Michael Engelmann


An economic system that does not use regular currency was started in Cape Town and has now spread around the globe with thousands of users.

The unusual outlet to market or procure goods and services known as the Community Exchange System started about nine years ago as the Cape Town Talent Exchange and now has well over 27 000 members around the world.

The exchange system largely eliminates the use of traditional currency from the trading of goods and services. Members of the extended community trade in “Talents”.

These are received when one member provides another with their marketed good or service. The Talents earned can then be used in exchange for any other member’s marketed goods or services.

A Talent is roughly equal to R1 and the Cape Town Exchange, now part of an international group of Community Exchange Systems, has traded 1 639 293 Talents in the past year and well over 11 million since starting in February, 2003.

A member marketing their services or goods sets the price, as any other retailer would, and may adjust their asking price to suit demand or customer requests. The bulk of this exchange process takes place online.

The exchange’s website is where members advertise their skills or products, where buyers contact potential members and where members’ accounts are managed.

However, according to the steward of the Cape Town Exchange, Dawn Pilatowicz, the system flourishes at exchange events which serve as markets and allow members to get a first- hand look at what may be purchased.

She said: “The markets are the places that allow people to put a face behind what is being offered.”

Markets are held monthly at Novalis Ubuntu Institute on Rosmead Avenue in Kenilworth. The next market will take place there on May 12 from 10am to 12.30pm. When exchanges are done in person, each party completes a transaction slip which is filed online and extracts or adds Talents to each person’s account.

Liane Greef, who organises this monthly market, said: “The honour system works very well. A small number of individuals have attempted to abuse it and can no longer enter Talents online. At the market, the honour system is not something anyone worries about being abused.”

Additional markets also take place less routinely around the Cape area and a full event calendar is available when registered. The Cape Town Talent Exchange started in February 2003 and was the founding community of the broader Community Exchange System.

The exchange system grew slowly until it reached 400 members at the end of its first year. From there, it has grown exponentially. There are now 4 833 registered members in the Cape Town area, 62 percent of whom are active and complete about 300 to 400 transactions a month.

Pilatowicz said Cape Town had the largest and most successful exchange in the country. The system has also spread to form a global network of Community Exchange systems. There are now 6 369 members in SA and 27 250 globally.

These members are a part of 404 communities in countries around the world, all similar in procedure and purpose to the Cape Town exchange system. Countries with the largest numbers of communities include Australia with 85 groups, the US with 77, Spain with 64 and Finland with 34.

SA has communities in every province, with 34 in total.

Pilatowicz said an obstacle in the growth of the exchange was the general lack of internet access for individuals from poorer communities, and lack of support from big business, which made procuring goods that cost money difficult.

Popular items and skills that are traded include alternative healing, permaculture (buildings and equipment designed to cater specifically to maximising the landscape’s environmental potential), web design, second-hand goods, arts and crafts, clothing and various home businesses.

Pilatowicz said the goal of the system was to “bring diverse groups of people together in a sharing and caring manner, to reduce our addiction to money, empower people and give them a hand up rather than a hand-out”. She also said the process “teaches people about worth versus ac- quisition, mutual credit and giving and receiving in equal measure”.

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