miguel Yasuyuki Hirota shared the summary of the congress which had taken place in the previous weekend at Traunstein, Upper Bavaria, Germany (see here for more information on the congress in Germany). Then Peplluis de La Rosa, professor at University of Girona (Catalonia) and also of RES Catalunya showed his study on the money’s circulation speed, showing that social currencies tend to circulate quicker than national tenders, and Francisco Ortega showed his electronic currency platform Kapital Truth based on the evaluation system.

In the afternoon another panel discussion was held in terms of relationship between social currency and other sectors (public and private ones). Luis Blanco from Expronceda at Almendralejo (Badajoz, Extremadura) mentioned that the mayor is supportive of this initiative, although he hasn’t started to receive his salary in social currency as does Bristol’s one. Andrea Caro from SOL-Violette (Toulouse, France) underscored the character of this experience as “citizens’ currency”, although this project is financially supported by the City Hall, and Pedro Tolosa from Tolosa (Guipúzcoa, Basque Country) talked about a social currency project to be launched later in 2013 by the local association of hotels and restaurants with the support from a local credit union. Then SWOT analysis as well as evaluation on the event organisation and strategies to continue working as a network were done, and on Sun, 12th it was decided that Valencia will host the next Spanish meeting in 2014.

As this was a second edition of the Spanish-level meeting (in 2012 it was at Vilanova I La Geltrú, Catalonia), I was happy to see some advances, not only in terms of the number of participants (more than double than last year) but also in terms of the improvement in the discussion level. I am convinced that this movement is finally taking off in the Spanish society, with the potential to be developed in different parts of the country to satisfy people’s unmet needs, especially unemployment (according to the latest data, the unemployment rate reaches 27%!).

It should be reminded, however, that the collaborating work within the network is still quite fragile, which prevents the network from leveraging its full potential. More efforts should be done to involve people with collective works, such as maintaining websites and/or blogs, editing a manual and studying legal issues, so more people, especially those who still stay out of the network, can learn more about social currencies.

Commemorative Congress on the 10th anniversary of Chiemgauer (Upper Bavaria, Germany)

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A congress in commemoration for the 10th anniversary of Chiemgauer took place from 03rd to 05th May 2013 and at Traunstein, Upper Bavaria, Germany. Some 200 people joined from different parts of Germany, Austria, France, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Spain (me) and the Switzerland to discuss on complementary currencies.

Chiemgauer started in January 2003 as an initiative at a Waldorf school (a private school under its own educational guideline proposed by the anthroposopher Rudolf Steiner) and is an euro-backed currency. Each one chooses a social or environmental project on becoming a member, exchanges euro into this regional currency in parity (100 € > 100 Chiemgauer), pays at local businesses which accept Chiemgauer and 3% of his/her expenditure goes to this social or environmental project. Businesses can spend it at other local businesses or redeem euro with 5% of commission (100 Chiemgauer > 95 €) and the non-profit Chiemgauer pays its administration costs with the rest of 2€. This regional currency works at two counties (Landkreise) of Rosenheim and Traunstein, on top of the Rosenheim City which is out of the homonymous county, and 651 local businesses and 262 projects join this system, with 703,332 Chiemgauer in circulation (as of May 2013). Its statistics say that in 2012 there were 2,573 consumers, the member businesses’ annual turnover is 6,452,279 Chiemgauers, e55,934 € was donated to social projects and this social currency circulates 11.22 times per year, in other words 2.78 times quicker than euro, stimulating the regional economy.

