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Exchange Your Skills For Free Services With A Different Kind Of Bank: A Time Bank

A new sharing economy app actually involves sharing.

Instead of paying for a service–whether you need an accountant or carpenter or Spanish lessons–imagine you pay with something else: your own time. Each hour you give your skills to someone else, you earn an hour you can spend with someone else.

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“It’s basically taking money out of the equation,” says Gabriele Donati, cofounder of the just-launched app TimeRepublik.

One of TimeRepublik’s beta users was a New York City-based stylist who wanted to build her portfolio. Via the platform, a Burmese monk who was leaving monastic life “hired” her to help him create a new look over Skype. With the time she earned, she hired a graphic designer on the platform to make her a new logo. The monk earned his credits to pay the stylist by donating meditation lessons to someone in Italy.

Every service offered on the platform, from plumbing to dog walking to corporate law, is valued by the time someone spends rather than what someone would pay in the market economy. “We need to start to value something more than just the mere exchange,” says Donati. “I think people are starting to realize that something is missing, and that thing that is missing is a human relation when we have a transaction.”

He sees it as an alternative to a typical social network–one that brings people together to help each other out with whatever they need, and starts to build genuine connections. “People are tired of being on a platform where everybody creates fictional characters, posts pictures of their beautiful lives…but at the end of the day there’s no interaction whatsoever,” he says.

It’s also an alternative to something like Taskrabbit; instead of commoditizing help that neighbors might have once provided for each other for free, it builds ongoing relationships. After users exchange services a few times, they often end up as friends.

“Once you establish that relationship, then you don’t need to keep score anymore,” Donati says. “That’s the beauty of it. It’s basically scaling whatever is happening already in healthy communities and small neighborhoods where people just organically share and help each other.”

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For someone who’s unemployed, or a student trying to launch a career, it’s a way to create portfolio pieces or get help that they couldn’t otherwise afford. TimeRepublik partnered with Italian universities to offer it to students, who are using it while the market economy flounders.

“They really see a different type of possibility,” Donati says. “It’s amazing for us to see a younger generation start to embrace it–to realize you can still function in an operating system with a core of reciprocity, and basically offering your skills to others in the community.”

It’s also a way to bring together people who likely would never have met otherwise. One beta user, a retired graphic designer in San Francisco, created a flyer for teenage entrepreneurs in Morocco. “It’s a distillation of how we’re bridging worlds that were before unbridgeable, where these exchanges were not happening before,” says Donati.

TimeRepublik launched publicly in the U.S. on October 6.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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