China Development Brief, No. 52 (Winter 2011)
As it, it is not the same for all. In the free market, the meaning and value of time may vary according to one’s identity and status. With this in mind, the American businessman Edgar Khan established a “time bank,” with the hope that it would bring economic benefits and encouragement for social change. According to this model, there is no differentiation between types of work; whether building a house or looking after children, every person’s working hours have equal value.
Usually we say that compassion is priceless, but compassion is similar to work: when we exercise compassion, not only do we devote our energy and physical strength; we also devote our time. Perhaps it can even be said that when people do volunteer work, the most valuable thing they contribute is their time. This is precisely how Hong Fang became inspired with the concept of a “time bank for compassion.”
As the founder of the Henan Enlai Charity and the China Time Bank for Compassion, Hong Fang has always had the understanding that “leadership takes the blame.” Beginning in 1993, when he established small-scale projects such as the Learning from Lei Feng Group, the Close Friends Mailbox, and the Love Counseling Hotline to his more recent founding of the Henan Enlai Charity and the China Time Bank, Fang has acquired 18 years of experience in volunteer work. With so many years of experience, Fang noted that almost every year volunteers tended to leave because they lacked material support or encouragement, and further because they suffered three major types of losses– time, energy, and money. Fang found this very frustrating, and wanted to find a way to give volunteers some support in return for their efforts.
Inspired by the idea of a “time bank for compassion,” he began to gather relevant information, researching European and American methods of time banking. He also contacted the Secretary-General of the Taiwan Time Bank, Wenxiang Ge, to seek professional guidance. Finally, at the beginning of 2010, the “China Time Bank for Compassion” was born in Henan.
The time bank provides a mechanism to establish and implement mutual assistance and aid within the community. People can use their own labor, expertise, or interests to help others. Their volunteer hours are then recorded and “stored” in the time bank, to be saved until they have problems of their own and require assistance. This mutual assistance method of exchanging services allows time to generate an exchange value.
With the emergence of time banking, the concept of “time currency” consequently emerged. Time banking in the United States slowly adopted the “time invoice” as a transaction certificate. Japan uses a system of “care vouchers.” In Hong Kong, they primarily use “time coupons” to promote the exchange of community residents services and goods. For example, Oxfam Hong Kong, sponsored the publication of time coupons in amounts of one hour, a half hour, a quarter hour, and five minutes.
Unlike the United States’ “time checks,” the China Time Bank for Compassion uses a “passbook” as a way to record volunteer service hours, a method closer to Chinese people’s financial habits. But Fang also wanted the passbook to have a “creative” aspect, so while the front pages are used to record volunteer service hours and use of care time, the back pages are filled with discounts. The first is a hotel discount, with which volunteers with a passbook can enjoy a special rate of RMB 50. The next discount is from a technology company, which provides free computer repair for volunteers every Saturday afternoon. There are also a number of jewelry and clothing shops offering VIP privileges. Fang said, “We want to draw in some sympathetic companies and establish a coalition of like-minded businesses. The time banking passbook is a multi-pass: to store volunteer time, show consumed volunteer hours, and to give volunteers discounts and material rewards.”
In addition to the passbook, the time bank also utilizes an online facility, the Volunteer Network Management System, to manage “compassion time.” In addition to using their passbooks, volunteers can also upload their information to the online time bank service. This way, it is possible to check a volunteer’s accumulated service hours at any place or time.
The Time Bank for Compassion has been established for over a year now and has seen relatively slow growth. “Because this model is not very clearly defined, we need to explore it slowly,” Hong said: “We printed 70,000 copies of the passbook, but currently only have 10,000 books in circulation. In May this year, we set up networks in Henan province’s five cities, and in May next year we will start focusing on other cities nationwide. Although we already have connections in Shaanxi, Beijing, Zhejiang and other places who wish to cooperate with us, we hope to progress slowly; we don’t want to advance too quickly only to find out that we have used up all of our resources.”