» Posts tagged: ‘dialogue

Paula Sánchez de la Blanca

The dynamic scene of community currencies in Spain


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.


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.


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.




One of my most successful strategies of translating feminist visions into economic policy is simply doing it without spending too many words on the why I do this. I am a feminist. And an economist, scholar, critical thinker, activist, lobbyist, teacher, writer, mother, partner, daughter, sister, rower, reader, home-owner, board member, and learning to become a very basic level drummer. That’s enough words on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of me. Let me explain rather the ‘how’. How I translate my feminism, connected with or disconnected from my other identities, through my economics, in teaching, lobbying, advocacy, and non-academic writing.

First, I will publish an economics book on the very day that we will have this seminar about feminist visions for economic policy, on the 15th of February at the ISS. In Dutch (sorry). I have opted to write an accessible book for a general public, including policy makers and students and fellow economists, because I am frustrated by the lack of depth and width in economic policy debates. As if there is not a rich history of economic thought from Adam Smith to Amartya Sen.


As if we have to learn time and time again to prevent crises and to get out of them from scratch. As if Marx was only a revolutionary whose ideas have been proven wrong by the fall of the Berlin wall. As if Adam Smith was really the father of neoliberalism. As if Keynes can be reduced to overspending governments. I am angry about such a violation of the history of economic thought. This reductionism seems a strategy to prevent students of economics to learn about other theories than the mainstream, to learn about qualitative methods in economic research, and to learn about the ethical foundations of various economic theories (yes, also utilitarianism as the ethics on which neoclassical economics is founded). To provide a tiny little bit of a balance to this bias, I have decided to explain the basic lessons we could have learned to prevent the 2008 financial crisis, in ten chapters, each dedicated to an innovative insight by a key economist. My book includes two female economists. And it discusses feminist themes of equality, diversity, and caring in the chapters on male economists who dared to talk about these issues. Such as Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (not read by economists), and John Maynard Keynes who wrote about gender equality, and Gunnar Myrdal who explained the persistence of the discrimination of blacks in the US economy in the 1940s. I have not labelled a single chapter “feminist”. But I have written one chapter on a founding mother of feminist economics, Barbara Bergmann, explaining the importance of her work.

lagardeSecond, I have analyzed the Lehman Sisters Hypothesis, put forward by high-level women such as Christine Lagarde and Neelie Kroes, right after the crisis. I found that there is a grain of truth in it, both on the ground of gender differences in the average financial behavior of men and women and, more sensitive in feminist debates, because of biological differences that mediate the behavioral patterns. For example by discussing research on testosterone, cortisol and oxytocine and their two-way relationship with economic variables (including the German Bond rate!) and economic behavior (in particular risk taking and stress-resilience). That research has resulted in invitations as keynote speaker at interesting events. Such as the OECD Head Quarter in Paris, in a seminar series attended by OECD ambassadors or their deputies and OECD staff. And an invitation to Reykjavik, where a female banker whose investment fund was the only one that did not go bankrupt in Iceland in 2008, had organized a conference in order to get the lessons from Lehman Sisters out to an audience of business people, women and men. That was a very inspiring event, where business leaders, from the CEOs of banks to CEOs of global fish exporters, were eager to learn about balancing biased male behavior in finance jobs and leadership positions. And where actress Geena Davis made an insightful and sometimes hilarious speech about her own experiences with gender biases in the film industry.

davisThird, I have done a survey among Dutch bankers on banking culture. My key finding is that the average bank employee is client-oriented but banking culture is not. They do value caring, but their bosses care more for profit. They are generally service-oriented, but the bank leadership focuses on shareholders. To my own surprise many ordinary bankers agree with these findings. And they ask me to train them on how to understand the dominant banking culture and how they can make a contribution to make it more caring. I have done several trainings now with small groups of bankers. One such training took four hours with 22 Amsterdam-based investment bankers (20 male, 2 female). After having explained the ethics of care and how it differs from both utilitarianism and deontology (a rights-perspective), I handed out big sheets of paper and color pencils. I asked them to make a color drawing to illustrate what these ethical approaches mean to them in their daily work. This resulted not only in very creative and sometimes also very funny drawings. But it also led to extremely interesting discussions among the bankers themselves, talking for the first time in their lives about the meaning of serving clients. The same bank has now asked me to repeat the training for another group and not in four hours but in eight hours. I should get canvass and oil paint.sheila e

In conclusion, for me, feminist economics is about doing it, showing how diversity, equality, and caring matter for economic life, and pointing out how policy makers, business people, and others can “do it” as well, integrating these three key feminist themes in their policies and activities. Without having to go through debates about feminism. Remember that economists value efficiency: we like to get straight to the point of ‘how’. Simply doing it, not talking about it. Like my heroine Sheila E on her drumset (for this link you really need to switch on the sound of your device and put it at the max!).

Reflections on CIRI retreat

Category: Events| General

23 Oct 2014

In the last week of August 2014, many of us, who are part of CIRI went together for a retreat. Mostly to discuss and share the work of the book we are putting together, but most importantly (in a very personal level) to understand what it means to be part of CIRI. As a recent member it was meaningful and important to spend those days getting to know in a closer way, the work of other members of CIRI. To listen to their questions and inputs. To try to figure out how we envision the future of CIRI.

It was interesting to see the different topics and methodologies that are present in this research group. This of course does not come without tensions but the possibilities of collaboration and dialogue are present. This is very important. Research that’s part of CIRI goes from social movements, embodiment, fair trade, and many other topics. During the few days spent at the retreat those differences were brought to the table and constructive criticism permeated the environment. Breaking with the academic mode, we were asked to draw how we envision the future of CIRI. The difference in our approach was also visually evident. This dynamic turned out to be a relaxed experience in which we got to listen to some of the ideas behind the drawings.

So, why was the CIRI retreat an interesting and positive experience for me? It was in that environment, far from the institution, that I tried to understand what it means to be part of CIRI. A research group in which we don’t have to agree, our research is quite diverse but we can relate it to civic innovation in different ways. This retreat brought the opportunity to look at the work others are doing, but in my opinion (and most importantly) this provided the perfect setting to engage with people (colleagues) sharing a meal, having the chance to talk outside the busy-intense academic environment. It was an opportunity to bond, and hopefully more collaboration can arise from this. Something to point out is the tendency to do committed research, engaging in topics that are meaningful at different levels. I guess that to me an important aspect learned from this is that tensions are part of the process in trying to collaborate but it’s worth it when plurality is valued.

The retreat ended, we were already at the train station when a text informed a group of us that a laptop was left at the establishment. I was lucky enough to not go by myself to pick it up.  I was lucky enough to not be in the train back to Den Haag when that message came. I guess the relaxed friendly environment had a distracting effect on me. Apart from that very last detail, it was indeed a good experience having the opportunity to spend some time with other members of CIRI away from the formal academic setting. Since we all had an image of the future of CIRI (even if varied), hopefully this retreat was just one of the many more to come!

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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