Monday, October 31, 2011

Cashless transactions: Greeks’ creative crisis solution

From Question More
27 October, 2011

Whether the EU anti-crisis plan is effective or not, for the austerity-hit Greek people a creative solution could be the answer to some of their problems. In a country where cash is in short supply, time has taken on a whole different value.

They same time is money, and now it’s being used as a currency in an emerging barter system developed by cash-strapped Greeks who want to swap goods and services.

“In the Time Bank we exchange voluntary services.Sometimes I give painting lessons for free but I take yoga for free also,” says Niki Roubani of the Bank of Voluntary Time project. “It’s huge, it’s everything we do without money. It’s looking after people and making things ourselves.”

The Time Bank is just one of a growing number of service-swapping alternatives that are providing people in Greece with an imaginative way to cope with the tough economic conditions.

Tsakalotos Efklidis, an economics professor, says a financial crisis can have terrible and divisive consequences for society.

“[It divides] public sector workers from private sector workers, it divides richer workers to poorer workers, immigrant workers from home workers. And that’s a terrible thing,” he said.

For a country in crisis, building social unity can be an uphill struggle. However, the barter networks have proven a great way of bringing together large groups of people. A popular slogan in Greece now is, "No-one's alone in the crisis."

Organizations are arranging swap-shops to exchange clothes, and one town in Greece has even started its own barter currency.

“We still have the memory of an agricultural society in Greece, where people used to do things together. They would harvest the olive tree of my family this week and then the next week we do the olive trees of your family. So they would exchange services – and people like that,” says Niki Roubani.

Nikki gives her friend Alexandra, who is also a member of the time bank, an art lesson. In exchange, Alexandra helps Nikki with the gardening, and the time is repaid.

“It’s an amazing way of receiving by giving to others,” says Alexandra.

As many Greeks struggle with wage cuts and tax increases, and with unemployment in the country now cripplingly high, there has been huge interest in the time banks and barter networks.

No wonder the idea of swapping goods and services has proven so popular – it is building solidarity at a time when the economic situation is extremely uncertain. Whilst these barter networks will not solve Greece’s financial problems, they do provide a massive amount of help and support for the participants.

“It’s not a response to the crisis, in the sense that it’s going to overturn the government, but it’s giving support and comfort to those who would like to overturn the terrible economic policies that are being imposed by the Troika. It’s giving people support to feel that they can do something,” says Tsakalotos Efklidis.

While these tough economic times are leaving many Greeks feeling worthless, there is real value in projects like the time bank. With the Greek government drowning in debt, these creative solutions are offering not only support but also encouragement to the people here, which at a time of deep economic recession, are proving priceless commodities.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Building the Worker Co-op Movement

By Rebecca Kemble
From the Progressive
October 12, 2011
[Kemble is a driver for Union Cab Co-op in Madison, WI]

I am in Quebec City this week to attend two worker-cooperative-related conferences. I am here as the president of the board of directors of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives together with the rest of the board, our staff and our Canadian and Quebequois counterparts. Joining us are cooperative movement leaders from Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and Argentina.

At the end of the week, we will officially sign a declaration and launch the North American regional body of CICOPA [1], the international organization of worker cooperatives. Worker cooperative federations in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil have formed a similar organization in their part of the world in the hopes of building toward a pan-American organization that has the capacity to resist the forces of neoliberal economic exploitation.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting in windowless hotel conference rooms with a group of amazingly dedicated, tenacious (and surprisingly funny) people who are developing organizational structures and institutional relationships based on solidarity that build meaningful working class power on an international scale.

Worker cooperatives are businesses that are owned and operated on democratic principles by the people who work in them. Because they are organized around the will, talents and needs of the human beings who work in them rather than the imperative of growth and ever-increasing profit margins, worker coops have the capacity to promote and extend new, humane and imaginative ways of meeting the material needs of people by producing and distributing goods and services in society.

When dozens, hundreds and thousands of these enterprises pool resources and cooperate with each other based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity, a fundamental transformation of culture and society occurs. This has taken place most notably and enduringly in Mondragon, Spain, where worker co-ops drive the economy and fund and control social services, health care, retirement and education.

