x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The bank that's currency is time

Such a bank is now open in the UAE. The online exchange www.timedirham.ae already has 100 depositors, trading in time.

Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh says the country's first time bank helps people to appreciate their worth.
Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh says the country's first time bank helps people to appreciate their worth.

DUBAI // Imagine a bank without any money, where all you invest is time and all you take out is time. Such a bank is now open in the UAE. The online exchange - www.timedirham.ae - already has 100 depositors, who provide and obtain from each other services that are measured in amounts of time. One of its founders, Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, a Canadian-Iranian, said the time bank, launched in March, was formed to bring people together and give them a greater sense of self-worth.

"The system is complementary to monetary exchanges," he said. "Everyone has something to offer the next person. Instead of a transaction in a store, where you may not even look at the person taking your money, this kind of exchange allows for human interaction and reciprocity. It adds social value to your life." New members list the services they can offer, maybe computer skills, household cleaning or language exchange. They can offer that service for a given amount of time and be repaid for that same amount of time in a service they require.

The "currency" is made up of time dirhams, the first three of which were earned in exchange for an Arabic lesson, legal advice and web design. Mr Bozorgzadeh, 25, met his co-founders - Shymaa Binbrek, an Emirati, and Vasileios Klianis, from Greece - at the TedX Conference in Dubai last October. Beginning in November, they built the website using licensed software from the US company TimeBanks. The concept of time-banking originated in the US in the 1980s as funding for social programmes dried up.

There are now similar models in cities around the world. In his 2000 book on the movement, No More Throw-Away People: The Co-Production Imperative, Edgar Cahn wrote that time-banking forces people to appreciate their ability to care for each other, while enabling "individuals and communities to become more self-sufficient". Mr Bozorgzadeh, a business development associate at the research and consulting group YouGov Siraj, believes that the concept can help to weave together the country's communities.

"When a person arrives in the UAE, they can find the time bank and it is a fast-track way to meet people and learn things," he said. Mr Bozorgzadeh believes that it works well with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's Community Development Authority, which was established to attain social development as part of the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015. "For society to be inclusive and cohesive then it needs to have proper programmes in place," Mr Bozorgzadeh said.

"When I heard about the time bank it seemed to fit the strategic plan." The simple act of registering with the bank encouraged each person to appreciate their worth, he said. "We have to look at what we can offer and think beyond our personal boundaries," he said. "It also helps people to interact with their community. Studies show that we are much more likely to give than to receive but this means everyone acts like a community should do.

"Instead of living isolated lives, we will start to act as if we are living in a village and looking after our neighbours." @Email:aseaman@thenational.ae