» Archive for: July, 2016


Paula Sánchez de la Blanca

The dynamic scene of community currencies in Spain

Encuentromsalcala

Learning about the civic innovation potential of alternative currencies during the 5th Meeting of Community Currencies

In the context of the ‘2016 Social Spring’, Alcalá de Henares, hometown of Miguel de Cervantes, hosted the 5th Meeting of Community Currencies (or ‘monedas sociales’) in Spain. Members of more than 20 community currencies (CCs) attended the meeting during the weekend of the 20th -22nd May 2016 and a series of thematic lectures during the previous week. A few academics including Georgina Gómez and myself, on behalf of ISS CIRI team, were also present at this meeting interested in the civic innovation dynamics of this gathering.

The major themes during the lectures were software applications for CCs, local currencies in public policy and the social transformation potential of solidarity-based community projects. There was also time for self-organized workshops among participants who were members of a community currency, an open space to exchange experiences and a general assembly to reach agreements for upcoming coordination projects. Indeed, the main objective of this meeting was to bring together the different community currencies throughout Spain, enhancing interaction and exchange of challenges and solutions.

The interactive nature of this meeting is a reflection of the dynamic scenario of Spanish community currencies. Community currencies have extraordinarily spread throughout Spain during last decade. According to Julio Gisbert’s CCs database, more than 300 initiatives are counted nowadays.

Contextualizing CCs in Spain

Over the past hundred years, Spain has had a rich history of local currency innovation. During the civil war (1936-1939), Francoist forces refused to accept the official money split Spain in two opposing currency zones. In parallel, communities with a tradition of anarchist ideas in the South and East of the country started to issue their own local forms of money (Hugues, 2015). As historian Wilko von Prittwitz put it, Spain became in that period a variety of currency experiments.

CommunityCurrencySpain1

Historical community currency in Spain

According to Hugues, a second wave of currency innovation was in the late 1990s, when Spanish local governments engaged in ‘municipal timebanking’ creating or offering assistance to groups willing to use time-banking to support people’s needs and solidarity networks in the city areas.

 

 

Since 2009, Spain is living a third wave of experimentation in alternative economic practices. This recent rise of community currencies in Spain is framed in the context of economic crisis where CCs are responding to social needs created or accentuated by the crisis.

As evidenced in the Alcala de Henares meeting, there is also an important role for what Hugues calls ‘CC pioneers’, like Julio Gisbert or Enric Durant. Julio Gisbert is author of the book ‘Vivir sin empleo’ and a blog with the same name. He is also the president of the Association for the development of timebanks in Spain. Nicknamed ‘The Bank Robin Hood’, Durant is the co-founder of the crypto currency Fair coin and its cooperative Fair Coop, and he has been actively engaged in the Catalonian integral cooperatives. Besides, Hugues sees a growing influence of heterogeneous social movements such as the de-growth activists and the 15M Movement.

Although CCs in Spain differ substantially in their principles and goals, there is a common understanding of the systemic problems of a growth-based economy and the need of alternative economic practices experimentation, recognizing that money is socially-constructed. The 15M movement emerged in 2011 out of demonstrations where hundreds of thousands of ‘indignant’ citizens occupy city squares across the country (see our related post here). Many of the self-managed local groups remained committed to mutuality and locality and they join or create a community currency. For example, in the Canary Islands Demos, a self-organized CC with a basic income revenue scheme emerged from the 15M Assembly of La Isleta. In her research on Puma LETS in Seville, Medina (2015: 26) concludes that ‘contentious claims as well as the plans and actions of the 15-M social movement, motivated degrowth activists to inaugurate a LETS within the Pumarejo neighbourhood, transforming potential for mobilisation into action.’

Diversity and increasing interaction

Julio Gisbert’s database currently maps out more than 300 CCs throughout Spain, with Catalonia, Andalousie and Madrid being the most active regions.

GisbertMap

Julio Gisbert’s map of community currencies

He differentiates time-banks, bartering schemes and social currencies/markets. Among them there is a wide variety of principles, designs and actors involved. In terms of community currencies, they can be euro-backed (such as the Boniato en Madrid and the Ekhi in Bilbao). However, the most widespread type is mutual-credit schemes where a virtual currency is created through the exchange of goods/services of its products. In fact, the vast majority of participants in Alcala de Henares were part of a mutual-credit currency. Examples include the Puma in Seville, the Turuta in Vilanova i la Geltrú, the ekos in the Castellón, the común in Malaga, the Demos in the Canary Islands, the pita in Almeria and the Osel in Murcia.

In this diverse mosaic of alternative economic practices in Spain, there is not a common project. However, many CCs are increasingly interacting with each other. The Alcala de Henares meeting has been the fifth nation-wide effort to exchange experiences and meet strategic stakeholders (such as local governments and software design companies). There is a growing interest in learning from each other. For instance, out of the assembly of this V meeting, an open document was created to exchange practical challenges and solutions among CCs. Also, a workgroup was created to organize a journey-documentary visiting all CCs initiatives in Spain trying to only use social money.

Concluding, community currencies in Spain are opening new learning spaces from where many people are better coping with the social needs created or accentuated by the economic crisis. However, is their civic innovation potential limited to the context of crisis? Looking at the current scenario of Spanish CCs, it seems many of them have already created new ways of understanding and doing a sustainable social economy.

 

 

 


International Institute of Social Studies

CIRI aims to scale up and identify synergies between existing research at ISS on civic agency and change agents, as drivers of societal change and development. This blog is a forum on which to share and discuss themes and issues which fall within the broad framework of the programme.

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