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Message to Robin Hood Collective

The wonderful Robin Hood Collective is gathering for 4 days in London and I so regret being unable to attend that I'm writing this post for all the assembled!

I'd like to introduce myself and share what I'm doing and what I would like to see Robin Hood doing.

I've been working on community money systems since 2008, firstly writing free software for timebanks and LETS, and then nomading and networking and teaching amongst them. In fact my software is by far the most used open source software in the field, since it is mature and highly configurable. The organisation I co-founded in Geneva, Community Forge, hosts around 150 local community exchange web sites, for free.

When Denis (Jaromil) introduced me last March to Daniel Hassan with the warmest commendation, I was so pleased to hear that an activist hedge Fund existed that I invested without a second thought! Since then I'm pleased to see the collective's reputation and support-base growing. One thing I'm not clear about - is Robin Hood an 'official' financial institution and is therefore my investment protected by any kind of law?

In my explorations of local communities and ecovillages, I came to understand what exactly we need complementary currencies for, and why we need other kinds of tools to work with 'real' money. The main services I think communities need are not so much hedge funds but

  • Exchange accounting
  • Savings and Loans
  • Investment/Crowdfunding
  • Insurance
  • Pensions

Existing financial services, mostly provided by existing mega-corporations are not suitable, because large, highly regulated organisations take such a large proportion of the money they handle, and they seem to be governed more in the interest of shareholders than the people whose money they are managing. Insurance companies cheat us through small print, pensions companies use actuaries against us, I need hardly detail the crimes of banks, and all of them work hand in glove with the surveillance state. And the law means it can hardly be otherwise. So I've come to believe we need to be creating these services informally; trusting each other rather than appealing to the courts for dispute resolutions. Is it possible to use trust instead of law? To simply bypass the expense and intrusion of regulated but powerful and greedy middle-men?

Without taking too much of your time, I'd like to tell you about some initiatives which I believe are going in the right direction.

Exchange accounting
This is my field, by in particular I'd like to tell you about the largest network of LETS and timebanks, Community Exchange Systems. Several hundred communities have the tools to register transactions between their members and between communties. This network is the cornerstone of the global economy I want, with credit/money being issued by and for local economies. The software is free, I'm working to make it open source.

Savings and Loans
In New Zealand there is a cluster of around 40 Savings Pools. These are local groups of citizens who trust each other, paying a monthly amount into a shared 'pot' which they they then lend to each other in turn, interest free. They use an accounting methodology which means everyone has equal access to the money over time; it is based on the Swedish JAK Members Bank system which finances homes interest free. These groups meet for a meal every month and report on their economic wellbeing, building relationships and unsurprisingly economic co-dependence in the process. Currently they are doing their accounting on an offline Excel spreadsheet.

At the heart of the Transition Network, in Totnes, Devon, there is Local Entrepreneur's Forum (video) Local business people gather once a year and present entrepreneurial ideas and then give and receive financial support and in-kind donations. This helps to spread the risk but also creates financial and social ties which further ensure the success of those ventures. They are using very informal tools right now but I would argue every city needs a stock exchange!

In Holland recently I met Jip, who has created an online p2p insurance service CommonEasy. He had the wonderful idea of starting small, insuring people's smartphones for about a third of the price of the commercial rate. He had around 30 subscribers, and his brother had written a Wordpress plugin for members to vote on whether they think claims are worthy. Why aren't there initiatives like this in every street in Europe? And what could be insured next, after an initiative has won our trust with mobile phones? It would be a great starter application for smart contracts!

Sorry to say I don't know any pension initiatives. This is a question that goes to the heart of who we trust because we believe that our pension makes the difference between dying early, alone, slowly, painfully under a bridge, or having a long retirement with holidays and healthcare. Of course money is only a proxy for the care and attention that old people need. It buys professional services. But actually any functioning community should have capacity to carry and genuinely care for its elderly - that human touch is better than anything money can buy. Instead of lodging our money with banks and their bedfellows, in hope that by doing evil it might 'grow', we should, insofar as the opportunities exist, be lodging our savings in building the communities that will support us.

So I'm hoping to see some action on those fronts!

Finally I want to invite you all to participate in the Money and Society MOOC which I co-authored last winter with Professor Jem Bendell. In around 15 hours over the coming 4 weeks, we will explore the philosophy, history, impacts and alternatives to money. The second run starts this Sunday!

Thanks for reading and have a great conference!

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