A description of how a 34-year old ecovillage in Italy runs its economic system:
The Damanhurian economic system blends free enterprise with solidarity and communal sharing, with the objective of creating the most advantages and wealth possible at an individual and collective level. This “richness” is expressed in houses and land, schools and services, art and gardens, forests and meeting spaces, health and wellness, as well as a sense of belonging and security, and attention for the individual, from an economic and human point of view. This quality of life rivitalizes the Damanhurian territories, and in addition to the citizens of the Federation, everyone can enjoy the services and activities that exist here.
IS IT A SYSTEM THAT HAS EXISTED FROM THE BEGINNING?
No, this formula is the fruit of more than thirty years of experience, during which we have experimented with many different systems. At the beginning, the economic sharing was absolute, to allow us to build the first community structures. Over time, the system has evolved, until it has become what we are describing here. Many people appreciate the Damanhurian economic system because it combines the best of two opposing economic doctrines: liberalism and socialism.
HOW DO CITIZENS EARN THEIR LIVING?
Many citizens of the Federation have created cooperatives and businesses over the years, offering their products and services for economic compensation, in a way that is completely autonomous and respectful of the Italian law. Other individuals are self-employed professionals paid for their services, and still others work for Italian businesses. All the Damanhurian inhabitants, no matter what their source of income, directly manage their own money.
Sometimes, those who have responsibilities and roles that are socially useful, such as assisting senior citizens, taking care of the home, studying at a university, etc. they are sustained by the community.
HOW ARE THE DAILY EXPENSES DIVIDED?
Full time resident citizens live in houses constructed according to the criteria of energetic auto-sufficiency and ecological construction. The communities are composed of many nucleo families, of individuals and people of all ages. Damanhurians select where they live based on affinity and shared projects. These social groups are commonly called “nucleo communities” and they are usually comprised of about twenty people. Each Damanhurian has his or her own private space and shares the common areas with others, like the kitchen, meeting spaces, gardens, etc. All the choices made by the nucleo, including economic ones, are discussed and shared by its members. The various expenses related to house management – maintenance, heating, nutrition, investments in renewable energy, etc. are divided based on each person’s individual ability.
If people in the nucleo do not produce a direct income for various reasons – because they are studying or have health or employment difficulties – they are economically sustained by the members of the nucleo community. In the case that more than one person at the same time is unable to produce income, and the family is not able to economically provide for everyone’s needs, they may rely on the sustenance of other communities.
HOW MUCH MONEY DO THE DAMANHURIAN CITIZENS CONTRIBUTE?
Every citizen sustains projects that have a wide scope, based on personal desire and one’s economic ability. For example, projects may involve acquiring new land and buildings, safeguarding the environment, supporting educational programs, creating artistic works on the territories, assisting volunteer associations, supporting research and experimentation in many fields, etc.
The communal sharing of choices and investments occurs during assembly meetings in which every citizen is involved. Every form of contribution that the citizens offer may assume the form of liberality and/or capital shares.
HOW MUCH TIME DO CITIZENS GIVE TO THE COMMUNITY?
Resident citizens offer part of their time for community activities and socially useful services like the Red Cross – blood donation, emergency calls, etc. – Civil Protection, prevention of forest fires, and assisting the elderly. There are more than 250 Damanhurian volunteers who participate in public associations in the area.
Based on one’s personal preference, each citizen can also choose an association to support to develop an enjoyable activity. In fact, there are associations that offer diverse activities, ranging from teaching art and antique trades to cultural and recreational activities, to health and wellness, etc.
Many works on the territory – reclaimed land, retraining, etc. – were realized with everyone’s participation. Voluntary work is a valuable commonwealth that serves others and society as a whole, a practical instrument used to elevate the general quality of life.
WHO DO THE HOUSES AND TERRITORIES BELONG TO?
Damanhurian houses and territories are owned by cooperatives with a wide social base, in which the citizens subscribe to with capital shares. If a citizen decides to leave the community, he or she may withdraw the monetary value of the shares conferred.
Choosing to keep houses and land in common ownership comes from the desire to protect collective property. This system allows the ideals and the conquests of Damanhur to be bestowed upon those who move forward with this dream in the future, whether it is the children or new citizens.
Every community resides in a territory that may be comprised of one or more habitations where family groups live. The inhabitants enjoy the benefits of the improvements made by citizens who lived there before them, and in their time, they make modifications that increase the quality of the property.
MUST CITIZENS GIVE EVERYTHING THEY POSSESS TO DAMANHUR?
No, there are different levels of citizenship – A, B, C, D, etc. – that may be chosen by whomever would like to become involved in Damanhur. Each one of these levels requires a different participation in the social life of Damanhur and the various aspects of communal sharing.
When a person decides to become a full time resident citizen, and to completely adhere to the social experimentation – level A – he or she does not need to give everything he possesses to the community.
Personal goods, such as cars, furniture, computers and technology, etc. remain personal property, and also everything that is connected to one’s personal work activity. Capital and/or landholdings can be invested in activities of personal or common interest, and the choice is always based on the free will of the individual, in concordance with representatives elected by the citizenship.
WHAT IS THE CREDITO?
In technical terms, the Credito is a system of complementary currency (today, coined in metal) used by Damanhurians and diverse economic activities that have agreed to take part in the system. It was created more than thirty years ago to support the development of the economy and the starting of small businesses, and today, it has grown to represent a solid and productive economic reality in the Canavese area.
The Credito is legally and fiscally regulated, and its value is equal to that of the Euro.
In the Damanhurian territories, there are many machines that change Euro to Crediti, just as in any moment, it is possible to exchange Crediti for Euro.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT DES? (Damanhur Economia Solidale – Damanhur Joint Liability Economy)
For many years, we have had a group finance company that has promoted the DES project. Through the group finance company, cooperatives structured to obtain social loans can receive contributions from members through deposit books (both free and time-deposited). The interest returned to depositors ranges from 1.5% to 2.5%, depending on the terms. This project offers depositors the security that their own money is being allocated to ethical activities. Through the finance company, funds may be allotted to associations, cooperatives, or mutual societies. These legal entities receive financing that they shall reimburse at an agreed-upon rate.
WHAT ECONOMIC ADVANTAGES DOES THIS SYSTEM OFFER?
There are many:
. Every citizen receives incentives and support to open new activities with an entrepreneurial spirit, to learn new professional skills, to develop through education, and to dedicate oneself to useful social services.
. There is a collective wealth at the disposition of individuals in the form of land, goods and services, that may have otherwise been out of reach.
. The principle of solidarity within the community offers support to those who find themselves in health or employment difficulty, to pregnant mothers and parents in general, and to the elderly.
. At times, acquisition groups are formed, regulated by the Financial Law of 2008, to increase the power of acquisition from suppliers and various companies – telephone, insurance, energy, concessionaries, technical and administrative services, etc. For many years, this has allowed individuals to save a significant amount.
. Houses, territories, service structures, etc. are taken care of and constantly improved, and all those who intend to take part in the community in the future may benefit from them.
. The effects of this political economy are reflected in the areas where Damanhurian settlements are found, boosting the surrounding activities. Many people arrive from all over the world and choose to live around Damanhur, even if they do not directly take part in the community life. This also brings economic and cultural wealth to the valley.