“This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”
-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Baltimore has done it. ISIL is apparently doing it. Even Tommy Chong is (kind of) doing it.
If you’re willing, it’s time for you to strike out and do it for yourself…
Yep. You too can have your own currency. And that’s what we’ve set out to show you today.
Even if you don’t want to start your own, seeing the inner mechanics — which you will peek into today — will give you valuable insight into how local currencies work.
And why, sometimes, they don’t.
If we’ve done our jobs this week, you’re now able to see all the possibilities local currencies bring to your community and the planet at large. And, hopefully, you see why a national currency monopoly is a terrible idea.
Or maybe you already saw these things.
Either way, since the spell is broken, it’s time for us to embark upon the ambitious task of decentralizing the financial system. And making it work for us, rather than against us.
If you’re ready, let’s begin.
“It is relatively easy to launch a local currency,” says Chris Sunderland, co-founder and director of the popular Bristol Pound. “It’s much more difficult to sustain it.”
Getting started with your currency be simple. Sustaining a forward momentum once you’re going is going to be the hard part.
I told you yesterday I would be meeting up with the BNote team at Cafe Sage.
The director, Jeff Dicken, dropped some important knowledge on me…
While starting your own currency might seem daunting, he said, “remember that your success will depend on the little things that you do every day — making flyers, contacting residents and businesses, designing the dynamics of your system to be strong and easy to use.”
And if you’re serious about this venture, Dicken says, heed these words: “Start NOW. Today. We do not have any time to waste in getting these systems set up, tested, and benefiting the largest number of people.
“There is always time as you go along for improvement — the most important thing is starting, so that you have movement. You can then build on it and course-correct as you go along and have more information and feedback from other interested people in your area.
“Without the very first step,” he says, “you won’t make it anywhere. Have fun as you design your materials… and practice listening to your intuition — it will be one of your strongest allies!”
There are four simple steps — or phases — to creating a local currency…
I’ll show them to you in a moment.
But before we go there, think hard about why you want to start your own currency.
What’s the goal here?
Do you want to encourage locals to spend locally? Do you want to support the impoverished in your community? Do you want to strengthen the communal ties?
“People have launched local currencies for all sorts of reasons over the years,” journalist Teo Kermeliotis writes for CNN, “but the schemes that have stood the test of time are the ones that were clear about their goals and the kind of problem they were trying to solve.”
OK. Once you have that in mind, let’s get started.
STEP ONE: AMORPHOUS STAGE.
“Unity is strength,” the young poet Mattie Stepanek once wrote, “when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can happen.”
Before you do anything, you’re going to need to find a team.
“The temptation,” Peter North, author of Local Money writes, “can be to get a grant, set up a currency scheme, employ a worker and then start to recruit members. But it’s always a mistake to put the machine, the money system you are setting up, before the ghost in the machine — people — and expect the people to fit your plan.”
So, team… first.
To get started, look to see if your community has a Transition Initiative. These people are well aware of the importance of a strong local economy. And, more often than not, will jump at the chance of helping you.
If not, look into creating one in your area. Or just create a MeetUp about the issue. Your goal here is to gather like-minded people. Preferably people with a good amount of free time and lots of connections with local business owners.
The typical local currency team is, according to Peter North, made up of: a core group facilitator, a treasurer, a directory producer, a marketer, publicity person, and a social secretary/marketing coordinator.
Have these people in place. Or at least have a loose fitting. And then move onto the next stage in the “Amorphous Phase.”
Now you can choose how your currency will be based.
There are three foundations to any monetary system: fiat, valued, or backed.
It’s your currency. It’s your choice. But now that you’re surrounded by all these people, let them weigh in.
Just know that money is about trust. And if it’s backed by something, whether it be some kind of shared value or something physical, you’ll have more trust points in your bank.
You could go the traditional route and back yours with physical stuff. Or you could get creative and value it with nonmaterial things like services or rare goods or time.