So as my heart breaks for the burning of Rome (or Athens), the life cycle of my family, the gutting of public education, the depth of the suffering and indignities visited on the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our communities through false austerity and punitive laws and policies, and the abuse being hurled at the brave, young people who dare to stand up for them, I redouble my efforts to strive with others through differences of opinions, communication styles and languages to build the worker cooperative movement. If the Basque people of Mondragon could do it under the iron fist of Franco, we can certainly do it here.

Rebecca Kemble [3] is an Anthropologist who studied decolonization in Kenya. She serves on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and as the President of the Dane County TimeBank.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Worker Cooperatives Can Revitalize Our Economy

Tompkins Weekly 10/3/11
by Joe Marraffino and Gay Nicholson

Leaders in the sustainability movement believe that the most promising economic development strategy available may be a focus on economic justice. This would reduce poverty and increase tax revenues, strengthen democracy and the sense of a shared future, reduce the tax burden for social services, and increase support for investments in education and public infrastructure. All of these are part of a viable and sustainable local economy.

Worker cooperatives can be an important tool in this strategy. According to the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland, cooperatives can create a green and just economy by building community wealth “in which ownership is broadly shared, locally rooted, and directed toward the common good. Worker cooperatives are businesses owned and democratically controlled by their workers. They have been organized since the dawn of the industrial revolution and have been successful in virtually every industry – from mining companies, to robotics firms, taxi drivers, health care providers, food processors, to creative and technology firms – anywhere where the workers and their community would benefit from having a stake in their workplace and the incentive of receiving an equitable share of the fruits of their labor.
While worker cooperatives have been a steady presence in modern history, they have surged during times of economic dislocation, and rapid cultural and technological change. During the massive movement of capital and jobs out of the upstate region in the 1970s and 1980s, a wave of efforts to create and save jobs through cooperatives and employee ownership rose up in Jamestown, Herkimer, Saratoga, the Mohawk Valley, Ithaca and elsewhere.

The wave was given technical assistance by the NYS School of Industrial and Labor Relations and supported by government loans. State workers, researchers and organizers in Central New York were considered authorities throughout the country, structuring buyouts and training workers. In the mid-1980s the New York State Legislature formalized their support by writing a new article into State Corporations law recognizing the benefits of the worker cooperative model.

Worker cooperatives can have profound social benefits in terms of job satisfaction and empowerment of citizens through the everyday practice of democratic participation. They have also been shown to have significant economic benefits, both at an individual and regional level. Participation in decision-making and an equitable share of profits increases worker productivity and creativity, and decreases the need for supervision. A broad base of employee ownership increases economic stability by increasing the incentive for firms and workers to stay in the region and via the multiplier effect of worker/resident’s local spending. Worker cooperatives also build and retain locally-rooted assets for workers who may have no other path to wealth creation or entry to the middle class.

In our current economic climate, worker cooperatives are increasingly being seen by governments, community groups, and workers as a valuable tactic to stabilize regional economies, create and retain local jobs, and create assets for residents, including those that may have no other path to enter the middle class. For example, Cooperative Home Care Associates, a NYC home health care business, has over 1,500 worker-owners and annual income of over $40 million. The cooperative has helped raise the base pay for the entire sector of workers in the region, and has created full-time work and career paths in an industry notorious for its instability and low pay. South of Rochester, one of the oldest worker cooperatives in the country, the 35-year-old, and $18 million per year food processor Once Again Nut Butter has grown and created jobs despite regional closures and layoffs.

The Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions need a program to mobilize the creation of regional worker cooperatives. Worker cooperatives need technical assistance to get started. They need incubation services, connections with investments, and organizational development that is not available through existing business development agencies. This need exists in part because of the relative lack of familiarity that banks, attorneys, and workers have with the model, and also because of some unique aspects of the model itself.

Sustainable Tompkins is proposing a pilot project of an incubator and technical assistance center for worker coops. Let’s make sure that economic justice is at the heart of our economic development strategy. It’s good for business. Contact us at to learn more and get involved.

Joe Marraffino is a Cooperative Organizer with Democracy at Work Network
Gay Nicholson is President of Sustainable Tompkins

Incubating Worker Coops on a Shoestring with Timebanks

Incubating Green Worker Coops on a Shoestring with Timebanks
Habra Traduccion en Espanol
Tues, Oct 11, 5-7pm
PODER, 474 Valencia #120

Linda Hogan and Terry Daniels of hOur World and the most prolific Timebank in the US - Hour Exchange Portland have been developing green worker coop microenterprises and community projects for many years on a shoestring using Timebanks to provide the social capital. Their home weatherization program renovates 1000 low income homes per year in Portland, Maine and trains unskilled workers for high paying green worker coop jobs. Join us for a revolutionary presentation on how to create empowering jobs from the bottom up. Free and open to the public, please distribute this announcement widely. For more info, contact

Friday, October 7, 2011

Community Currencies Aim to Aid Merchants

Annie Tritt for The Wall Street Journal
October 7, 2011

Darcy Lee owns Heartfelt in Bernal Heights.

