One of the questions I asked myself before I embarked on this trip was: how do people work together in communities? How do people organize themselves, especially in times of need? Moreover, I wondered if I could find examples of successful collectives ‘on the road’. By chance I stumbled upon a beautiful example of such a community in Greece.
The struggle is real
Since there wasn’t much news about the economic crisis of Greece lately (who remembers talk of the Grexit after the Brexit?) I actually assumed the crisis would’ve been past its critical point. My assumptions were proven wrong after meeting Nikos (32) in Athens. Nikos obtained his master’s degree in Economics and Business at the University of Athens some years ago but couldn’t find a job. He currently lives with his mom and has taken up a job as a postman. According to him, the economic situation in Greece only got worse after the acceptance of the bailout conditions of the Troika.
While it might not be visible on the surface, there is real poverty in Greece. The numbers don’t lie either. Greece has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe (about 23%). Youth unemployment has even hit the 50 percent in recent years. High taxes and low wages have further increased the bitter feeling that the crisis certainly hasn’t reached its highest (or lowest) point yet.
Better a good neighbour than a distant friend
However, amidst the ruins of the Troika, some communities have found a way to soften the blow of the crisis. In June 2010, the community of Volos, a rustic harbour town, launched a so-called community currency as a means to cope with the near bankruptcy of Greece.
Since cash was hard to come by – remember the long line of people in front of the ATM in July 2015 – and seeing their neighbours struggle, Yiannis Grigorou and Christos Papaioannou decided to take matters into their own hands. How? By developing their own parallel economical system, or simply put: by reintroducing barter trade.
Barter trade was already known in ancient Greece, until it was replaced by a monetary system. What’s new about this system however, is that Yiannis and Christos designed a online platform and a digital coin in order to make barter trade easier. Henceforth, the TEM was born.
Forget about bitcoin and learn about the TEM
The TEM (abbreviation for Alternative Monetary Unit in Greek) is a local digital exchange unit. It’s the ‘cash’ you pay with, once you sign up for the online solidarity network. If you have goods or services to offer, you’ll gain credit, with one TEM being worth one euro. There is only one rule: any member who collects a maximum of 1.200 TEM is expected to spend them inside the network.
“You are not allowed to save or earn interest on TEM,” said Christos in an interview with Greek newspapers Ekathimerini.“The network allows shop owners who lost their businesses to exchange any leftover stock they may have for things they really need. Similarly, the unemployed can carry out transactions even though they are short of money.”
More than just money: it’s a doughnut!
The TEM is organized without the help or interference of so-called trusted third parties (e.g. banks). Moreover, according to Christos, the TEM is more or less based on trust, contribution, and participation.
The community of Volos found a way, without the interference of third parties, to leverage the means necessary to solve a problem in such a way that benefited the whole community. At the heart of this system lie values like trust, contribution, participation, and a deep feeling of connectiveness with the community.
This way of working together is about rebuilding social capital, replacing material consumption, and bringing back value to labour to mean more than just a mere factor of production. The ideology behind this system, shows likeness with a field of studies that is called ecological economics. Ecological economics is a brand of research that focuses on the interdependence of human economics with the natural environment.
A brilliant example of this field of studies, is captured by British economist Kate Raworth in the Doughnut Economy. Raworth challenges the status quo in economics by stating that the goal of economics should no longer be growth, but ensuring we take care of our social foundation and respecting our environmental ceiling.
Everything is connected
Seven years after the introduction of the TEM, the community currency is still in place. But as I visited the local market and asked around, nobody could answer my questions about the TEM. Probably because I cannot speak nor read Greek, but also because the community of TEM users isn’t that big (about 800 members). So to think that I would just bump into somebody who knows all about the TEM and speak English, was a bit optimistic.
However, I think this example reflects a shift that is visible throughout society. A shift where other things than growth and production are valued. A shift where a sense of purpose, of craftmanship, and transparency matter. A shift where your own contributions are visible, and where your output is making a difference. A shift where your actions are in harmony with the natural environment and take place within a group of people that share the same values as you do.
Why? Because it’s all about connectiveness!
Read or see more about Doughnut Economics here.