TimeBanks: Entrepreneurs Helping Entrepreneurs

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As a work-at-home or other entrepreneur, you can only learn and do so much to run your business. Inevitably, there comes a point where you must ask for help. In the past, I’ve reviewed online microhelp sites where you can outsource your work for a small fee. Bigger projects may require the aid of contract agents found on sites such as oDesk, eLancer and vWorker.

However, what if you are truly strapped for cash and/or aren’t sure if an anonymous freelance worker found on the Web can do a good job for you? Alternately, what if your business needs more “hands-on” work like carpentry or plumbing? In such cases, you may wish to access the services of your local TimeBank.

TimeBanks USA operates community-run reciprocal work exchange programs in the USA and abroad. TimeBank “currency” is measured in hours, with members exchanging their work hours (rather than money) for the work hours of other members. TimeBank members are expected to uphold an honor system and are interviewed prior to being admitted to the program.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Messinger, the outreach coordinator for both the Dane County and the Rock Hour Community TimeBanks here in Wisconsin. The following are some questions that I asked him about timebanks and timebanking:

Halina: What inspired you to become a community outreach coordinator with the TimeBank?

Gary: I had been doing community-building work with people with disabilities and helping them to pursue their passions and dreams. When I found out about the TimeBank, I recognized that here is a system that values what everyone in our community can offer and contribute, no matter who they are or what they do. I see this as a great tool for all the people and groups who may feel on the fringe of our society and who are often looked upon as having lots of needs.

While this system helps people access resources they may not be able to otherwise, of more importance to me is that the TimeBank gives people an opportunity to contribute to others in their community as well. It can be very empowering when someone who has been looked upon as having lots of needs can now feel that what he or she has to offer is truly valued as well. It’s a great equalizer!

H: How long have you been participating in the Rock Hour Community TimeBank? How did you get started with this TimeBank?

G: I’ve been working with the Dane County TimeBank for five years. My family moved to the Evansville, Wisconsin area over three years ago. We soon realized how community-oriented this area is and thought that starting a TimeBank here offered significant potential to help build on those community connections. And where else besides Rock County [Wisconsin] can you get away with naming a TimeBank, Rock Hour Community!?!

H: How does a TimeBank work?

G: Timebanking is an exchange system. People help each other and receive credits for their service. Anyone who helps another member earns one “TimeBank Hour” for each hour of help given, which they can then spend on an hour of service from anyone else in the network. Everybody’s time is valued equally no matter what service they’re offering. Timebanking is a way to value the work we do for others in our community and the work we do in building that community.

H: What do you like most/least about being a part of a TimeBank?

G: There are so many aspects of TimeBanks that have great value! I’ve been involved in community building work for 18 years and this is by far the best tool for building community that I’ve come across. The system’s core values, one, that everyone has something to offer and two, that everyone’s time is valued equally, breaks down many of the demographic barriers that separate our society. Many members can echo what I tell you here. I’ve gotten to know many individuals whose life paths would never have crossed mine if it weren’t for this ‘great equalizer’. It’s truly been a blessing.

h: How are members kept “honest”? How are work disputes resolved?

G: When one member records time earned, the other member who received the service is notified. If there’s a disagreement about hours, then ideally the members work it out with each other. Alternately, a TimeBank coordinator can mediate. With that said, in my five years of working with the TimeBank I can still count on one hand the number of times this has happened. I think this is amazing considering we’ve had over 60,000 hours exchanged between members!

H: What kinds of professionals join the TimeBank? What kinds of services can one expect?

G: There’s a wide variety of professionals that can be found in a TimeBank. You might find work offers such as website design, marketing, electrical, fundraising, counseling, computer repair, music lessons, tax preparation, carpentry, or even a massage after a hard day of work! However, it goes far beyond professional services. There’s an amazing range of offers which can also include pet care, yard work, knitting lessons, meal preparation, transportation, housekeeping, tutoring….the possibilities are limitless!

H: Are there any online or work-at-home entrepreneurs in the Dane County and Rock Hour Community TimeBanks?

G: First of all, let me clarify a difference here. The Dane County TimeBank has been around for 7 years and has over 2,000 members, while Rock Hour Community was just launched last year and has about 50 members. Needless to say the resources aren’t the same in each one. I’d also like to mention that people can join multiple TimeBanks- the best of both worlds!

There are a fair number of TimeBank members who are entrepreneurs or self-employed. A couple of ways for them to best use the TimeBank would be to broaden their skills and find others to help them in areas where they may need assistance. An artist may find someone to design a website, an electrician may need the help of a tax expert, a yoga instructor might have a graphic artist design a brochure, etc.

For example, one of our TimeBank members organized a project within the TimeBank to develop a Peace Park here in Evansville. One of the members offered his expertise and Hours (instead of money) to create a landscape design plan for the park. As a result, if all goes well, Evansville will have a new Peace Park later this year! I think that’s a wonderful example of how people can come together through TimeBanking to make a big difference not only for themselves but for their community.

H: What future endeavors are in store for Rock Hour Community?

G: We’re looking forward to a lot of growth this year. We’re fortunate in that some key leaders in Evansville are really enthused about this and see its potential for this community and beyond. We want to increase our individual membership numbers and organizations.

TimeBanks are also great resources for organizations. Think of a typical low-budget, low-staff, non-profit agency suddenly having access to this wealth of resources in their community! We’ll also be having some events and gatherings for our members. It’s a good way for members to get to know each other and to jump start some exchanges.

The Bottom Line

Gary had the following to add about TimeBanks:

For those of you who may not be aware, TimeBanks have an international scope and can be found in 36 countries! You can learn more at the TimeBanks USA website at www.timebanks.org. If you’d like to know more about either TimeBanks or TimeBanking in general, feel free to contact me (Gary Messinger: silvercloud (at) live (dot) com) as well.

Photo credit by Earls37a

One Comment

    1. This seems like such an interesting opportunity. Thanks for sharing all the details on TimeBanks. :)

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