Hoping to keep their money close to home, three Bay Area communities have begun operating their own currencies.

In June, a group of businesses in San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood started signing up residents for a debit card that offers 5% of purchases back in a local currency called Bernal Bucks when residents shop in the community. The move follows that of two nonprofits in Marin County—Coastal Marin Fund and FairBucks—which began minting their own $3 coins last year.

The idea is to raise resident awareness about supporting small businesses in an era of big-box national chains, and to find a new way to raise funds for local causes.

"Neighborhoods are taking their economic destiny into their own hands by looking at the money that is circulating in them," said Arno Hesse, one of the creators of Bernal Bucks.

Community currencies exist world-wide and are legal in the U.S. so long as they don't pose as official American greenbacks. Communities offering them include the Berkshires region in western Massachusetts, while a group in Oakland is working on a currency known as Alternative Currency for Oakland Residents and Neighbors, or ACORN.

But they all face the challenge of persuading merchants and residents to commit to adopting them for daily use. Some past local currencies, such as one called Berkeley BREAD that started in the late 1990s, ended in 2003 after its coordinator left and wasn't replaced. There also was a program called Sonoma County Community Cash that died after about two years around 2000.

The Bernal Bucks debit card grew out of past attempts by Bernal Heights merchants to reward residents for shopping locally, including stickers placed on real $5 and $10 bills that could be redeemed for incentives. Last year, Bernal Heights resident Mr. Hesse set out to find a way to use technology to improve on that idea.

Ms. Lee's shop accepts Bernal Bucks, the neighborhood's own currency, promoted by a sign.

In June, Mr. Hesse's software company, Clearbon Inc., and local merchants teamed up with the Community Trust credit union to issue a Visa debit card with the Bernal Bucks loyalty program integrated into it, one of the first such programs in the nation. For every $200 that users spend at participating local businesses, they receive 10 Bernal Bucks. Users can spend their Bernal Bucks on goods and services sold by participating businesses at the rate of one per U.S. dollar, or can choose to donate them to community nonprofits.

Darcy Lee, owner of a Bernal Heights gift shop called Heartfelt, said she signed up her business for the program in the hopes of attracting "a repeat local, loyal customer that is making a conscious effort to shop in the neighborhood."

Merchants such as Ms. Lee agree to give up 5% of the value of goods and services paid for with Bernal Bucks cards. This goes into a fund that users can tap when they spend their Bernal Bucks at participating merchants. Ms. Lee said the effort is worthwhile for marketing purposes because many of the products she sells, such as wrapping paper, "you could easily go to get at Target."

Last Sunday, Samuel Fajner, a five-year resident of Bernal Heights, used his Bernal Bucks card to buy groceries at Good Life food store on the neighborhood's Cortland Avenue. "I make an effort to not go to the big chain stores," said Mr. Fajner, 36, who signed up for the program in June and has accumulated about $120 in Bernal Bucks.

So far, more than 20 of the businesses along the Cortland shopping corridor have joined the program. The hard part is persuading more residents to sign up, say organizers and local businesses. Mr. Hesse declined to say how many people have joined, or how many Bernal Bucks have been spent so far, but said the transaction volume of card users has doubled every month.

In Marin County, the two currency programs require less initial effort for residents to participate in because they use a physical currency.

Last year, the Coastal Marin Fund began minting $3 brass coins that are about the size of a silver dollar. The coins cost less than a dollar to produce, but are sold for $3 to businesses in western Marin county to hand out as change. The profit on the sale from each coin is kept by the nonprofit Coastal Marin Fund, which has distributed more than $3,000 of it to local charities such as the Bolinas Museum.

One major goal, said founder Richard Kirschman, is to tap the 2.5 million tourists who come through the region's 10 towns each year as a source of revenue for local charities. The hope is that tourists will get the unusual $3 coins in change, and then hold on to them as souvenirs —leaving the value of the currency back in Marin. Mr. Kirschman estimates that about 7,000 coins have left the area with tourists.

