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Alternative - Chiemgauer: A Currency for Waldorf Schools ?


by Christian Gelleri, Jaqui Dunne, Bernard Lietaer

This complementary currency experiment is already catching the attention of dozens of other communities around Europe and beyond. This is an application of the realization that: “Money is not a thing, although it appears as an object (paper, gold, silver, coins) Money is rather an agreement within a community to use something as a medium of exchange. Therefore, money resides in the same space as all social contracts, such as marriage, rental agreements, and political parties..”1 So why not create a money agreement that would be both consistent with Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy and supportive of the Steiner schools?


Nestled away in Germany’s high-tech and entrepreneurial region of Bavaria, in the bustling and prosperous area of Chiemgau, an experiment is underway that not only supports the local Waldorf school system, but also encourages patronage of local business. Six young women, all in their late teens and students at the Steiner school, have started an enterprise using a new kind of money.

This budding experiment is already catching the attention of dozens of other communities around Europe and beyond.

Chiemgau’s local retailers, as is typical in cities and towns around the globe, are feeling the pressure of the current economic downturn. There is also the classic competition scenario between the older traditional shops offering local regional products or higher quality goods and the fare being offered by the large retail chains. Local retailers are naturally finding it difficult to vie with the big, national and international merchants on price, and are loosing critical market share, with some being forced out of business altogether.

So, inspired by their economics teacher, 30-year-old Christian Gelleri, these six young women created a money system that not(?) encourages the users to shop locally, it has a built-in mechanism that makes it possible to financially support charities and good causes of choice, such as the local Waldorf school system.

This is an application of the realization that: “Money is not a thing, although it appears as an object (paper, gold, silver, coins) Money is rather an agreement within a community to use something as a medium of exchange. Therefore, money resides in the same space as all social contracts, such as marriage, rental agreements, and political parties..”[1]

So why not create a money agreement that would be both consistent with Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy and supportive of the Steiner schools?

How the Chiemgauer Works
Those wishing to participate in the Chiemgauer purchase 100 Chiemgauer for 100 Euros. This local currency is used to pay goods and services in participating stores. The tally at the end of the day’s business is that 95 percent remains with the business, three percent goes to the non-profit (e. g. for the new building of the Waldorf school in Chiemgau) and two percent remaining goes to the Chiemgauer currency administration to cover overhead.

There is an additional feature to the Chiemgaurer currency that differentiates it from conventional currency. The Chiemgauer is time-stamped and a “parking charge” for not circulating the money is applied. This gives an incentive to the user to spend the local currency, rather than hoard or save it. This feature ensures that the currency is kept in circulation, which in turn is good for business in particular and for the region in general.

Rudolf Steiner talked about the concept of “aging money” in Basic Issues of the Social Question, (p. 119 writes): “In order to prevent money that money remains idle, a new issue could take place from time to time. One result of such measures is that the interest derived from capital would diminish in the course of time.”

The idea of “aging money” or time- stamped money is in fact thousands of years old. There were several periods throughout history – including Dynastic Egypt and the Central Middle Ages in Northern Europe - were demurrage (negative interest money) or aging money was used.. Contrary to popular misconception these societies enjoyed great economic vitality as is evidenced by the building of the great pyramids and the major cathedrals. In particular, it was the common folk, and not the Church, during the 10th-12th centuries who had extra discretionary funds as a result of the their money system and were able to finance these great public works.

Many centuries later, Steiner didn’t only want efficiency in the exchange of goods and services, he also pointed out that we needed a more holistic view of money. Consequently, giving would be the key for spiritual and social innovation, especially for educational institutions, and others that do good work in society that need support. The Chiemauer fits Steiner’s aspiration.

The idea of a complementary currency system has been germinating for many years, motivated by the examples of the WIR, in Switzerland, and the Bethel –Euro system in Germany currently in operation, and the famous and successful Worgl experiment in Austria during the 1930’s that was forbidden by Austrian authorities 1933 (district administration of Kufstein and reconfirmed of the surpreme administration court).

But the six students were the ones who said: Why do adults talk and think for so long? The idea sounds good. Let's do it!

Girl Power
Each of the young women has different talents and it's very interesting that after a year I would say: the function they chose fit perfectly to their background, skill sets and interests ”.

Mirjam, 17-years-old is the chief and coordinates the other workers in the association. Her parents are just as interested in social issues as she is. Although introverted, she is the one who first really grasped the idea of the local currency. Anna, another 16-year-old, is the designer of the vouchers. Her father is an artist, and her mother is teacher. She really enjoys art and has a very refined sense for graphics. She designed the logo and often paints a big logos and signage for the system and its merchants with great artistic flair. Cathrin (16) writes all the marketing materials. Her mother is an artist and her father is professor of Engineering. The PR is done by Charlotte (16) and Christian. Charlotte is very self-confident and moderation for our first regional money conference to launch the system. She is the youngest in the team and the most extroverted. Her father is a doctor; her mother is active in the local PTA’s.

