Complementary currencies are exchange systems set up alongside official ones to advance social, environmental or economic goals, highlighting local assets and resources that are not part of the usual exchange circuits. They also pose an alternative—and a challenge—to traditional banking,
Complementary currencies are systems created on the fringes of official currencies to promote economic, social and environmental projects. They also assign value to local activities and resources that are not found on ordinary exchange circuits.
The Austrian town of Wörgl’s local currency reactivated production and internal demand during the Great Depression. The Swiss WIR business cooperative’s credit system is another successful example of a complementary currency. WIR and the Kenyan mobile payments system, M-Pesa, are the only present-day examples that are having a macroeconomic impact.
Time banks are spaces where skills can be exchanged without any money changing hands. Instead, the hours people spend providing services to others are deposited in the bank and withdrawn in the form of other services they need.
The first eco-networks appeared in Catalonia around 2009-2010. These innovative initiatives entailed the use of local currencies, which in turn promoted economic transactions operating outside the dominant monetary system. They are not-for-profit networks of citizens who exchange goods and services that are paid for in social currency.
Ecopolis is a game that takes its inspiration from Monopoly, but instead of teaching us how to speculate, it tries to help us understand how the use of complementary currencies can improve a town’s economy.
Santa Coloma de Gramenet has issued a social currency it calls the grama, with the object of incentivising local trade and strengthening residents’ commitment to their town. Inspired by this and other projects, Barcelona City Council is preparing a test local currency for introducing to the Besòs neighbourhoods.
The digital revolution has eliminated intermediaries from most economic sectors, apart from the area of finance where they have strengthened their grip. The ability to create currency — the exclusive domain of banks — is the primary reason for this anomaly. The solution is to develop new currency-creation mechanisms.