Consumers are looking for a way to express more control over their local economies, rather than having the one massive, volatile, global economy expressing control over them.
Therefore, groups around the world are declaring economic independence by starting small, local, but potentially revolutionary alternative currencies that could change not only how we buy goods and services – but how we relate to one other in society.
27 000 people exchanging talents
One such economic system is the Cape Town Talent Exchange (CTTE), which was started in Cape Town nine years ago and has since taken off phenomenally. More than 27 000 members around the world now proudly use alternative currencies; the local currency is aptly called ‘talents,’ because it encourages members to market their unique skills. A Talent is worth about R1 and the Cape Town Exchange is now part of an international group of Community Exchange Systems.
A person can register online and add a list of goods or services that they are willing to sell. New members get a spending limit of 500 talents and are allowed to spend this and all talents earned on any offerings within the exchange. When individual exchanges are done, the seller logs the transaction online which adds or subtracts Talents to each person’s account.
While most of the exchanges take place online and accounts are managed online, members meet in person to exchange the goods and services, and markets are held once a month. The markets are where the Cape Town Talent Exchange members get the real sense of community. Popular goods and services that are traded include food items, jewellery, alternative healing, plants, second-hand goods, arts and crafts, and clothing.
bringing together diverse communities
Dawn Pilatowicz, the steward of the Cape Town Talent Exchange says the CTTE is the bringing together of diverse communities, and a way of meeting a vast range of people from every walk of life.
She says: “It’s taught me to focus on giving and receiving from the heart. It is my life line because I need help all the time, as I’m in a wheelchair and I have any number of people to call on. It has ’empowered’ me. Talents are easy to earn, so I can afford the luxuries available on the exchange. It has become my way of life.”
Dawn encourages others to join. “They meet amazing people, they can start being valued for what they enjoy doing e.g. artists, foodies, crafters, gardeners. They can have luxuries in their lives without spending ‘money’. Imagine if everyone did what they enjoyed to the best of their ability without having to work in a job they hate just to earn money.”
She says that in a nutshell, the CTTE is about everyone doing favours for each other and keeping track of who has done what for whom, so that every person can make sure they’re giving as much as they are receiving, and receiving as much as they’re giving. It’s ‘heart money.’
Leanda Watkins is an active CTTE member. She is famous for her yummy food products at markets but also sells various other items: lotions, mosaic clocks, and even chicken coops!
Sidestepping the formal economy
She says: “We need more members who offer basic, useful products and services so that we are really bartering our unique abilities to fulfil our needs. It must be a vibrant platform for us to sidestep the formal economy for a bit and still gain the products that said formal economy offers us.”
Nicola Jackman, actress and joy activist, feels that being a CTTE member is to be part of an inspired community which is living the solutions for our world’s economy.
Nicola says: “Our planet is so full of possibility and yet so many feel resigned about the economy and their personal finances when inflation is moving faster than the rat race. The reality is, we’ve just forgotten that we created this system of money and dependence, and if we want to create a more balanced system of economics, we need to support each other’s talents and trade within our communities – this is exactly what CTTE is.”
2500 talents in half a day
She adds that she earned 2500 talents at the last market, equivalent to R2500. That gave her the trade currency to get advice on her new garden, go for a massage and flotation therapy and get some graphic design work done for her new show. Not bad for half a day’s market exchange!
Liane Greeff, who organises these monthly markets, says that the CTTE has introduced her to lots of like-minded people, which has helped her to develop her social capital and a strong network which can sustain one when money is hard to come by.
When asked about the markets she says, “They are especially great at Novalis Ubuntu Centre, as the venue is fabulous and there is so much existing support. I enjoy the fun of the markets, the great food and company. I encourage people to get stalls and sell bric-a-brac as its great for environmental philosophies of re-using and recycling.”
She advises new members to simply jump right in. She has found from experience that people only really understand how CTTE works when they register and start buying and selling, whether it’s through the website or at the market days.
Get a first-hand look
Dawn also encourages members to attend the markets as this is where the system really flourishes and members get a first-hand look at the goods on offer. The markets are the places that allow people to put a face behind what is being offered.
Photos by Graham Abbott