Ciri Roundtable, The Hague, June 2015

“What can experiences of complementary currencies in North and South learn from each other?”

The Hague, NL, 16 – 17 June 2015.

The meeting was an invitation to re-think the differences between the CCS in the developed and developing countries, and to explore learning from each other. While in Europe and North America the schemes with complementary currencies focus on promoting a sustainable economy and enhancing social cohesion, in Latin America they are mainly seen as tools for income generation and the improvement of welfare. The differences in terms of motivations are clear in the economic daily practices in the North and South, and have made the transfer of knowledge among practitioners quite slow. Attempts to reproduce in the North the methodologies of the South have been extremely rare, possibly because of the conception that the contexts are too different for those experiences to be useful or perhaps because they are not sufficiently well-known. In contrast with the geographical compartmentalization of CCS experiences, researchers in the academic field have studied CCS in the North and the South with the same theoretical tools and frameworks, which are almost invariably designed in the North, as if context need not affect the research tools and instruments. We started the meeting with two presentations of the largest scale CCS in the South.

Voices from the South

The first speaker was William Ruddick, from the Kenyan organization GrassrootsEconomics.org. Ruddick presented the case of which he was one of the main organisers, Bangla-Pesa, the first community currency implemented in a slum in Mombasa in 2012. A legal battle occurred then between the organisers, who were accused of currency forgery, and the government, until the later understood that the notes were similar to business vouchers that circulated within a closed network. The Bangla-Pesa has been used without problems since the courts’ allowed it in 2013 and the scheme has been replicated in two informal settlements in Nairobi in 2014. This year the Bangla-Pesa model has been implemented and expanded upon by FlowAfrica.org in South Africa, in the area of Bergrivier.

The Bangla-Pesa, is based on building a closed currency circuit of approximately 100 users to lock in production, circulation and consumption in the territory. Potential members are introduced to the scheme by four existing members who vouch for the new one. The organisers then issue the equivalent in complementary currency of 400 Kenyan Shillings or 500 Rand in the South African programmes, of which roughly half are given to the new entrant. The rest is a contribution fee of the new member to a community fund and will be used to pay community service work, like garbage collection done by youth. The daily value traded is about 10,000 Kenyan Shillings (1000 Rand in South Africa) and engages daily about 100 businesses. That means that Bangla-Pesa enables an extra 100 Kenyan Shillings worth traded daily per businesses.

The second speaker was Carlos de Freitas of the Brazilian Palmas Institute. Similarly to the Mombasa case, the financial activities of Palmas started in an undeveloped and poor informal settlement called Conjunto Palmeiras in the North of Fortaleza, Brazil. The aim was the same: to retain as much value as possible in the neighbourhood, so that local needs could be satisfied with local production, and to support local entrepreneurship. However, in the case of community Banco Palmas the physical currency was created in 2002 as a spin-off of a pre-existent micro-credit programme and not primarily as a means of payment. Banco Palmas bank provides small loans in palmas (not in the official currency) that allow the community enterprises and individual firms to start their production, which they would never be able to obtain from a regular bank. Much of their start-up capital is spent locally in wages, inputs, and space rent, so it generates local economic effects.

Banco Palmas is not a pure credit system as defined by Wicksell (1898) in ‘Interests and Prices’, because every palma in circulation has a back-up in official currency. Credits offered do not require collateral, because neighbors vouch for the person receiving it. Producers may obtain interest-free small loans in Palmas currency or regular money loans with a small interest rate. The approach of Banco Palmas articulates several projects to tackle social inequalities, participatory education, community organization and a general territorial development approach. In 2011 there were around 270 businesses using the Palmas currency and 46,000 Palmas in circulation (around 20,000 Euro at that time). The scheme has created 1300 jobs but is presently in decline due to the availability of other welfare protection policies in Brazil.

To wrap up, around 2000 experts on CCS were avidly looking at the case of the Argentine Redes de Trueque for an example of scaling-up, around 2007 they were looking at Brazil and the Community Banks, of which Palmas was the first and most prominent. The focus is now shifting to Africa with the examples of Kenya and South Africa, in which a number of the problems experienced in the other two are working to be corrected.

Afternoon session – Collective reflections

The Roundtable then shifted to an open space format, for which seventeen topics were submitted for discussion in the morning. Each attendant voted for up to three and this resulted in three topics that were examined in smaller groups:

  •         Discourses and theoretical frameworks to which CCS can relate
  •         Problems addressed by CCS in North and South and motivations for participation and scaling-up
  •         Relations of CCS to other strategies and actors

The groups reported back and after some discussion of cross-cutting issues we agreed on posing the following three propositions. First, the discourses relevant to or linked to CCS in the North seem more diverse than in the South, where the dominating discourse seems to be ‘development’.

Second, the problems and motivations in the North seem framed in the views of post-capitalism, while in the South they seem to respond to views of pre-capitalism debate. The latter means that participants are seeking for alternative and more humane ways of benefiting of the opportunities of capitalism and do not imply either rejection of the system or search for an alternative.

Third, Regardless of the North-South divide, the aspiration for ‘relocalisation’ as a form of resistance to  globalisation seems to be the general driver for CCS implementation.

The debate continued to the ontology of money and why this particular ‘thing’ appeals to practitioners and researchers as the basis to achieve these aspirations.