You Must Get It Right

On July 15th, BerkShares held a Bash to celebrate the one millionth BerkShare placed in circulation through ten local participating banks. Forty-seven BerkShare businesses exhibited, bands sang and played, Roger the Jester delighted children—all part of a community picnic on the lawns of the historic Searles Castle at the heart of Great Barrington. Rain shortened the fun but not the fine community spirit. Award winning author Bill McKibben delivered the keynote address.

Bill McKibben’s 1989 book The End of Nature warned about the eminent threat of global warming. McKibben is no less concerned today with the growing climate problem, but his message is different. In his popular new book Deep Economy he calls for a return to vibrant local economies where goods are consumed closer to their point of production. He argues, as did E. F. Schumacher, that in addition to reducing use of fossil fuels, such a place-based economy can help renew our sense of community and with it our sense of well being.

He came as keynote speaker to the Bash to honor BerkShares.

“While others are developing the necessary new technologies for sustainable energy production, BerkShares,” he argues, “represent an essential new community technology for building local economies.”

“There is nothing more important you can do for the environment,” he told his audience, “than ensure the success of this model. As I travel around the country, people are asking about BerkShares. The eyes of other communities are on you. You must get it right.”

BerkShares, the local currency for the southern Berkshire region, is young—only ten months since its launch in September. Even so there has been unprecedented international and national media attention as the world watches a small community take its first steps towards shaping its own economic destiny and reducing its dependence on transporting goods from afar.

Much team work still lies ahead to build strong roots for the existing program, extend circulation to a broader geographic region with more complex economic challenges, introduce checking account and debit card features to facilitate recirculation by businesses, install BerkShares ATM machines for convenience of users, and record the process as a model for other communities.

Our merchants, restaurateurs, farmers, bankers, carpenters, auto mechanics, lawyers, service providers, and non-profit administrators are only now understanding how best to use a local currency in their businesses. Our bankers are streamlining their process to integrate BerkShares exchanges seamlessly with other banking functions. Our citizens are discovering new economic habits that expand their use of BerkShares and help them learn what their money is doing tonight. Office staff are developing new ways to support BerkShares businesses. There is no blueprint for issuing such a  robust local currency in the twenty-first century. Together our Berkshire community is writing the handbook.

Attendees of the May Tools for Change training program exchanging BerkShares.

All of this exploration and development is being conducted under intense media scrutiny, at a whirlwind pace, amid knocks on the door from other regions asking how it is done. The program carries sufficient depth in its conception, sufficient integrity in its early application, sufficient vision for its future, to earn and meet such attention. We welcome the rapid unfolding and public visibility, simultaneously challenging and fitting. However to shape BerkShares into a local currency program that shines as a beacon of possibility for other communities, we are responsible for building organizational capacity equal to the opportunity. We estimate it will take an additional two years to complete the research and development phase of BerkShares and we must rely on grant support to fund these costs. Once fully operational with vigorous trade in BerkShares, the program will generate its own funding from user fees.

We need your help, along with that of other Schumacher Center friends, to identify sources of this funding and to meet Bill McKibben’s challenge “to get it right.” It is not conventional funding, rather it will take a sophisticated understanding of the complex issues addressed by a local currency—an understanding sensed by the media and recognized by other communities grappling with the impact of a global economy and climate warming on their regions and seeking long-range positive solutions. Donations to the Schumacher Center earmarked for BerkShares research and development are fully tax-deductible.

A detailed record of the development of BerkShares, including local, national, and international press coverage is at Information on the history, theory, and practice of implementing local currencies is available at the Schumacher Center’s website.

All of us at the Schumacher Center remain grateful for the support of our members and friends.