Since the early days of The Synergy Project, Synergy has explored ways in which members of the Synergy and wider community can become more socially as well as economically active and gain many of the well-being benefits of being engaged in a common endeavour or socially beneficial employment. This is of particular relevance to many young people who enter into substantial debt whilst studying but yet are unable to find fulfilling employment once they graduate, leading to frustration and alienation.
We are also concerned that many communities are suffering considerable deprivation due to the austerity that began with the 2008 financial crash and has been exacerbated by neo-liberal economic policie that have seen levels of inquality in the UK grow alarmingly.
We are therefore interested in exploring new instruments and solutions to tackle both social and economic exclusion and thereby improve peope’s quality of life and well-being. Various ways of facilitating this have been considered.
The idea of a skills database, listing all the skills and talents possessed by the members of the Synergy Community, particularly those working in the fields of sustainability or wellbeing, has been broached. This would enable people needing support with a particular task to enlist the support of those in the community with the necessary skills. The Synergy Community would thereby assume the role of an employment agency, connecting people who are committed to progressive values to other like-minded people and promoting economic exchange between them. Such a community would enable Synergy to supoprt the growth of the sustainable economy, helping to promote the small businesses of its members to people wishing to support local and sustainable business.
Recognising that while some members of the Synergy Community are time rich but yet cash poor, while others are cash rich and time poor, the idea has been raised of creating a Synergy Membership as a means of enabling people to support Synergy and its progressive aims and values, much in the same way that concerned citizens become members of an NGO such as Greenpeace or Oxfam.
The benefits of membership would include access to the Synergy skills database, with the ability to pay for such services at least partially in Synergies, a complementary currency that Synergy created in the days of the Synergy Project events to cover the difference between planned production costs and ticket sales. Synergies were issued to artists or production crew as part payment. They could then redeem these credits for tickets to future events or exchanged for sterling when sufficient surpluses at future events had been generated. Complementary currencies have a long history of success in lubricating economic activity in communities that are poor in the national currency. As well as the famous Wörgl Experiment in the days of the Great Depression, more recent example of local currencies include the Brixton and Bristol pounds.
Members of the Synergy Community would register their skills on the community database, which would be searchable by other members, whether individuals organisations. Member organisations and individuals would become elligible to pay for goods or services provided by other members at least partially in Synergies. A classic example is that materials costs would be paid in sterling while labour costs would be paid in Synergies.
Synergy credits would be solely digital and unlike the Bristol and Brixton pounds would not need to be purchased using sterling. All transactions would take place using a smart phone app and adminstered by a central administrator. A small commission would be charged on each transaction, enabling Synergy to harness the wealth embodied in its community networks to raise funds in support of Synergy Centres and Projects, as well as covering the costs of administering the economy. Services provided by members of the community will come with a Synergy stamp of approval confirming that such service providers ascribe to the values of ethical and sustainable living promoted by Synergy and they can therefore be relied upon to deliver an effective and fairly priced service. By adopting systems to audit each transaction and to give members the opportunity to provide feedback about the quality of the service they receive, the Synergy Community will act as a social auditor to maintain standards.
The Synergy Community Economy will therefore adopt characteristics of a number of different virtual communities in its efforts to leverage the value of social networks to promote economic, social and cultural regeneration:
- Facebook – the classic social networking site enables people to use the internet to join a variety of communities and make friends and contacts, some of which can have an employment generating role.
- EBay – the social auditing component of EBay is a characteristic that the Synergy Community Economy will seek to replicate – allowing members to feedback about the quality of a service or product will keep standards high.
Other benefits of membership of the Synergy Community will include reduced entry to Synergy Events at the Synergy Centre, which will emerge as a meeting and networking hub for people wanting to become more actively involved in social, community and environmental projects. Members will also be able to pay for entry to events, room hire and for refreshments at the Synergy Centre.
Another way in which Synergies can enter into circulation is by having the Community issue them as a means of generating funds to invest in future capital intensive projects. Members of the community could purchase Synergies for sterling in one of two ways.
Firstly, Redeemable Synergies would be sold at a rate of 1 Synergy to £0.90, but could be redeemed at Synergy outlets, eg. to buy tickets to Synergy workshops or events or food & drink at Synergy Centre catering outlets, for room hire or to buy goods / services from other Synergy members. This gives an automatic return of 11% on the investment. This is similar in application to the ‘Deli Dollars‘ issued by the owner of a delicatessen wishing to finance the relocation of his shop to new premises.
Others will be able to purchase Investment Synergies at a 1:1 ratio but will receive an annual ‘capital rental’ fee which will be equal to the inflation rate plus a negotiable return. At a time when the interest rates offered by banks are at very low levels and ethical consumers are increasingly concerned by high street banks using their savings to finance socially or environmentally damaging businesses, Investment Synergies will provide members with an opportunity to save their earnings in a socially productive manner at the same time as giving them a higher return than the high street banks.
The Synergy Community Economy therefore becomes a progressive instrument of social and economic cohesion – promoting and facilitating employment in a broader sense that will generate personal and collective social returns as well as immediate financial returns. The Synergy Community Economy seeks to pioneer new structures and instruments of community development that deliver balanced, equitable and sustainable development as an alternative to the uneven, inequitable development that arises from contemporary financial and economic instruments and structures.