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Coworking Spaces Explore The Use Of Alternative Currencies

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About 204.756 pokoùs are currently circulating in La Matrice in Saint Brieuc. “Pokoù”, the term for “kiss”, according to the Brittany dialect, is the currency used in this coworking space.

At first, the La Matrice team had the idea to create an online platform where coworkers could credit or debit their account of coworking hours. Finally, the idea has evolved into the creation of a currency.

“Someone told me about complementary currencies, said community manager Ludovic Arnold, “and as the space is already an experimental playground, we decided to go for it.”

Aside from buying coworking hours, there are many other ways to earn pokoùs.

“We offer pokoùs during birthdays or to the people who cook during our weekly community meal. We are always thinking about creating new playful opportunities to get more”. If you check-in with foursquare, you could earn 400 pokoùs, and when you place 50 euros of credit into your coworking account, the space will offer you 800 pokoùs, which equals one day of coworking.

One of the specific features of this currency is that it is not designed to be converted into Euros. As a result, the currency is only relevant within the coworking space, and cannot be compared to any monetary value. This allows for a simple user friendly exchange of pokoùs instead of Euros. Coworkers frequently give pokoùs to each other in exchange for services or simply just to help.

The coworking space creates and distributes the currency, giving members the chance to give back to the space, resulting in a pokoùs reserve that will later be put back into system.

Arnold could also imagine seeing pokoùs going outside of the coworking space into the local economy.

“We have the ambition to expand this currency and work with local partners, such as workers cooperatives. We have even considered using a creative an app using an NFC technology.”  

Bitcoins, the large scale experiment

Some spaces, such as Coworkingspace Toronto or The Yard, in New York City, already accept bitcoins. It is the world’s first decentralized cryptocurrency, circulating since 2009 on the web. In Europe, LAUNCH/CO has been the first one to accept Bitcoins. Space owner Jan Schulz-Hofen, told Deskmag how his space went into bitcoins.

“We started experimenting bitcoins when the movement started booming in 2013," said Schulz-Hofen. “We saw many local businesses, such as bars, already using the currency.”

Before, many coworking members were frequently using PayPal. The only problem that can arise with PayPal comes when you are travelling. In certain parts of the world, PayPal simply blocks your account, because it thinks that you are trying to hack it. For LAUNCH/CO, bitcoin appeared to be the perfect decentralized currency.

The coworking space is now accepting bitcoins as a way to pay for coworking memberships.

“It has the advantage of being simple and secure, explained Schulz-Hofen. “It is a real experiment for the space but also a way to participate in the development of this P2P currency. The more popular the system becomes, the more professional developers will look at the code.”

Bitcoin remains an alternative currency, which despite its decentralized use, does not have the same community approach that some of the other complementary currencies. The fact that you cannot track this currency, which is one advantage, is also in contrast with the concept of currency as an information system that would be able to assess community engagement.

Schulz-Hofen believes that we could not really create a currency that could be limited to a coworking space. “We should always pay our rent and be part of the economy. In this sense, bitcoins could be useful and are not limited to microsystems.”

In the meantime, alternative currencies hold up their end of the bargain within coworking spaces. Perhaps they will one day contribute to desacralizing the power of traditional currencies and create new economies.

As Sebastiano Scròfina, founder of an Italian bartering platform called Dropis, once said: “the next generation will have a hard time trying to understand what economics once was to us”.


Some links to go further into community based currencies:

CCIA European project delivering community currency demonstrations

How to Start a Community Currency, on Shareable

European coworking conference videoShould we use social currency in coworking spaces?

International Conference on Complementary Currency Systems

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