Time Bank: A New Way to Volunteer and Connect with Others

No matter how vast the world may be, through a “temporal repository,” we can unite individuals from every corner of the globe. At first glance, can you not suppress your inquisitiveness: is it conceivable to access time? What kind of establishment is this? How might one utilize it?

The so-called “temporal repository” denotes the act of accumulating time during one’s youth and reaping the benefits during old age. For instance, volunteers deposit their time in serving the elderly into a temporal repository, and upon reaching the age of 60, they can exchange these accrued hours for equivalent services or various commodities.

This novel concept has emerged within the realm of volunteerism. The inaugural temporal repository, in its modern sense, was founded in 1973 by Teruko Mizushima of Japan. Back in the 1940s, she envisioned the predicament of an aging society and proposed a method whereby participants could acquire time credits by serving others. These credits could then be employed to obtain services from others.

Subsequently, this notion gained traction in Japan and the United States. Presently, over 1,000 temporal repositories have been established in more than 30 countries worldwide. In the 1990s, the concept of temporal repositories was introduced to China. Over the course of 30 years, Time Bank underwent a process of localization, embracing preliminary explorations and trials of version 1.0 and version 2.0 in urban communities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan.

Upon the establishment of the first temporal repository, many volunteers were retired individuals who played a pivotal role in elderly care. However, numerous cities stagnated at version 1.0. Due to resource constraints, they solely developed a management system for the temporal repository or a volunteer card equipped with a real-name IC chip. The volunteer card serves the dual purpose of time-saving and recording, meticulously documenting the duration of volunteer services. After several years of pilot projects, cities like Shenzhen and Beijing swiftly launched version 2.0, predicated upon the “acquaintance community,” which took the form of a temporal repository passbook. Its advantage lies in the endeavor to convert volunteers’ service hours into tangible assets. The range of consumer offerings includes the Happy Old Canteen, the People’s Contradictions Clinic, a 15-hour butler, and even benefits such as visits, studies, and travel.

To date, certain locales have upgraded their temporal repositories to version 3.0. For instance, the Jinyang Garden Community in Zhonglou District, Jiangsu Province, has embraced blockchain technology and consecutively launched the Time Bank’s WeChat official account and Time Coin. They have integrated a “temporal repository” information processing function into the WeChat platform. Community-based philanthropic activities and residents’ needs can be posted on the platform, enabling volunteers to directly claim them. This fosters enhanced convenience for the development and interconnection of various “Time Bank” public welfare initiatives. Furthermore, a local volunteer can seamlessly transfer the records stored in the temporal repository to themselves or their family in another location, facilitating the effortless transfer and withdrawal of temporal repository assets to different regions.

Leiber is a beneficiary of version 3.0. Each individual possesses multiple identities, such as father, mother, son, or lover, and Leiber is no exception. He is a spirited colonel, akin to a flickering flame, the son of a widowed elder, and the father of a troublesome student. He confided in me that he undertakes various tasks on a daily basis, encompassing but not limited to fetching medicine, accompanying the elderly outdoors for sunbathing, assisting them with grocery shopping, aiding foreigners in learning Chinese, transferring photos from a mirrorless camera to his mobile phone, and sharing them with friends on social media platforms. Additionally, he diligently tidies up the living space. Upon accomplishing these tasks, he meticulously logs each hour, thus amassing 10 points for each endeavor.

Leiber also revealed that his account currently holds 1,382 points. These points have surpassed the minimum threshold of 50 points required for redemption and can be exchanged for physical goods and services. On his previous occasion, he redeemed services for ear cleaning and a haircut, deducting 30 points from his passbook. Occasionally, he treats his family to visits to scenic destinations, which also incur point deductions.

“I initially engaged in this initiative out of sheer curiosity, but gradually, I became fully invested. The process of accompanying them has bestowed upon me a sense of empowerment and warmth. It is an enjoyable experience that cultivates a network of relationships that transcends monetary considerations,” Leiber stated. “They acquire what they require, and I obtain what I need. Rather than pursuing material gain, I find fulfillment in this line of work, nurturing a profound sense of benevolence within my heart.”

Numerous individuals are actively participating in Time Bank’s volunteer programs. The narratives surrounding these individuals are often encapsulated in a few words, understated yet concealingthe immense efforts and dedication of both individuals and families. It necessitates numerous home visits and comprises countless moments of overcoming fears and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Therefore, it is imperative to amplify and fortify this volunteer service. However, for its sustained operation, a solid credit system is indispensable. Gaining the trust of all participants and ensuring long-term viability are of utmost importance.

It is my hope that the near future will witness the introduction of more legislation, complemented by the auspices of an insurance system and bolstered by the veneration of a civilized ethos. Gradually, we can foster an atmosphere where the younger generation assists the elderly, and each generation supports the next, thereby augmenting the value of compassion and engendering happiness and contentment among the elderly, ultimately imbuing society with a greater sense of warmth.