So far, about 55 Marin businesses have agreed to accept and hand out the coins, according to Mr. Kirschman. The fund minted 10,000 coins and has about 2,000 left, so it is preparing to mint another batch.

After hearing about the Coastal Marin effort, a group of residents in eastern Marin's Fairfax decided to emulate it, minting up about 5,000 $3 tokens of their own, which they began distributing this summer. The goal is both to boost local merchants and aid area nonprofits.

One difference between the two programs is that the Fairfax currency, called the FairBuck, will be backed for a while by real cash held in a local bank. Fairfax attracts fewer tourists than west Marin, so the FairBuck is more likely to stick around town.

"There was some reluctance with some of the merchants. They wondered, 'How do I pay my rent?'" said David Bernard, a member of the FairBucks steering committee. "We assured them that for the first year we would have 100% of the money, so that if they wanted to cash in their tokens they could do so."

Write to Geoffrey A. Fowler at

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Veterans’ co-ops build homes fit for heroes

David J. Thompson
From Co-operative News
September 2, 2011

A Massachusetts co-operative is leading the way in solving the problem of homelessness among US veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many of these veterans have been left with physical and mental disabilities from their wartime service — and, with too few transitional facilities, many end up on the street.

This is a national crisis, with 275,000 US veterans now homeless — 8,000 in LA alone. A fifth of America’s homeless are veterans, trapped in a vicious Catch 22: if you cannot find a job you are likely to end up homeless, and if you are homeless it is unlikely you will get a job — a problem highlighted by the Prince William and Katherine the Duchess of Cambridge on a recent visit to LA, where they took part in a veterans’ job fair, “Hiring Our Heroes”.

The Massachusetts initiative puts co-operative housing communities, with veterans as members, at the heart of plans to give former soldiers a new start.

United Veterans of America in Massachusetts, also known as Soldier On, has pioneered the use of the limited equity co-op housing model and is involved in the creation of about 360 apartments in three veteran’s co-ops. The limited equity co-op model keeps the apartments permanently affordable.

The first co-op created by Soldier On is the Gordon H Mansfield Veterans Community in Pittsfield. Opened last spring, it provides 39 studio and one-bedroom apartments in a village style community, close to a Veterans Community Care Centre. It provides “permanent, sustainable, safe, affordable housing with support services that veterans will own and operate”. In addition, the co-op added an array of photovoltaic solar panels and other green features.

The venture needed $6.9 million dollars of financing from government agencies, the Federal Home Loan Bank, banks, foundations and non-profits. It was made affordable by the elimination of much of the permanent debt through a federal initiative called Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. The $2,500 dollars of equity required for each veteran to buy a share in the co-op came partly from the members and through grants and donations.

Last year, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the Pittsfield Co-op a “Door Knocker” Award, one of 14 awarded nationally to honour models of state and local collaboration. “This national model allows veterans to feel the full responsibility that ownership entails while having the Soldier On service platform and it has proven a tremendous success,” said Jack Downing, CEO of Soldier On.

Massachusetts is the only state to offer local financial assistance to its veterans, for food, clothing, shelter, housing and medical care — but its co-op model is being looked at closely by other states.

Two similar projects are on the drawing board in California, awaiting financing. Veterans organisations have joined to sponsor legislation which would make limited equity housing co-operatives eligible for the $1.3 billion of veterans housing funding available in California. The bill is backed by the Twin Pines Co-operative Foundation and this author is providing pro-bono technical assistance.

Since the end of the First World War, more than 40 housing co-ops have been built for returning veterans. Together these have created more than 13,000 housing units in more than 15 states. They have been built to meet a wide range of needs such as student housing co-ops for veterans returning to school, to the more popular apartment type buildings with numerous community features.

The idea, then as now, is that after wartime service there is a social and psychological value that veterans derive from living in the same community. But with so many vets coming home with physical or mental needs, and high unemployment, demand has outstripped supply. There is now a national push to end homelessness for vets in five years.

To achieve that goal, permanent Veterans Villages need to be created throughout the US. Strong communities — such as co-operative housing with on-site or nearby support services — give veterans the chance to rebuild their lives.

