Wednesday, December 07, 2005

ONE EKO Posted by Picasa

Half Cocked

Over the years my parents lived in many old houses and as it turned out Mother was the fixer-upper in our household. Of course that meant enlisting us kids, all except my younger brother who was so adept in feigning incompetence at such things he even largely escaped doing dishes. She always was proud of her "Scotch" heritage; I don't think there's any evidence for her Scottish anscestry. But she was thrifty, so projects were done as money became available and with clever scavenging for resources. At one house she made two really large brick terraces, most of the bricks for the first one were dug out of the neighbor's over-grown backyard. But all of the bricks for the second were found here and there. It was back in the day of a single family car. I rather get the impression my father wasn't too keen on the idea of the dirty bricks in the car because these trips always seemed a little furtive. Perhaps she was worried about the owners of the bricks? In any case she got enough of them for me to ride the tricycle around, a triple-sized tricycle!

Then there was the house at Large. Those stories will take me too far afield, so just the one I have in mind for now. Somewhere along the line we got a caulking gun, but instead of one that accepted a cartridge of caulk, it was a solid cylinder with leather gaskets that you were somehow meant to stuff caulking into. Along with the gun we got a couple of ancient gallons of red colored caulking. The product was so old that most of the stuff on the top was hard, and the useable product was quickly used up with plenty of holes yet to fill. Rather than take her lumps and buy a regular caulking gun to use with cartridges, finding caulk in gallon paint cans became a quest taking her to hardwares and industrial supply companies all over. She'd stride right up to the clerks, who were always dressed in flannel shirts and ask:
Do you have bulk caulk?
This embarassed me greatly, but the frustrating part was not having the nerve to explain to her why I found it so.

So to this day I'm always going off half cocked. The picture is of a One Eko note part of the Findhorn Eco-Village currency. There are many alternative currencies. Ekos actually convert ot regular currency at a fixed rate, so they must be purchased. The purpose is to encourage trading with local businesses. It's an interesting idea and the bills themselves are very good looking.

There's still a great deal of confusion about what Bazungu Bucks are. A good deal of the blame for that is that I'm a bit confused too. The best news is that while nobody that I know of has actually tried to redeem any they have, I haven't heard of anyone throwing one away. Long before I started this blog I'd talked to Nathan and Micheal about time dollars, and even sent them the Time Dollar book. Neither of them could see that it was something they could imagine implementing.

Then Katrina came along. Something in my head requires New Orleans for the universe to be whole. So I immediately thought of the task of rebuilding. When I thought about that a couple of issues stood out. First from all my experience with fixing up houses, I knew there were lots of jobs you wouldn't want kids anywhere near. Child care seemed like a really important issue. Second, I thought about all the schools and libraries damaged and how great the immediate need for books and school materials might be. It struck me that alternative currencies like time dollars could be very useful in making a flexible system for coordinating volunteer efforts. The moms and dads who'd be pleased to have a few hours after school to work on what was left of their houses might welcome organized after school programs which they could pay for in time dollars which they in turn could earn in doing community service. Big Easy Bucks! Good idea, but who's going to organize it?

The reason for mentioning this history is tell you what I was thinking about when I started the blog and came up with Bazungu Bucks.

In today's Post-Gazette Clarke Thomas has a column about local connections to a micro-lending organization called Oikocredit based in the Netherlands. John Coventry Smith was pastor of the Mount Lebanon Presbyterian Church in 1968. Attending a World Council of Churches meeting in Sweden he heard a lot about large-scale development schemes and wondered what about projects for regular folks? With that question in mind he sketched out a plan for churches to support credits to cooperatives in the developing world. Something that made the idea develop so well was the idea that the money would be lent out with a low interest return rate. Low , two percent, but enough to encourge investments and ensure excellent fiduciary oversite.

As the program has grown and other microlending institutions have come on the scene, Oikocredit now provides some loans to individuals in developing countries and now allows individuals,instead of only churches or church groups, to make investments. The minimum investment is $1000 and with either a one or five year maturity.
Oikocredit now has 114 million euros ($134 million) outstanding with 400 projects around the world.
The U.S. information page is here where you'll find a nice downloadable pamphlet.

John Coventry Smith never came off as half-cocked as me, but like Bazungu Bucks, Oikocredit started with a small idea. I'm passionate about Africa and so related Bazungu Bucks to service to African people. All of you probably have some charitable work you feel passionately about too. Perhaps the idea of a currency that could be redeemed among our community based on time in service to a broader community need not have a specific focus on Africa. Then again this whole idea of an alternative currency may be out to lunch. I don't think so, at least I want to continue the experiment further.