Hazel Ashton writes: I’ve had this idea for a project. I’ve called it VAP which stands for Village App Project. I might change the name, but that’s what I’m calling it in the meantime. Others have been helping me (more about the team later). The goal of VAP is to create ways for us to meet needs and live happily together. How does the project work? The following is an introduction. Your feedback, questions and offers of support are most welcome.
In the beginning humans connected socially to better survive, develop and live happily. Happiness requires access to the necessities of life e.g. good quality air, water, shelter, food and the development of capacities to live and share more meaningful and enjoyable lives.
For much of human history village-based technologies supported local economies. Basic needs were met locally. It was understood that everything – human and non-human – formed part of an interconnected whole. Everyone had something to contribute and it was in the interest of villagers to recognize and tap into this way of creating abundance.
Much technological innovation has been developed around economic growth and consumer life-styles. Now, with a global population 7+billion people, economic, ecological, social, cultural and political systems are being put under impossible pressures. Competition for resources is causing increasing tensions and conflicts within and between societies. Many life-forms (humans not excluded) and their habitats have been destroyed or are under threat.
People accessing Face Book, E-Bay and Twitter on electronic devices are becoming more connected than ever before. However, such software tends to distract individuals from their localities into personal bubbles and like-minded, often also competitive, communities of consumption. Is there a way to meet needs for all, without conflict over scarce resources? Yes, I think there is…
I hear all the time why local village or community is needed to solve almost every kind of problem: to produce and consume sustainably and to fill gaps when formal economic, welfare and social systems do not and cannot meet needs.
Problems for which village-based solutions are called upon are endless. They include local food production, energy use, recycling, neighbourhood networks for security and safety, mentoring, meeting new people and strengthening existing relationships, helping when families can’t manage owing to pressure of time, work, illness, disability and where family members live in other towns or parts of the world; support for local business, local innovation, creative arts …
We know people generally enjoy contributing to each other’s well-being and communications technology often makes this possible. For instance in an emergency like the earthquakes in Christchurch, students created software that enabled them to help meet the needs of many in Christchurch and the Christchurch City Council used software which to allow large numbers to participate in developing a post-earthquake vision of the city. The challenge now is to create software that enhances on-going connection in localities whether there is an emergency or not.
The challenge is also have easier, safer, cooler and more effective and fun ways for everyone to contribute to their own and others’ wellbeing.
My idea is to create a village app or village web with an on-line market where goods and services are traded with village currency supporting balanced forms of reciprocity – giving and receiving – and connection-building in local areas.
In traditional market places people meet, exchange goods and services and in the process build relationships, develop trust and innovative and creative cultures.
By drawing on the idea of the old-fashioned village market, I believe VAP can provide socially and culturally acceptable ways of giving and receiving.
A village currency provides a level playing field for participation, enabling the creation of a more inclusive and authentic sense of community, with more choice and more opportunities for villagers with diverse talents and skills to be recognized and valued.
The platform includes an online money/banking system and data base. The exchange principles are simple:
• This village currency (vap) is a unit of measure, the same as national currency e.g. 10 dollars = 10 vaps
• The principle of supply and demand operates – someone’s need, another’s offering
• They are purpose built to ensure any user can simply access and exchange services
• They comply with all web security standards
• They incorporate a secure intelligent profile of members’ skills, needs and currency status
• There is no need to have anything in account to begin trading; people begin by going into debit (negative balance)
• The software system reconciles accounts of buyers and sellers immediately and accurately records who delivers what to whom.
People express concern that those going into debit will take advantage of others. I’ve been part of and researched many alternative currency schemes and challenge that idea. The problem I see is there is not enough diversity of services, goods etc on offer to interest most people. To encourage use of Village Currency the emphasis is on demand, uncovering what people say they need and want. Supply will follow demand. “Can anyone help?” elicits a response: “I can do that”, “I can help”. Most people don’t realize all the skills and knowledge they have, so seeing a demand for something they can do helps this self realization. People generally like to feel they can contribute, that they have something to offer. Of course there will be a limit to how much debit people have to start with.
The project is still at the concept stage. The idea was triggered by experience in a local community currency scheme and subsequent research over a 20 year period, including at doctoral and post doctoral levels, on using technologies to help build community connections.
My past involvement with similar technology projects includes, in Christchurch:
• Helping in early stages of PLEBS (Plains Dollars and Exchange System) a form of community currency;
• Helping set up Infolink an electronic bulletin board (1997) – help wanted, help offered system. Technical assistance came in the main from immigrants who also appreciated using the system, particularly children who wanted homework help;
• NeighbourNet – a local intranet (1998), a Community Web Development Project (1999, 2002) – collaboration of people of diverse backgrounds and skills;
• Doctoral and postdoctoral projects: transdisciplinarity demonstrated through a web exchange platform for academic, policy and community sharing;
• Campus Connections a network and exchange proposal which was first submitted to the University of Canterbury’s Tech Jump-start competition.
The overall theme of VAP is one of connections: online to support offline. Put simply, we are all connected. When the village connects well I do well, when I connect well the village does well, when villages world-wide connect well the whole planet does well.
I think the project will be helpful to lots of people. As pressures such as the availability and price of oil impact on the global economy, food prices etc societies will need other supportive systems. I would very much appreciate feedback and offers of support to turn this concept into reality.