This year will mark the seventh anniversary of the 2008 stock market crash, a financial epidemic that left thousands of Americans jobless and, in many cases, homeless. A new international initiative called the Mutual Aid Network has risen from the ashes of this crisis, aiming to build the foundation for a more sustainable economy for future generations to depend on. The system is centered largely around the concept of asset-based community development, which accounts for resources outside of the traditional currency system and encourages bartering, work trades and other alternative forms of economic exchange. This new economy would provide alternative options for the blue collar class to find work and provide for their families.
The idea of asset-based community development was created with two main functions in mind: to allow communities to effectively evaluate all of their resources and to generate a newer outlook on problem-solving when faced with adversity. By expanding the definition of what creates a community’s wealth, the people of that community can more efficiently and effectively solve the problems that they are faced with.
Locally, a few stakeholders are looking to form a Mid Michigan Mutual Aid Network, one of eight proposed outposts of the Mutual Aid Network’s pilot program. These outposts would share resources based on needs, including physical, financial and labor resources. By limiting the network to just eight locations, the group hopes to collect data and feedback to further develop the concept. The proposed network includes six locations throughout the U.S. as well as outlets in South Africa and England.
In its current stage, the Mid Michigan Mutual Aid Network hopes to unite area cooperatives and nonprofits like the Greater Lansing Food Bank and the Lansing Makers Network in order to provide these organizations with a more stable source of funding and a broader network of resources.
Scott Murto has been working closely with the Mid Michigan Mutual Aid Network and hopes that the initiative will help to build a stronger sense of community in the tri-county area. Murto holds a bachelor’s degrees in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Michigan Technological University. He has worked on several private and public environmental initiatives, including work with General Motors and the EPA.
Murto and the Mid Michigan Mutual Aid Network have started a crowdfunding campaign through Generosity, a subsidiary of the crowdsourcing platform Indiegogo designed specifically for nonprofit campaigns. The open-ended campaign has an initial fundraising goal of $3,818, but the group is also using the platform to gather community input. The network’s plan is laid out in a set of documents hosted by Google, and readers can leave comments and suggestions on the documents.
The Mutual Aid Network concept, Murto explained, relies heavily on an alternative currency called “time banking.”
“(Our currency system) doesn’t work in the best interests of common working people”, he said. “Time banking is an alternative system that emphasizes cooperation rather than competition, where people trust each other and wealth isn’t generated by banks.”
“Time dollars” are earned by providing services to other members of the time bank. The Mid Michigan Time Bank’s website provides a system where users can log how many hours of service they provide and use their time dollars to purchase services from other members. For example, a babysitter might watch a neighbor’s kids for three hours, thus earning three time dollars. The babysitter could then use these time dollars towards a wide variety of services offered by other time bankers in their community. The Mid Michigan Time Bank has around 200 members, and all members are invited to participate in a monthly potluck held on the first Tuesday of every month at the Foster Community Center.
Murto got involved with the Mid Michigan Mutual Aid Network after he was laid off from his job as an engineer at Lansing’s General Motors plant. He also works part time for the Lansing-based Clean Water Action initiative. While he said he could easily find another job working as an engineer, Murto finds the work he does now to be far more fulfilling.
“I’d rather sacrifice that income to have the flexibility to build local community networks,” he said. “I want to leave the planet a better place than I found it.”