For many veterans, this new phase of housing co-ops is a journey that can take them from homelessness to home ownership and from soldier back to citizen.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cooperatives find new relevancy helping East Bay low-wage workers

By Hannah Dreier
Oakland Tribune

Norma Sanchez's hand still flutters to her chest when she remembers the incident that was the beginning of the end of her career as a $5-an-hour janitor.

She was mixing heavy-duty cleaners in a supplies closet when the mixture exploded, filling the space with caustic smoke. Unable to read the English labels, she had accidentally combined ammonia and bleach.

The Oakland resident's lungs ached for a month but taking a night off seemed impossible.

"Now I look back at all of that and I say, 'Wow, I was really suffering,'" she said.

Today, Sanchez, 35, cleans with baking soda and natural Castile soap and takes sick days when she needs them.

She is one of dozens of low-income, low-education, sometimes undocumented workers who have gone into business for themselves thanks to a boom in worker-owned cooperatives.

Organizers at the Bay Area's two co-op associations say their membership rolls have swollen in the past several years even as the broader economy has faltered.

That's partly thanks to expansion among hip mainstays such as Arizmendi Bakery, Berkeley's Cheese Board Collective, bike shops and artisanal collectives.

But a different kind of co-op is also gaining in popularity.

Responding to what they say is a remarkable interest in entrepreneurship, nonprofit organizations are launching programs that provide leadership training, management support and other tools that help workers become their own bosses.

"That's the reason I'm interested in co-op development," said Melissa Hoover, director of the San Francisco-based U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. "I'm super glad the world has a lot of bike stores, but I'm more interested in how co-ops are used as a tool for economic development."

A bill that would establish formal structures for democratic workplaces is winding its way through the state legislature and the U.N. has named 2012 "the year of the cooperative."

The Bay Area, long home to the greatest concentration of co-ops in the nation, has become a testing ground for those hoping use an economic model once dismissed as utopian and separatist to build a path out of poverty.

A growing sector

Last Friday evening, six jobless Richmond residents met in a drafty church kitchen to test out the recipes they hope will soon become office favorites.

Carlos Rullier, 68, tossed a skillet of tempeh with great flourishes while two young women scooped out avocados and kept an eye on their sons.

The group has been working toward opening a food truck for months, collaborating with a co-op incubator and carpooling to business classes and cooking workshops.

Rullier has long dreamed of opening a restaurant and sees the co-op as a chance to do what he loves without having to find startup capital or take orders.

"I'm not very obedient," he said with a grin. "Here, we can all be on the same level."

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is promoting cooperatives as a tool to help plug the city's 17 percent unemployment rate.

She has been holding packed co-op study sessions, and this summer hired Arizmendi co-founder Terry Baird to help launch new enterprises.

"My charge is to try to get people employed," Baird said. "Especially people who have not been employed for a while."

Baird and other organizers draw inspiration from the success of the green housecleaning network Women's Action to Gain Economic Security, or WAGES.

This 16-year-old incubator has helped launch five worker-owned housecleaning businesses from Concord to Morgan Hill, which today employ 100 women.

As with most co-ops, after a six-month initial "probationary" period, employees begin to buy into the company through payroll deductions of $1 per hour (for a total of $400).

At the Oakland co-op, where Norma Sanchez works, members make about $14 an hour and receive an annual profit-sharing bonus.

A recent afternoon ¿found the co-op's finance committee members leaning around a table at their small Fruitvale Avenue office, talking in rising voices about what they might do when they become too old to clean.

Should they become accountants? Run similar collectives as administrators?

These meetings are a highlight for Anahi Rojas, who used to work 15-hour shifts at a panadería.

"I studied law in Mexico and I was so depressed when I got here," said Rojas, 24. "Now I use what I studied on the finance committee. I'm not just an immigrant anymore -- I'm doing something for this country, for this environment."

Chris Scheldt pays $150 each month to have Sanchez and Rojas scrub her seven-room Berkeley home. That's a little higher than the going rate, but Scheldt considers the service a bargain because it allows her a clean conscience.

"I don't have to worry about the workers having long-term health effects just from cleaning my house," she said, "and that means a lot to me."

Slow to develop

With economic development co-ops, the real barriers may lie not in finding customers but in building the organizing capacity.

"Starting a co-op is really hard and it's even harder to do with people who have limited education," said TeamWorks founder David Moore, who helped a group of San Jose gardeners launch an organic landscaping service this summer.

What's more, he said, these co-ops are generally limited to low-wage industries.

