08/22/2012 06:31 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2012

Time Banks

"Time is the most valuable commodity we can spend," stated the ancient Greek philosopher Theophastus; in Time Banks, the idea that "time is money" takes on a whole new significance. Time Banking is a social movement predicated on exchanging the value of time for time. It is an online community that brings people together based on the service of their time.

Through Time Banks, members can use their time as a resource to fulfill a variety of needs. For an hour of work, members earn one Time Dollar, no matter if their work was gardening, tax help or dog walking. Then, they are able to use their accumulated Time Dollars to spend on other people's time within the Time Bank network.

Time Banking is different than traditional forms of barter because rather than a one-on-one exchange of goods or services, Time Bank members are able to tap into a network of services that comes in exchange for the Time Dollars they have earned. Time banking is a way to trade services without directly bartering with another person -- rather members trade services through the Time Bank. And more importantly, they do this through an Internet-based system that easily allows members to list the services they both need and offer.

"Time Banking understands that there are two ways to value time, one is the market value, but for all of us there are domains in our life that are beyond market value," said Time Bank founder and CEO Dr. Edgar Cahn, "Time Banking is an attempt really to say when you get right down to it, all hours are equal."

Time Banks span the country and the globe. There are Time Banks located in 44 states, and in 32 countries throughout Europe, Israel, and Asia. Dr. Cahn notes that Time Banking helps connect value to the ephemeral things that market often does not. He states, "Barter follows market pricing but all barter currencies follow market pricing, which means they value most what the market values. They devalue what the market does not value. Caring labor, civic labor, those kinds of labor are not valued by the market."

In Los Angeles, Echo Park Time Bank co-founder Lisa Gerstein echoed this sentiment. Gerstein noted, "It does level the playing field, in terms of valuing both your own services and as the services of other people. Suddenly the person who cleans your house has the same value as the person who helps you edit something or baby-sits your children. It's placing value on things that we don't necessarily place value on."

"It seems like pretty interesting way of dealing with the economic crisis that we are going through right now. It's about providing valuable services that are really simple," said Erin Smith, a member of the Echo Park Time Bank. Smith earns her Time Dollars by putting on puppet shows for both children and adults that deal with themes related to the environment and recycling. "It's about figuring out what your skill or interest is, and being able to trade that service with people in the community," she said.

"Basically you're trading services with a pool of people, and you're also getting to know the people in your community as you're doing it," said Lisa Gerstein, "So you are saving money and you are building relationships within your community at the same time." The Echo Park Time Bank also helps build community as Time Bankers get together for potlucks and other events to strengthen community networks.

In an age of social networked virtual communities, Time Banking works on building real, offline community. "It's nice that we get together for potlucks once a month, so you really have face-to-face interactions with people in your community," said Echo Park Time Bank member Carrie Grace, "It's a way to make the community stronger."

"You have the altruistic benefit that people get to give to others, and you also yourself get to receive things out of the network. And all this is done without cash, and the currency of time is something that people have extra of and are able to participate," noted Prof. Ed Collom, a University of Southern Maine sociology professor who researches social movements like Time Banks.

Time Banking is fundamentally about restoring social infrastructure, which is especially relevant as people deal with the ongoing economic downturn and its repercussions. According to Dr. Cahn, "What we're finding is that Time Banking can be used to build and rebuild the social infrastructure in ways that are critical to virtually every social problem that we face, that's waiting for attention, waiting for energy. And there may not be funds, but there are people who have capacity to give."

"Through Time Banking, we have seen people come together across racial and class lines," stated Dr. Cahn. There are examples abound of Time Bank members performing acts of service in the community to earn Time Dollars such as former LA gang members helping take seniors to church in order earn Time Dollars to get gang tattoos removed. In Washington, D.C., the law firm Holland and Knight put in close to $250,000 in legal services -- paid out in Time Dollars -- to close down crackhouses in the Shaw neighborhood, and in return donated the Time Dollars to a local nursing home so that the home could bring in more volunteers visitors via the time currency.

Time Banking is thus redefining the way people value both time and community; with Time Banking and Time Dollars, communities learn to trust the wealth and value of time and each other.