The congress started with the presentation by Christian Gelleri, Chiemgauer’s founded, titled as “Chancen und Grenzen” (Chances and Limits). He made clear that by using this complementary currency members want to “determine democratically about the money”, “give money its homeland”, “keep money in circulation” and “money to promote dialogue and actions”, with the aim to achieve the “consciousness on the money and the economy”, “as much value creation as possible as far as they correspond to our needs and the Mother Nature allows us” and “as much donation as possible to the culture, to the education and to the art”. He showed the message by the Horst Köhler, former President of the Federal Republic of Germany, who evaluates positively Chiemgauer, as “such regional currencies allow people to see the money system as something significant of our social environment and of our homeland”, and this former head of German state underlines too the fact that people learn the origin of money and that the environmental and social sustainability should be much more easily visualized. Then he pointed out seven limits and seven chances.

Limits

• Emotionality of money (people’s fear to touch the money issue)
• Mist on the money (the lack of understanding on its true function)
• Bureaucracy and old laws
• Gap between theory and practice
• Critical mass
• Power and resources
• Infulence of the huge system (euro etc.) on the small ones

Chances

• De-emotionalisation of the money
• Demands, as customers rule
• Use of Chiemgauer “All the members live Chiemgauer”
• Partial payment of salary in regional currency
• Synchronisation of the donation with regional currencies
• Creative management of the regional currency
• Introduction of Chiemgauer in crisis-hit regions

The Day 2 (Sat, 04th May) started with the keynote speech by Dr. Prof. Margrit Kennedy, author of important books on the money, such as “Inflation and Interest-free Money”, “People Money” and “Occupy Money”. Her presentation, titled as “Euro and Chiemgauer: An almost objective comparison between two different brothers”, began with showing five unsustainable aspects of our current money system, i.e.:

• It creates economic booms and busts
• It churns out short-term-minded thoughts
• It requieres endless growth
• It concentrates the wealth
• It smashes the social capital

And then she showed six solutions for the current crisis on the basis of recently published books.

1. Canncellation of debts (such as Jubilee), by US professors Michael Hudson and David Graeber
2. Abolition of euro and restoration of money sovereignty for each Eurozone country (Prof. Joachim Starbatty)
3. Chicago Plan and “Full Money” (by International Monetary Fund and many others): to allow financial institutions to give new credits only when they have the same amount of cash reserve.
4. Complementary currencies in permanent circulation in harmony with the environment (Charles Eisenstein)
5. How can we set ourselves free from our understanding on the property and money and, among others interest (Christian Kreiß)
6. The introduction of complementary currencies can solve social, ecological and cultural issues without new taxes nor laws (Bernard Lietaer, Christian Arnspenger, Stefan Brunnhuber and Sara Goerner)

Another important fact illustrated by this professor is that, had the Article 25 of the French Law of 03rd January 1973 on the Banque de France not been put into effect, the French government would have saved 1.306 trillion euros for interest payment and that the percentage of public debt in France would be ony 8.3% of its GDP, on top of another graphic to show the correlation between the exponential growth of goods and debts in the public sector, private businesses and individuals.

Dr. Prof. Kennedy highlighted the importance to implement complementary currencies at different levels (local / regional / national / international / global) and for different goals (timebanks for the elderly care, health currency, educational currency and energy currency), telling the experiences of WIRBank (Switzerland), RES (Belgium and Catalonia (Spain)), social currency at Gent (Belgium) to help immigrants cultivate urban farms and that of Zurich (the Switzerland) for a farmers’ cooperative. She also explained the difference between the demurrage currency (a family with 6,000 € of cash at hand loses 300 € per year) and the inflation (a family with 200,000 € of saving loses 10,000 € per year in case of 5% of inflation) and she proposed the application of the Chiemgauer model to implement a national currency in countries such as Greece and Spain on the basis of euro reserve (see here the proposal) . And she concluded by showing the difference between complementary and conventional currencies:

Complementary currency / Conventional currency

  • Generates (social) utillities / Generates (monetary) profits
  • Limited use / Universal usl
  • Charges fees / Charges interests
  • Transparent creation / Not transparent creation
  • Strengthens communities / Weakens communities
  • Softens inflations / Stimulates inflations
  • Backed with services / Backed with properties
  • Benefits for everybody / Benefits for 10% of the population

