LETS: a community based economy

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I recently met with Sue Andrews, Julie Webb and Kylie Willison, the co-ordinators of the Adelaide LETS system, to chat about what makes them so passionate about LETS. The local exchange trading scheme (LETS) is a system that has developed over the years to allow disparate goods and services to be traded outside of the dominant monetary system.

The basic premise of LETS is that instead of buying and selling goods and services with money, members use  LETS units (or shells  or bartles and so on depending on the LETS system. Basically though each unit of currency is roughly equivalent to one dollar. Crucially unlike our current monetary system, LETS units do not accumulate interest. So there is no benefit in hoarding the units. Instead the units simply facilitate the trading of goods and services. Additionally having an organised system where transactions are recorded removes the need for an immediate exchange of goods. So in this way I can, for instance, provide IT support to one person and at another time and place use those units earned to get my bicycle serviced.

What struck me in my conversation was the emphasis  Sue, Julie and Kylie all placed on the community nature of LETS. Despite having a computer system to record units and email network to send out members offers and wants the majority of transactions happen with people living fairly close to you. In this way it supports the generation of community links which are strengthened by regular local LETs markets and gatherings held once a month in a members home. It brings the personal dimension back into the way we attain the goods and services we need.

What was also clear from my conversation and subsequently attending the LETS Christmas market at the Joinery is the supportive nature of this system. Members are given the necessary space to offer and develop their talents. For instance one LETS member used to offer yoga classes while she was learning to be a yoga teacher. She is now successfully running classes in the city. In this way the system encourages you to find things you love doing and supports you in developing those talents. It is also very much in keeping with Sustainable Communities ethos of reducing waste, reskilling and learning to make do with what we have.

While LETS tends to be a local affair there are also now platforms that enable LETs member to link with members across Australia and globally. This allows members to continue trading while on holiday. A good example of this is when Sue went to Western Australia and needed to hire a car. She posted her “want” on the online trading board and was rewarded with a response from a women in WA who was willing to hire her car out. Sue recalls how she was waiting at the station for the car to arrive, expecting an old beaten up vehicle. Instead she was pleasantly surprised to see a fairly new Toyota drive up and be handed over the keys without any fuss or complicated contracts. While Sue is still surprised at just how trusting the women was, this trust  in the fundamental goodness of our fellow human beings, is another component of the network that is missing from the monetary system.  Of course this does not always work out, but the majority of the time the systems works.

The LETS concept started in 1983 in the USA. It wasn’t then and still isn’t seen as a complete replacement for the monetary system. Members can offer goods and services for a mix of units and money if they want. Rather it seems to be one way to develop a localised community of people who are trying to reduce their dependence of the global financial system and so gain a bit more resilience and freedom in the way they live.

There are a number of LETS networks in SA:

And the Community Exchange System Australia (CES) platform is used by all the Australian LETS groups to record all offers and wants.

Its easy to join and you don’t have to be computer savvy to use the system and the administrators are always happy to help. So why not join your local LETS. I certainly was inspired by my conversation to join and was quite thrilled to earn come units helping Sue with her new tablet.

The power of stories to inspire change

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There is something so powerful about a well told story to move people in a way that reams of dry facts never will. On my travels last year I had the opportunity to attend a live session of The Moth in New York, where the audience members are also the story tellers. These live true story sharing events draw in a wide cross section of the community and a similarly diverse range of stories. It was for me a splendid example of how we all have stories to share and so can entertain each other without having to resort to mass produced, corporate controlled forms of story telling. It gives power back to the common folk to share what is important to them. The sharing goes both ways. In a world were we are too many of us are isolated and disregarded, the story  teller is empowered to share a part of their life to an receptive audience . It also enriches the audience by giving us a glimpse of another person’s experiences and in this way widens our view of the world.

Since coming back to Adelaide and through many conversations I have been inspired to launch a series of story sharing events, Campfire Stories, with the specific aim of building community and sowing seeds of environmentally conscious lifestyles through the sharing of true stories and food.

Campfire Stories will be launched in Willunga on Feb 15 at the Willunga Environment Centre and in Adelaide on Feb 23 at The Joinery.

It would be great to hear stories from Sustainable Communities SA members. The theme for the February is “change”.

How it will work: Come along and share a 5 minute true story related to the night’s theme, or sit back and enjoy the stories on offer.

For the brave the challenge is to share a true 5 minute story about the night’s theme of Change. Hate it or love it change is a constant part of life. Opportunities, challenges, grief and loss are all part of change. Do you resist change at all costs or seek to create change? Talk about a time when you actively tried to change yourself or those around you or were swept up in a movement to create change. As Ghandi famously said “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.

There is no pressure to speak in front of the audience. People are just as welcome to come and listen to other people’s stories.

After all stories have been told then you will have a chance to share your reactions and thoughts.

The night will close with a shared supper so please bring a plate to share. Coffee and tea is provided.

Entry is optional $5 donation at the door.

Event is open to all ages.

More details and RSVP via eventbrite:

Willunga 15 Feb www.campfirestorieswillungachange.eventbrite.com.au

Adelaide 23 Feb. www.campfirestoriesadelaidechange.eventbrite.com.au

If you have any questions feel free to email me.

The events are being kindly supported by the Willunga Environment Centre and the Adelaide Sustainability Centre.

 

Growing a sustainable community

Pauline and Anne with another batch of Pauline's seedlings.

Pauline and Anne with another batch of Pauline’s seedlings.

The Unley community groups, in particular the Grow Grow Grow Your Own group, of Sustainable Communities SA have been working with their local council on the issue of food security for a while now. The group has been running gardening workshops to increase people’s skills in growing their own food and to create a community of skilled food growers in the Unley Council area. As an offshoot Pauline and Anne have been running a series of free propagation and seed raising workshops. Although each workshop takes a lot of time and effort to plan, both Pauline and Anne light up when they talk about them and the buzz they get from the sharing of knowledge with all the participants. Continue reading

Renewable energy needs your support!

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Message from GetUp and Solar Citizens – the Homegrown Power Plan is on tour across Australia. First stop on the 100% Renewables Roadshow is Adelaide!

WHAT: Adelaide’s 100% Renewables Community Forum (free but limited seats!)
WHEN: Monday 31 October 2016, 6.30pm – 8.30 pm (doors open at 6pm)
WHERE: Goodwood Community Centre, 32-34 Rosa St, Goodwood, Adelaide Continue reading