Gather interested people. We started with an existing group. The Environmental Change-Makers had been in existence for nearly 5 years, and had many people from the local geography on their email list. We held some introductory events, talking about problems in the economy, and community-based finances, before we held our LETS launch event. If you're not starting with an existing group, our guess is it would probably be harder, because you need to build a critical mass of people. Don't be disheartened: one source said that they started their LETSystem with 6 people. We figured when we got 15-20 people at our first session, we were off to a good start. How do you publicize to get people? See our notes about publicity
Set up the software. We used open-source software (that means it's not copyrighted, not proprietary, it's free to the public, no fees). One of our founding members is knowledgeable in sophisticated computer programming and he did the setup. You can read his technical comments about the initial setup (doc file) and this introduction to the software posted by another group.
Offer an orientation. At our first meeting we explained to people what a LETSystem is, and how ours would work. We had our junior tech guy available to take live registrations. Recommendation: Be prepared to handle some of the registrations via paper and pencil, because signups take time and not everyone wants to wait. Our junior tech guy now offers "orientations" off to the side at each Marketplace gathering. See a YouTube of an orientation by Asheville LETS.
Make it fun and social. After all, a huge reason for having a LETS is so that local people start working together again. We made our first meeting a hors d'oeuvre potluck and it was so successful we've done the same for each meeting ever since. Also at our first meeting, someone suggested a go-round of introductions which also works really well. Each person says who they are, and briefly mentions what they are offering. At later sessions we recommended they mention one thing they are looking for, as well. We encourage people to listen during the go-round to find at least one person in the room with whom they'd like to connect for a trade.
Have a tech contact. Particularly at the beginning, people will have lots of questions (sometimes very basic questions) about how to use the system. It really helps to have a go-to someone who can field all these questions. Other responsibilities for the tech contact include administrative duties, such as approving new members into the software, troubleshooting software issues, etc. Our 14-year-old junior tech guy (step 3 above) is a different person than the person who did the detailed software setup (step 2 above). We "pay" our junior tech guy in LETS credits.
Have ongoing gatherings. We hold Marketplace potluck gatherings pretty much each month. We try to replicate the New Zealand gatherings we saw in the YouTube video. We invite Ballona LETS members to bring a sample of their offerings, or bring a flier that shares what they do. We do an introductory go-round (see step 4 above), enjoy food and companionship, and make connections for trades. Members are invited to bring friends who wish to join. An orientation is available for these newbies (see step 3 above). Members who attend the Marketplace potluck are "paid" in LETS credits, because having lots of people there builds the spirit and keeps the system flowing.
Administrative costs. As stated elsewhere in the Ballona LETS materials, at this point in time (Oct 2010) we are still offering LETS memberships for free. We go to great lengths to do this because we want our LETS to be open to as many people as possible during tough economic times. Things we do to keep it free: We selected open-source software (see step 2 above). Our software runs on donated server space. We use volunteers to run the events, and we pay them in LETS credits. We charge LETS members a small monthly fee in LETS credits. The monthly fee can be recouped simply by volunteering for the LETS (ex: attending a Marketplace potluck).
Administrative duties. There isn't that much to keeping the system going. From our reading about the experiences of other communities, the biggest issue is keeping the flow going -- keeping people in the habit of using the system, and bringing in new members to replace people who leave from natural demographics. These issues are why we chose to "pay" members to attend our Marketplace events. Also key to keeping the flow going is publicity of the Marketplace events. As of this writing we have been in existence for 6 relatively trouble-free months.
Edgar S. Cahn, No More Throw-Away People. This book is about Time Banking, but the ideas completely apply to what we are doing. Cahn explains the missing segment in our US$ economy, and how we can revitalize it using community-based financial vehicles.
Whe the Stranger says: "What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?"
What will you answer? "We all dwell together to make money from each other"? or "This is a community"?
-- T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock
Why We Need a LETSystem
What could LETS do that US$ can not do?
The Ballona LETSystem is a local economic system based on mutual respect and reciprocity.
All persons have something of value to contribute. The Ballona LETSystem values the contributions of the elderly, the disabled, the under-employed, and our youth, as well as the traditional work force. The Ballona LETS provides opportunities for people who are under-valued in the US$ economy to give, in reciprocity and honor.
Economic benefits won't flow out of our community to far-away continents or invisible corporate tycoons. The benefits of our Ballona LETS transactions and activities go to our very own neighbors.
Building our local economy
The Ballona LETS will get neighbors doing transactions with neighbors. People will begin offering things that will make our local community more resilient and self-sufficient. This is an essential step into the direction of the future (more here and here ).
Americans have become a society of consumers, but the direction of the future demands that we become producers again. David Holmgren quipped "We must become jacks of all trades and master of one." A LETSystem can help encourage that shift.
If the US$ goes haywire with hyperinflation or deflation, or as the US$ economy spirals with the End of Cheap Oil, LETS credits will maintain a stable, independent, internal valuation. We can still afford the things we need to live. Having a functioning local exchange system already in place is key.
A LETSystem helps balance competitveness and cooperation. Our US$ economy brings out the competitiveness. But many of the things we need for living (and raising children, and caring for the sick and the elderly, and building community) come only through cooperation. LETS credits give value to a much broader definition of "work."
Building our local community
As we begin to do our everyday transactions with each other rather than with far-away strangers, we will get to know each other better. We will learn who among our neighbors is sick and who is grieving and who needs our help. We will revitalize the old-fashioned community support network.
The Ballona LETS rewards caring, giving in service, and do-it-ourselves civic participation by citizens. Particularly in times of government budget shortfalls, a LETSystem offers an "end-run" around civic paralysis in solving social problems.
Supplementing conventional cash flow
Many people in our neighborhood are finding their cash flow is insufficient to meet their needs. Some of those needs can be met cash-free by using the offerings within the LETS network. Every transaction you can achieve within the network conserves precious US$ cash. This means you'll have more US$ cash available for those things you simply have to buy.
The Ballona LETS does not limit access by requiring a US$ buy-in (like a local currency would). The Ballona LETS does not charge any US$ for membership fees. To remain cash-free, we are using open-source software, on a donated server, with volunteer administrators who will be "paid" in LETS credits.
There's no incentive to hoard LETS credits because they don't accumulate interest. This keeps our local economy from stagnating, discourages hoarding, and prevents speculation. LETS credits are only of value when you use them.
"We trace back to Aristotle the distinction between the social and natural resources economies (oikonomia), and the money economy (chrematistics).
The term oikonomia, from which the term ‘economics’ is derived, is concerned with the management of the resources of the household for the benefit of all its members over the long run. If the term ‘household’ is expanded to include the ecological resources of the land and its peoples, its institutions, language, shared values and history, we can visualise an economics designed to benefit the community as a whole.
Chrematistics, on the other hand, relates to the manipulation of property and wealth so as to maximize short-term monetary exchange benefits to the individual owner. We conclude ... that no community or civilisation can exist without oikonomia, the natural and social resources economies which sustain human life on earth. However, chrematistics, the economy of short-term personal monetary gain, has come to dominate human society. Its cancerous growth now threatens the human species with extinction."
"The world doesn't always say, 'You're exactly what I need' -- any more than pieces in a hardware store jump up and say, 'Take me home and put me together with something over there.' Making use of human assets is not a neutral, objective process. It is contextual, and it is guided by purpose, by a determination to count assets. ... An asset perspective means finding ways for people who don't think they have skills to discover their own strengths."