Then four parallel workshops took place, i.e.: “Regional Currencies and Banks”, “Post-Growth Economy”, “Chiemgauer for Beginners” and “the Miracle of Wörgl”. I was at the Post-Growth Economy where Nico Paech, from Ossietzky Oldenburg university, criticised the general view on the Green economy which optimistically thinks that technological innovations will solve all environmental and economic issues, questioning the conventional paradigm of the obligation to the growth and suggesting the post-growth economy as that of sufficiency, subsistence, regional economy, “new” production and institutions. He also showed the fact that the need to work more hours diminished the time available for consumption (Why do you work more and earn more if you have no time to spend?) and proposed the transition from large production chains (global and commercial economy) to the subsistence (local and non-commercial economy) and to prosumers’ economy.

In the afternoon eight workshop took place, four just after the lunch and other four subsequently. The first four were titled: “Regional currency and tourism”, “The euro crisis”, “Diversity of money instead of monoculture” and “Chiemgauer for the advanced”. I was at the diversity session where Mr. Franz Jansky mapped different initiatives in Germany and some neighbouring counties (Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands and the Switzerland). An interesting tendency was observed that in the former East Germany, impoverished regions where many Neonazis emerge, the non-euro-backed model is prevailing, perhaps due to the lack of euro while in Upper Bavaria, another affluent region with many experiences, the regional currencies tend to be backed with euro. He also warned that an adequate language should be used to avoid the misunderstanding that complementary currencies have racist goals in regions with many Neonazis.

And later other four sessions took place: “regional currency and communities”, “regional currency as a social innovation tool”, “rethink the economy for a new economic culture in businesses and society” and “Momo, Faust and Co., Vision of a better money in arts and literature”. I was at the session of social innovation where Dr. Prof. Margrit Kennedy answered different questions in this respect, such as: the crisis can stimulate the promotion of social currencies (ex.: Barter clubs in Argentina), the social bond is needed to create the trust to the social currency, it is necessary to involve appropriate stakeholders to promote social currencies and that it’s necessary to learn from experiences in other countries (Brazil, Japan and New Zealand), among others.

The conference finished with another presentation by Niko Paech which talked once again on the Post-Growth economy. He explained that the current consumerist society, based on the looting of natural resources, is unsustainable due to the time limit (today I own and later I’ll pay), to the physical limit (such an economy is possibly only because of energy waste) and to the space limit (global production chain). He underscored the importance of sufficiency (the sustainability deficit without welfare trigger impoverishment) and of subsistence (environmental damage by the external supply cannot be eliminated by its own systemic logic). He explained the obligation to grow from the supply’s viewpoint (the necessary amount of surplus increases as the specialised production chain is advanced) and from the demand’s one (the idea of freedom is quite closely related with the permanent increase of material realisation) and he showed proposals for both aspects (for the supply setup of cooperatives, monetary reform and reduction of the financial need and for the demand: soften or turn off the driver for consumption).

A very interesting fact that I’d like to highlight is the strong regional identity which seemed to have a lot to do with complementary currencies in my opinion: at Upper Bavaria (especially at the Alpine region between Munich and Salzburg) people are really attached to their land and some hotels and restaurants have employees in traditional costume. It’s true that the natural beauty if this region is impressive and it’s quite natural that locals should be proud of their land. In Spain where I currently live, Catalonia and Euskadi (“Bask Country”) have more social currencies than others, perhaps also due to people’s strong identity with the land, although culturally these places are different (Bavarians are very conservative while Catalans and Basques tend to be innovative, in my opinion).

It might be true that the identity plays an even more important role than people’s orientation for social innovation in terms of the implementation of complementary currencies: In Germany Berlin is known to be the place with many people into alternatives, but there complementary currencies don’t work because of the lack of local identity. I thought that people’s political tendency had a lot to do with the success of complementary currencies, but it seems like the local identity is more important…