Alternative currency system for Penn students, faculty

Awarded $1,000 by the Kelly Writers House, Penn Timebank will allow exchange of services throughout campus

· February 25, 2013, 9:10 pm

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Penn Timebank is giving new meaning to “time is money.”

On Feb. 1, the Creative Ventures Project of the Kelly Writers House awarded the student startup Penn Timebank a $1,000 grant.

It was one of two projects to win a grant this award cycle. “[Penn Timebank’s] application was fantastic. It was well written. The project seemed thought out and doable,” Director of Kelly Writers House Jessica Lowenthal said.

Penn Timebank will operate as an online network that allows students and faculty to exchange services with each other. The currency is time, and the exchange rate is an hour for an hour. For example, a user could receive one hour of tutoring from another user and then offer one hour of piano lessons to someone else.

The goal is to create a real world network from the online portal, strengthening Penn’s community and creating bridges between groups of students and faculty who may not otherwise meet each other.

College seniors Meghna Chandra, Julia Graber, former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist JY Lee and Shivani Srivastav are behind the project. Currently, they are figuring out the best software to use for Penn Timebank and trying to spread the word about it.

The idea for creating a timebank at Penn came out of their mutual interests in alternative currencies, but Srivastav said they each came at the project from different angles.

Srivastav was primarily interested in its community building potential. “A lot of what we were thinking about is how to create a community at Penn,” she said.

Lee said that it would also foster bridges between communities at Penn. There might be strong networks within groups already, but Penn Timebank will allow students to reach across different communities to help each other,” he added.

Chandra saw the project as a form of activism.

“[We] had been involved in various forms of activism and community service,” she said. “[And we were] thinking not just in terms of being against something but being for something … being the change that we want to see.” That change is largely about replacing money with other currencies — in this case, time.

Lee said the original timebank was based on the “radical” notion that everyone’s hour is equally valuable.

For Graber, the idea that everyone is an asset, which was put forth in the book “No More Throw Away People” by Edgar Cahn, really appealed to her. Cahn is the founder of TimeBank USA — an organization that has been supporting the timebank movement since 1995. With a timebank, Graber said, everybody can sell his or her services, no skills necessary. It’s as simple as offering to stand in line for someone or running an errand.

“Your hour is worth something to someone who does not have that hour,” Srivastav added.

According to Graber, the problem with timebanks is actually too much altruism. Users tend to offer more hours of service than they are willing to use. Based on anthropological theories on gift giving, Graber said, people are more willing to give than they are to receive, but for a timebank to work properly, everyone needs to do both.

Other alternative currency economies can be found elsewhere in Philadelphia. Walnut Hill, for example, has a timebank. Equal Dollars Community Currency is another Philadelphia organization that allows people to exchange community service and goods for Equal Currency dollars that can be used at participating local businesses.

Penn Timebank is in its beginning stages. Because three of the team’s four members will be graduating this spring, they are hoping to pass on some of the project’s development on to interested students. They believe it has a lot of potential. Lee said he would like to eventually create a bartering system through the program.

Kelly Writers House will continue to support the project by providing its team with mentorship, along with a physical place to hold events and meetings.

“We’re thrilled to be involved,” Lowenthal said.

Penn Timebank’s first general information session will be held March 14 at 7 p.m. for anyone interested in keeping the project going throughout the next year.

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