Let’s take the Bristol Pound as an example: “We committed ourselves to backing every paper Bristol Pound in circulation with a pound sterling held in a trust account to which we don’t have access,” explains Chris Sunderland, the co-founder and director. “So if Bristol Pound goes bankrupt anybody holding a paper Bristol Pound could still get their money back.”
In this case, since it’s backed by money they’re familiar with, it could help ease people’s minds about using it.
Once you have your team and the backing of your currency figured out, congrats. Your currency just went from amorphous idea to baby.
Step two is to raise the helpless drooling monster.
STEP TWO: RAISE IT.
OK. Your currency is a slobbering little coppertop that’s barely learning how to crawl. You think it’s cute, but it probably isn’t.
But that’s OK.
Your first step is to get this thing to walk.
This is where you start thinking about how you’re going to finance this crazy project.
You’re going to need resources for printing (if you’re going paper), marketing and setting up the exchange. Go to your local printers and see how this can be done. See how much everything will cost.
Your first option of raising this money — and maybe your most promising one — is to crowdfund it. Utilize your connections and your friend’s connections and ask for money. (See more about making connections in Step Four.) Check out crowdfundinghacks.com for some tips. I saw the founder speak in NYC. He’s the real deal.
Don’t be bashful when asking for money. You’re providing the community — and the world — a great service. And if you don’t do it, who will? All this takes is creating a compelling campaign. Blow their minds.
You can also, to raise money, presell first edition prints of the currency. Or merchandise. Or raise money from stakeholders. Or receive grants.
Now that the money is out of the way…
STEP THREE: DESIGN IT.
You’ll need two types of designs for your currency. Inner and outer.
The inner design is how the currency works. You base this largely on what it’s backed against. And you already figured that out.
So what makes sense? Time-based? Commodity-based? Mutual credit? Fiat? Demurrage?
Is it paper money or digital? Or both?
That’s up to you. There are advantages and disadvantages to all structures. But even within these foundations, you can still get creative.
For example, I designed a dual interest rate (meaning it’s positive and negative at the same time) commodity-backed currency on the back of a napkin.
Do I know if it’ll even work? No idea. But it seems like it could.
Also, you need an incentive in place for people to make people want to use your currency.
Keep it in mind: “Everybody has a more convenient option — the national currency — so what you need to do is to think like an entrepreneur,” Tom Shakhli, manager of the Brixton Pound says. “How can I be creative, how can I make my currency more desirable?”
The incentive for the BNote, as you know, is you get 11 for every $10.
Don’t get too crazy: “You need to keep it simple,” says Shakhli. “It has to be a simple currency, it has to be a simple marketing; you can’t market it as this kind of ‘this is going to save the world.’ We came up with a very simple message, that the Brixton Pound was money that sticks to Brixton and people understand that.”
The Brixton Pound, speaking of, has two things going for it. For one, their currency is well-designed on the outside. It’s interesting and fun to look at. And it appeals to the local community.
And as far as its inner design goes, the Brixton Pound team also leveraged technology to make it, in some cases, easier to use than the official currency.
Forget your wallet? No problem. “In Brixton,” says Shakhli, “we’ve been using mobile phones for payments the last three years; the national currency isn’t using mobile phones yet really, so we are much more agile than normal money.”
The BNote is the same. It has a great design that appeals to the Baltimore community and identity.
And the team can now process digital BNotes through Square, a digital payment processor that connects to smartphones.
OK. So how do you get a great outer design like the BNote and the Brixton Pound have?
One idea is you could run a design competition in your community. First, choose what denominations you want. Then create a poll. Ask the community who and what they would like to see on the notes. You want to get them as involved as possible so they feel invested in this project too.
“Having a design contest is a great way to get high-quality entries,” the BNote’s Dicken told me. “Publicize it wherever you can — art galleries, schools, even on like-minded websites. Our winning designer (from Vancouver!) found us through the Dollar Redesign Project after I wrote the coordinator of that site to see if he would post something on our contest.”