For some, fully democratic workplaces are simply too much work.

Kevin Rath founded Manos Home Care in 1989 as a not-for-profit business, but has opted not to invite his 200 employees to take over management.

"It has to do with what I call participation limits," Rath said. "We have a hard enough time making sure that people get to their CPR classes."

He shares profits and encourages worker feedback but acknowledges that his employees may be losing out on the intangibles that stem from co-owning a company.

For Sanchez, it's this sense of purpose that's made all the difference.

As a teen in Mexico City, she worked full time to help support her siblings. Now, with three children of her own, she says she feels confident in a way she never could before.

"I didn't have an education, but it's important to able to say I have something and it's mine," she said during a break from the finance committee meeting. "It's something to be proud of."

Contact Hannah Dreier at 510-262-2787. Follow her at
Find an economic development CO-OP
CONTRA COSTA Natural Home Cleaning Professionals (Concord), 510-532-6645, SPOKESHOP Bike Lounge (Richmond), 510-545-2243,
OAKLAND Manos Home Care, 510-336-2900, Mandela Foods Cooperative, 510-452-1133, Natural Home Cleaning Professionals, 510-532-6645,
SOUTH BAY TeamWorks Sustainable Landscape Maintenance (San Jose), 408-250-8619, Emma's Eco-Clean (Redwood City), 650-261-1788, Eco-Care Professional House Cleaning (Morgan Hill), 408-778-8445, TeamWorks House Cleaning (San Jose), 650-940-9773,

Monday, October 3, 2011

Can I Trust You Really?: The Reputation Currency

By Albert Cañigueral

During the Age of Separation we shielded ourselves from strangers by reducing all access to goods and services to money. No personal economic relationships are important because we can always "pay someone else to do it" wrote Charles Eisenstein in the book Sacred Economics.

In contrast, the Age of Reunion that we are entering is all about sharing: sharing with friends, sharing with coworkers, sharing with neighbors, sharing with complete strangers, sharing for free, sharing with a payment, etc. but sharing is not without its risks as the Airbnb incidents exposed. Can I trust you?

“For pretty much anything related to sharing resources, thinking through trust and reputation is a critical first step —particularly as it relates to user acquisition. If these companies don’t make their communities feel safe, they won’t have communities anymore.” -

Craig Shapiro, Collaborative Lab

"Reputation capital is becoming so important that it will act as a secondary currency, one that claims "you can trust me". It is shaping up as the cornerstone of the 21st-century economy […] It's the ancient power of word-of-mouth meeting the modern forces of the networked world." – Rachel Botsman

Read more here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Battered by Economic Crisis, Greeks Turn to Barter Networks

October 1, 2011
from the New York Times

VOLOS, Greece — The first time he bought eggs, milk and jam at an outdoor market using not euros but an informal barter currency, Theodoros Mavridis, an unemployed electrician, was thrilled.

“I felt liberated, I felt free for the first time,” Mr. Mavridis said in a recent interview at a cafe in this port city in central Greece. “I instinctively reached into my pocket, but there was no need to.”

Mr. Mavridis is a co-founder of a growing network here in Volos that uses a so-called Local Alternative Unit, or TEM in Greek, to exchange goods and services — language classes, baby-sitting, computer support, home-cooked meals — and to receive discounts at some local businesses.

Part alternative currency, part barter system, part open-air market, the Volos network has grown exponentially in the past year, from 50 to 400 members. It is one of several such groups cropping up around the country, as Greeks squeezed by large wage cuts, tax increases and growing fears about whether they will continue to use the euro have looked for creative ways to cope with a radically changing economic landscape.

“Ever since the crisis there’s been a boom in such networks all over Greece,” said George Stathakis, a professor of political economy and vice chancellor of the University of Crete. In spite of the large public sector in Greece, which employs one in five workers, the country’s social services often are not up to the task of helping people in need, he added. “There are so many huge gaps that have to be filled by new kinds of networks,” he said.

Even the government is taking notice. Last week, Parliament passed a law sponsored by the Labor Ministry to encourage the creation of “alternative forms of entrepreneurship and local development,” including networks based on an exchange of goods and services. The law for the first time fills in a regulatory gray area, giving such groups nonprofit status.

Here in Volos, the group’s founders are adamant that they work in parallel to the regular economy, inspired more by a need for solidarity in rough times than a political push for Greece to leave the euro zone and return to the drachma.

