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Coworking spaces could be the perfect place to experiment with alternative currencies. They could use alternative currencies as a way to accelerate knowledge and strengthen a community. When it comes to time banking, local currencies, as well as numerous other options, there are a few simple questions that still need to be answered. First, what type of economy do coworking spaces want to be part of? And if these innovative currencies catch on, could they be used on a global scale?
By Rémy Cagnol - Friday, 09 August 2013

Luckily, you do not need to be an economist to start your own exchange system! 

In France, La Matrice coworking space has already created its own currency. At the HUB Brussels, which closed in November last year, the experiment of the Xchangehub allowed members to access an online market place catering to their wants and needs, by using both time banking and a reputation system.

Coworking spaces the world over could also adopt a global approach by using P2P currencies, like many others already do, such as LAUNCH/CO in Berlin. Regardless of which currency system you choose, there is one sure thing: these currencies are all designed for a specific purpose.

Currency as a social capital indicator

Leander Bindewald is a researcher focusing on complementary currencies and also manages the CCIA initiative (community currency in action). In 2009, he co-created the Xchange hub, a platform implemented for the HUB Brussels. The program acted as prototype for potential application into the HUB global network.

“We wanted to have a currency which is not monetary,” said Bindewald,“ and we wanted to avoid a payment system, because it is just intangible, like services and social capital.” 

The Xchange hub is comprised of two prominent features. The first was a type of marketplace where other members could post their needs and wants as a way to help other coworkers with their projects. The second feature offered an exchange system based on time and reputation. With time banking (using“hubees” as currency in this platform), you can simply help or work other coworkers in exchange for something that everybody has: time.

With the other system, which is similar to Ebay or the Amazon reputation system, you can assess in “honey”,which is used to measure trust and community engagement with coworkers.

The concept was working quite well, with 100 out of the 200 members using the system. But there were still some major issues that needed to be addressed. As a result, the time banking system was discontinued during the project. Because of Belgium’s legislation system, people would have to declare time banking on their tax declaration. However, the “honey” (or reputation) has been maintained and was expected to remain as a connecting tool, which will be later implemented into the global hub network.

In the HUB Brussels, Xchange hub was also used by the coworking space owners to get coworkers involved, primarily by asking them to do tasks.

According to Bindwald, this platform was fully adapted to the personality of the space, which was designed to be an alternative and engaging workspace. Eventhough most people would have been naturally inclined to help one another, it did push coworkers to become more aware of each other, as well as making the exchanges more transparent and easier to study.

For the HUB, the importance of the experience lies primarily in the ability to show what was taking place inside of their coworking space and accsess the social capital within their community.

Who will be the new “rich?”

Of course it is possible to be rich or poor in reputation, but at least in any reputationsystemit is mainly up to the individual as to how they will be defined. This particular system activates some new values. All members, evenif they lackthe funds, could potentially contribute.

As in other systems, it is also possible to cheat, “which is the main argument of all people tackling complementary currencies,” explained Bindewald. According to him, most practitioners in this field say that there has been no specific case of people who have abused it so far, since communities and coworking spaces are comprised of people who usually know each other relatively well and meet on a daily basis. Finally, in a reputation based system, it is not possible to exchange your own reputation, your own social capital or even to monetize them.

From first glance, the system seems relatively complex and one might think that the presence of economists would be needed to build such experiments. Yet Bindewald thinks differently:

“I would not say you needaknowledge of economics, because the current economic system does not really understand social capital, social currencies or social economy. They only know trade,” he explained. “In these fields, you would probably want to consult a sociologist, an anthropologist or a facilitator.”

▶ Next page: Create your own coworking space currency

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