In the summer of 2011, Autumn Rooney, Janine Christiano and I went to western Massachusetts to visit the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. In the bucolic town of Great Barrington, we hoped to find out more about local economies, alternative currency and other powerful community building tools. The area is home to some pretty radical movements, not the least of which includes pioneering Community Sustained Agriculture at Indian Line Farm and minting BerkShares, a local currency that has helped a small community keep more of its money at home, rather than in the hands of outside corporations and interests.
After spending a few days picking the brain of the Center’s executive director Susan Witt, we came home to LA with a lot of big ideas, two of which are now in the final stages of research and development after receiving a development grant from the Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation lead by artist and foundation director, Lauren Bon. This fall the Arroyo S.E.C.O. Community Revolving Loan Fund and Local Economy Incubator will launch, serving our Time Bank community.
Intended to help our community of artisans, entrepreneurs, visionaries and worker-owned cooperatives gain access to resources that often come with a great price tag in the extractive economy, the CRLF and LEI seek to educate, support and empower the Arroyo Seco Network of Time Banks (ASNTB) through micro-loans and access to professional development.
More and more, the mainstream economy offers fewer opportunities for local growth, community enrichment and personal empowerment. By supporting local small business, cottage industry and worker-owned businesses, the CRLF honors our essential interdependence and nurtures human-scale economics in our community.
Time Bank members are enterprising, resourceful and creative. Many have already launched local businesses, restaurants, co-ops and developed handmade products such as jams, jewelry, clothing, botanicals and bread. Our fund can provide them with low interest micro-loans to scale up production, upgrade equipment or purchase materials and supplies. The fund is especially supportive of women and the economically distressed, ventures that promote environmental and/or community sustainability, ventures that show direct and positive impact on the ASNTB community and social entrepreneurs or cooperatives with a social mission.
As an experiment in complimentary currency, the loan fund utilizes both federal dollars and time credits. The fund review panel approves loans of federal dollars to ASNTB members with either small businesses or worker owned co-ops through the fund’s financial partner, the Santa Fe Permaculture Credit Union. Members repay their loans with federal dollars, but pay associated loan fees for processing to the fund in time credits. The payment of these fees is calculated in time, or the time it takes fund officers to process the loan over the course of its life. As loans are repaid, more funds become available for new borrowers.
Time Bank members can also participate in the Local Economy Incubator (LEI), which matches Time Bank entrepreneurs with Time Bank mentors who provide business development expertise in areas such as business plan development, governance, strategy, sustainability, finances, legal, branding, marketing, and media.
To launch these programs, we’ve consulted with experts like Jenny Kassan of Cutting Edge Capital, Janelle Orsi of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Greg Wendt of the Green Economy Think Tank, our own Lois Arkin of the LA EcoVillage and community organizer Nancy Berlin to develop our financial and implementation plan. We’ve studied micro-loan programs like Kiva and Grameen and culled through the handful of non-government funded community loan funds to determine the best model to pilot. And we’ve spoken to students from Mondragon University in Spain to learn how to support cooperatives. The more we share our plan, the more excitement we stir up. Many of these people are now waiting to see how we do with our fund so it can be replicated in other communities.
This experiment is yet another way for our community to exercise self-determination. Donating to or borrowing from this loan fund is an investment in the health of our community. It keeps resources flowing locally and is an opportunity to leverage the powerful social capital of the Time Bank network in a way that makes our members’ businesses even more viable in the mainstream economy.
Through this summer and fall, we’ll be raising the matching funds required in our grant to capitalize the loan fund for its pilot phase. Our goal is to raise $5,000 from our Time Bank community before the end of December. In September and October we’ll launch an Indiegogo fundraising campaign, but you can donate now via our homepage. Time Bank superstars Lee Conger and John Wingler have generously asked their wedding guests to donate to the fund in lieu of gifts. We encourage you to think of creative ways to support our fundraising effort. All donations are tax-deductible.
The CRLF will begin lending in 2014. Eligible Time Bank members with either a small business or co-op may apply to receive a micro-loan in the amount of $500-$5000. Our application will be available Fall 2013.
The Local Economy Incubator is now vetting Time Bank business development mentors and participants and will begin programming in Fall 2013.
To receive more information such as loan eligibility, criteria and terms or to get involved in these programs, email Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org
To support our local entrepreneurial community, make a tax-deductible donation by clicking on our homepage Donate link today!