Our local economy is patchy; some industries are holding their own, some are struggling.  Unemployment is high – 11.5%, and household income is low, with 27% of our households having an income level of less than $30,000.

For more information, check out:
 Our District – A Social and Economic Profile of the Far North

We need to work on a number of fronts to help our people and to change these statistics.

Locally owned and operated businesses need support so that they may employ more people.

There are many goods and services required in the Far North; where there is no locally owned business supplying those requirements, we need to look at establishing social enterprises or co-operatives, in order that we become more self-sufficient.

We have jobs that need doing, we have people needing the work – as a community we just don’t have the money to put the two together.

We need to implement various sustainable exchange systems so that we may get all the work done in the district that is needed: things like environmental clean-ups, protecting our bio-diversity, and strengthening our communities.


What is it?  

Sustainable Exchange is a alternative to keep the economy turning when there is a lack of money (legal tender).  It works well in an area where there are things that need doing, there are people who are willing to do it, but there is a scarcity of funding to pay for the jobs to be done.  We have people who need work, we have work that needs to be done, we just don’t have the money to pay to get that work done, and without a lot of volunteers it just does not happen.  The Far North is in dire need of such initiatives. (any taxes that would be payable using legal tender are still payable using an alternative method) 

Sustainable Exchange includes such items as: Timebanks, Closed Loop Mutual Credit Groups, Savings Pools and Credit Unions, Complementary Currencies

Timebanks  are one way to get work done.

A pool of people work for each other earning timecredits, they can then spend those timecredits getting something they want done. It is a great way to share the skills and it helps build strong, connected communities.

For instance, an elderly person may need their house painted.  They buy the paint then a more capable person in the community does the physical work earning timecredits.  The elderly person earns their timecredits by doing gardening, or housework, mending, baking etc. whatever they are capable of doing.  Or a solo mum might need her car fixed, she could have someone in the group do this, and in return do some book-keeping for another person in the group.

The important thing is that the elderly person does not need to directly repay the person who did the painting, as long as they do the equivalent hours for someone in the group it all evens out.

One of the great things about Timebanks is that they really build a community, with people connecting and caring for each other. Importantly, they do not diminish the amount of work a tradesperson gets, for instance in the example of painting the elderly persons house, due to lack of funds, that job would not have been done anyway. But also, the paint would not have been purchased either, so it does have the potential to actually increase the regular economy.

One of the Timebanks I came across that I really liked was in Japan, and it works directly between the elderly and young people.  For instance, the grandchildren in a community have grown up close to the grandparents, and helped out with chores on a regular basis, such as cutting firewood, mowing lawns etc; in turn the grandparent shares their knowledge, helps out with homework etc.  The younger ones then grow up and move off to another town to go to university, and the grandparent misses out on the help.  In this particular Timebank, the young people would, after shifting away, do work for an elderly person in their new neighbourhood, then gift those credits earned back to their grandparents, who in turn could use them to get another young person in their district to do the chores they found difficult.  This is a wonderful way to keep the generations connected, for the grandparents to know that there is someone watching over their mokupuna in the big city, and for the young ones to know that there is someone taking care of their grandparents.  It builds a much more caring society.

There is a well-run Timebank in Kaitaia which has been operating for about five years – pop into the Far North Environment Centre to discuss, or join up here.

We plan to introduce a timebank right throughout the Far North, smaller communities will be sub-sets of that timebank but anyone who resides in the Far North will be able to share their skills.

Closed Loop Mutual Credit Groups are groups, usually formed between business-people.  These groups can trade their regular goods and services, or some just trade surplus.  Example; a lawyer may have a conference room that is only used once a week, they offer the use of that room to others in the group.  Another business may have ply that comes off packing cases that they usually throw away, another may have staff who are incredibly busy at certain times of the year but have downtime in others, such as an accounting firm who might offer to write business plans for others in the group during their downtime.  By just swapping their surplus goods or time, they continue with their own regular business, but help, and get help, for extras from others in the group.  Like Timebanks this helps create great communities.

Complementary Currencies are merely a method of measuring trades when you don’t have regular money to use.  They mean that the world does not need to stop completely when the money runs out for sectors of the community.

There is an interesting little story that does the rounds when explaining complementary currencies. It goes like this…

A travelling salesman raced into a hotel one morning, and knowing that accommodation was in short supply, said to the proprietor “I am not sure if I need a bed tonight or not, here is $100 deposit, can you keep a room aside for me.  If I finish all my calls I will come back for a refund.”  Off he went.  The proprietor waited, but the $100 note eventually got the better or him, he took it and raced off to the butcher who he owed money to, and paid him.  The butcher then thought, it is not every day I have $100 in my till, I will pop over and pay the garage that I owe for my last car repairs.  The garage proprietor then thought I must pay a deposit for the big party we are having at the hotel tomorrow night, and popped into the hotel and gave the $100 to the proprietor there.  Just after that, the travelling salesperson came back and said “I have finished all my calls, I will get on my way, can I have my deposit back”. The hotel proprietor gave a sigh of relief, thankful that the garage owner had prepaid for some of the dinner organised for the following night and handed over the $100.  In that manner, one $100 note had paid the butcher, paid the garage, and paid the hotel.  The end of the story is that the salesperson, on getting into his car, had a little giggle and screwed up the note – it was not real anyway!

Imagine if we were to pick on a waterway that needs cleaning up and planting.  We could use our own Far North currency to buy the plants, pay for the labour (providing employment and wages to a number of people), help pay for the fencing, and just get a job done that otherwise would continue denigrating our waters for many years.  Or some pest control work that needs to be done –  a biggie in the Far North.  At the moment things like this are just not getting done because there is not enough money to go around; in the meantime we continue wrecking the land and the sea and ruining it for our mokopuna.  Unless someone like the government or councils step up and provide the funding, (and I cant see that happening) we are creating a downward spiral.  We need to think outside the square and come up with some innovative solutions.

For those who have a suspicion of Sustainable Exchange, I challenge them to tell us what solutions they have so that we can get the work done.

For those that are interested, please contact Di to help form a working group.  LINK TO FORM COMING