STEP FOUR: PROMOTE IT.
Confidence, Dicken says, is key.
To get started, he says, “present your system as a done deal. We didn’t go around saying, ‘We’re thinking of starting a local currency, blah blah blah…’ – We said ‘Have you heard about the local currency that’s starting?’ … ‘Do you know about the BNote yet?’
“It doesn’t matter that we hadn’t printed it,” says Jeff, “much less had any money to print it — those things came later, as they were needed. Intention is everything, and life will get you the things you need and the opportunities that will carry your project forward.”
And always keep the following in mind…
Doubt destroys. Faith builds.
“If doubt can destroy a currency,” Brett Scott writes, “then a cult-like process of evangelical faith-building can create one.”
And that’s what you’ll need to lift this thing off the ground. Evangelists.
Jeff’s team has one. His name is James Lane. He’s a BNote maniac. And thinks they are, as he said at the meeting last night, “the greatest invention ever.”
That’s the kind of guy you want on your side.
When it comes down to it, every monetary transaction is a leap of faith. It’s a relationship. And as in any relationship, there needs to be a level of trust between a human and his or her money. People need to know the currency is honest — that you are honest. That it’s not going to run out on them when they need it most and starve the dog.
That’s why it’s crucial you build strong relationships with “connectors.” People who know lots of people. They will give your project credibility and open up avenues you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. How do you approach these people? Give them value first. (See: Law of Reciprocity.) Help them achieve their goals in some way.
Those people, ideally, are people who set the tone for your area. The leaders. The trendsetters. The savvy. And if they can help make your community a place where local economy is deemed as important, you’re golden.
“If I had to pin down the greatest success of the B£,” Shakhli concludes, “it would be the role that it has played in making people identify Brixton as a place where the local economy matters. I think if you are new to the area you arrive in Brixton and maybe you think twice before you go to Tesco. You go and try the market.”
Remember. You’re taking the road less traveled, so there will be many bumps along the way.
“Be open,” says BNote’s Dicken, “but be firm.
“Your approach, your system’s dynamics, your materials — all of these will be a work in progress and course-correction is important and constant, especially at the very beginning.
“However, you need to maintain the will not only to know that you will succeed, but to ensure that nothing corrupts your initial vision of a better economy. Avoid anything that threatens to put a weakness in your plan. Drop hard-to-adopt dynamics. Don’t waste your energy on people who are overly skeptical.
“You will find the ones who get it, and the ones who will help you create it.”
And that, dear LFT reader, is how you create your own currency…
Here are the stages one more time.
STEP ONE: AMORPHOUS STAGE.
STEP TWO: RAISE IT.
STEP THREE: DESIGN IT.
STEP FOUR: PROMOTE IT.
“The beauty of local currency,” Tom Shakhli of the Brixton Pound says, “is that there is this space to innovate and find new ways to make it work for people.
“Local currencies are an adaptive behavior project as much as anything else, and it’s not like there is a blueprint that we are following.”
Remember, money is a technology. Sometimes technology doesn’t work. Sometimes it works unbelievably well. All the more reason, says Brett Scott, “to tinker with its blueprints.”
Each new system, says Scott, “will have its own psychological side effects and trade-offs.” That’s why, as mentioned yesterday, it’s important that we experiment and see what works.
Local currencies are about more than just shopping locally, says Shakhli, “It is about democratizing money and attempting to level the game so that money works for citizens, not vice versa.”
Your goal, with a local currency, is to hit the system low and attack the structure that undermines community self-reliance and resilience. The purpose of your inner design, then, should be to snip the Achilles’ heel.
But please, dear reader. Design responsibly. Don’t go all Zimbabwe and give local currencies a bad rap. There’s too much on the line.
“Political activism,” Shakhli says, “is often seen as the default answer, but real change will not emerge until we reclaim our economies.”