Alison Bird

Alison Bird – NENA currencies working group, Community Exchange System Australia, Far North Queensland Community Exchange System, Brisbane Local Energy Trading System, Transition the Grove

I am concerned that the conventional economic system seems to fail the majority while favouring a small wealthy sector of society. Possibly the problem is partly that money has become a commodity in itself, and this undermines its effective distribution.

To me the new economy means a return to the basics of sharing resources around the community with balance, fairness and generosity. It's about empowering people while attending with care to environmental issues, especially climate change and environmental degradation.

My optimism for such a new economy stems from my experience with community exchange. I have traded in a strong and active rural exchange which acknowledges and builds people's skills and keeps the wealth local by widening neighbourhood networks for sharing and recycling. Community exchange is an experiment to try sharing resources without using cash. It's a complimentary currency, not replacing the federal dollar. It isn't perfect, but it does contribute to building community resilience and it is very interesting how it can encourage generosity and creativity. This gives me great hope for the future.

The idea of a Local Energy Trading System (LETS) appealed to me the moment I first read about it in about 1990. With a couple of friends, we followed advice from Maleny LETS and the Canadian LETS founder Michael Linton and we started an exchange on the Atherton Tablelands. It became an effective network for trading goods and services as well as sharing support and energy.

Although I had a PhD in Marine Ecology, when my children were very small I experimented with various arts and used Tableland LETS to test the market. I developed a small business selling wildlife art cards and for 25 years LETS trading supplemented my family's income. The local exchange grew to become the largest of its kind in Australia.  Now FNQCES (after a name change) has more than 900 active members and an annual turnover equivalent to over $200 000.

In Australia there are about 50 community exchanges ( and there are over 900 groups worldwide. ( The system is still primarily about local exchange, but online networking also facilitates trading between members of equivalent systems anywhere in the world.

My family's idyllic life in Lakeside Yungaburra was disrupted by my shock diagnosis with advanced ovarian cancer in 2009. My ongoing treatment means now living in the city for access to better medical options. When I can, I throw my energy into my favourite projects – community exchange and other efforts to transition to more sustainable systems. I feel fortunate to have time for this exciting and meaningful work. I love to explain about community exchange to any groups who are curious about this established system.

I am not sure what role community exchange will play ultimately in the new economy. Despite its great potential, community exchange systems in Australian cities seem to struggle with adoption. Perhaps the model can be modified or extended to address its deficiencies. I suspect CES will become a useful element in a broader system or galaxy of interconnected systems and I am enjoying working with others who have a similar vision.

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