“We’re not revolutionaries or tax evaders,” said Maria Houpis, a retired teacher at a technical high school and one of the group’s six co-founders. “We accept things as they are.”

Still, she added, if Greece does take a turn for the worse and eventually does stop using the euro, networks like hers are prepared to step into the breach. “In an imaginary scenario — and I stress imaginary — we would be ready for it.”

The group’s concept is simple. People sign up online and get access to a database that is kind of like a members-only Craigslist. One unit of TEM is equal in value to one euro, and it can be used to exchange good and services. Members start their accounts with zero, and they accrue credit by offering goods and services. They can borrow up to 300 TEMs, but they are expected to repay the loan within a fixed period of time.

Members also receive books of vouchers of the alternative currency itself, which look like gift certificates and are printed with a special seal that makes it difficult to counterfeit. Those vouchers can be used like checks. Several businesspeople in Volos, including a veterinarian, an optician and a seamstress, accept the alternative currency in exchange for a discount on the price in euros.

A recent glimpse of the database revealed people offering guitar and English lessons, bookkeeping services, computer technical support, discounts at hairdressers and the use of their yards for parties. There is a system of ratings so that people can describe their experiences, in order to keep transparent quality control.

(The network uses open-source software and is hosted on a Dutch server,, which offers low hosting fees.)

The group also holds a monthly open-air market that is like a cross between a garage sale and a farmers’ market, where Mr. Mavridis used his TEM credit to buy the milk, eggs and jam. Those goods came from local farmers who are also involved in the project.

“We’re still at the beginning,” said Mr. Mavridis, who lost his job as an electrician at a factory last year. In the coming months, the group hopes to have a borrowed office space where people without computers can join the network more easily, he said.

For Ms. Houpis, the network has a psychological dimension. “The most exciting thing you feel when you start is this sense of contribution,” she said. “You have much more than your bank account says. You have your mind and your hands.”

As she bustled around her sewing table in her small shop in downtown Volos, Angeliki Ioanniti, 63, said she gave discounts for sewing to members of the network, and she has also exchanged clothing alterations for help with her computer. “Being a small city helps, because there’s trust,” she said.

In exchange for euros and alternative currency, she also sells olive oil, olives and homemade bergamot-scented soap prepared by her daughter, who lives in the countryside outside Volos.

In her family’s optical shop, Klita Dimitriadis, 64, offers discounts to customers using alternative currency, but she said the network had not really gained momentum yet or brought in much business. “It’s helpful, but now it doesn’t work very much because everybody is discounting,” she said.

In an e-mail, the mayor of Volos, Panos Skotiniotis, said the city was following the alternative currency network with interest and was generally supportive of local development initiatives. He added that the city was looking at other ways of navigating the economic situation, including by setting aside public land for a municipal urban farm where citizens could grow produce for their own use or to sell.

After years of rampant consumerism and easy credit, such nascent initiatives speak to the new mood in Greece, where imposed austerity has caused people to come together — not only to protest en masse, but also to help one another.

Similar initiatives have been cropping up elsewhere in Greece. In Patras, in the Peloponnese, a network called Ovolos, named after an ancient Greek means of currency, was founded in 2009 and includes a local exchange currency, a barter system and a so-called time bank, in which members swap services like medical care and language classes. The group has about 100 transactions a week, and volunteers monitor for illegal services, said Nikos Bogonikolos, the president and a founding member.

Greece has long had other exchange networks, particularly among farmers. Since 1995, a group called Peliti has collected, preserved and distributed seeds from local varietals to growers free, and since 2002 it has operated as an exchange network throughout the country.

Beyond exchanges, there are newer signs of cooperation from the ground up. When bus and subway workers in Athens went on strike two weeks ago, Athenians flooded Twitter looking for carpools, using an account founded in 2009 to raise awareness of transportation issues in Athens. The outpouring made headlines, as a sign of something unthinkable before the crisis hit.

With unemployment rising above 16 percent and the economy still shrinking, many Greeks are preparing for the worst. “Things will turn very bad in the next year,” said Mr. Stathakis, the political economics professor.

Christos Papaioannou, 37, who runs the Web site for the network in Volos, said, “We’re in an uncharted area,” and hopes the group expands. “There’s going to be a lot of change. Maybe it’s the beginning of the future.”

Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting from Volos and Athens.