Theresa (17) is responsible for the production of vouchers and collateral materials for the organization. She works very hard and puts in extra hours if necessary. She contributed two drawings for the backside of Chiemgaur vouchers. She also works in a solar energy power project at school. With her teacher Herbert Langmann they succeeded in building a solar facility on the roof of the school building and in the next phase with the Mayor’s support, they plan to expand this to become the biggest solar roof in town. Her parents are farmers. And finally, Franziska (17) takes care of the books. She's very accurate and is very thrifty with the association’s recourses. Her father works for a big telecommunication company and is also engaged in the development stage of the project.

So, it was the girls’ job, for the most part, to sell the project to the local merchants. And, who better than the pupils at the local schoolwho would be beneficiaries of the social venture funding segment of the scheme?

Launching the Chiemgauer
The biggest start-up effort was to convince the businesses to participate. We would hear questions like: Why should we give five per cent of our turnover? Why should we accept money that is “only” valid in the region and has a demurrage fee? In the early days some speculated that no one would participate.

It took also a long time to think about the security features of the coupons, which is an important factor in getting the confidence of both the merchants and participants to use the system. That is why the printing standards for the coupons are very high so forgery is difficult, if not, possible. Also, in light of this and coupled with the fact that most people know one another, counterfeiting is unthinkable. There is also a club card, which identifies the members of the association. Everybody who wants to take part must sign the rules of the new money. There is no membership fee. Additionally, there is no ‘Big Brother’ tracking mechanism, so nobody knows when, what or how much the participants buy with their Chiemgauers.

After two months of conversations and follow-up phone calls about 35 companies were willing to take part. The system was officially launched in January 2003.

The customers can buy nearly everything with their complementary currency. Food, clothes, medicine, furniture, services. A customer reports about his experiences with the Chiemgauer: “In the beginning I was skeptical if it would function. Will my Chiemgauers be accepted? The second time it was still a bit embarrassing but the third time I was sure and it makes a lot of fun to spend the Chiemgauers. When I took them out of my pocket other customers often look surprised and ask. I always said that it’s function would be to support our school. Recently a tourist from Berlin explained me that the Chiemgauer would further regional circles. Very foxy!”

The model is very successful:

After 100 days the “Chiemgauer club” has 100 members.
10.000 Chiemgauers were issued.
70 businesses now accept Chiemgauer.
There are at least one new business and two new customers every week.
There are also limits. Wholesalers only accept Chiemgauer in small amounts at this point because the system is not fully computerized and the electronic transfer of Chiemgauer is not yet an option. Unfortunately, at this time, the students are not able to program new software. However, there is much support for the project and it is hoped that transaction software will be available by the end of the year. It is also hoped that they can partner will a community-friendly bank in the region so this system can be equipped with dual currency readers for participating merchants and vendors.

The organization plans to hire three more students to cope the workload. Of course the 1,000 Euros (US$1100) made in the first couple of months of operation isn’t enough to pay for more teachers or build a new school yet. But these are still very early days, and it is clearly a good start.

Furthermore, the money is only one of the relevant dimensions. All the members report that by using their Chiemgauers they have a stronger feeling of belonging to the local community, and of contributing to its socio-economic well-being.

Because of the success of the Chiemgauer and the solar project this new form of teaching is taken more seriously in the school – learning by doing. Everybody knows about the projects and the people who are involved have gained valuable life lessons. The students and teachers have learned to create a vision and take action, step-by-step in making it a reality.

The Bigger Picture
The Chiemgauer is in fact only one example of a whole worldwide movement towards complementary currencies with socially motivations.

The following graph gives an idea of this phenomenon.

There is a wide variety of social purposes pursued with such systems: from resolving local unemployment to elderly care, from mentoring kids to resolving environmental problems.[2] What they all have in common is to be able to operate in parallel with the conventional money system, and in being able to match otherwise unmet needs with unused resources.

What is different about the Chiemgauer is that it also generates a cash flow in conventional money that can be used for specific targeted purposes, in this case the local Steiner School. It is also one of the few systems that has formally the “parking fee” for money incorporated. Finally, this is a currency that has incorporated at its core a gift dimension, exactly as Rudolf Steiner and the anthroposophical movement has always claimed.

Relevance for Waldorf Schools?
The vast majority of the Waldorf schools, like most educational institutions, are permanently looking for additional funding. The Chiemgauer model, although not a panacea, can clearly help in this domain. Furthermore, it is a practical application in the real world of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy, an additional teaching tool for both students and faculty, and a way to make more visible the Waldorf School network in circles that may otherwise not hear about it.

It would even be possible for the different local systems to interconnect on a broader level, nationally or even internationally, and special clearing house software is currently in beta test to become available in open source freeware to any group interested in using it.

If other schools are interested in applying the Chiemgauer model, information packages, software and advice on how to implement such a system, or even on how to design another one specifically for your own area and needs will be available through the ACCESS Foundation.

[1] B. Lietaer Access to Money beyond Greed and Scarcity (Access Foundation, October 2003).

[2] A full inventory is provided in a new book : B. Lietaer and S. Belgin: Access to money without greed and scarcity. (Access Foundation: October 2003).

Source: Open Economy

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