Time banks bear the potential to play a major role in social services

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Beijing Review, December 28, 2020
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Volunteers and residents in a community of Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region make dumplings together on December 18 to welcome the Winter Solstice. [Photo/Xinhua]

The number of people over the age of 60 in China is set to surpass 300 million during China's 14th Five-Year-Plan period (2021-25), according to a recent release by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. This indicates that China will fall into the category of a moderately aging society. 

As the society ages, people are paying more attention to elderly care. Time banks are among the emerging care models that are gaining traction.  

A time bank is a reciprocity-based work trading system under which people can deposit hours of volunteer work into their personal account in the time bank system, which they can subsequently withdraw to obtain other individuals' services when in need. They can also use the credits to redeem certain physical items. 

In December 2020, Liuduhe Village in suburban Beijing opened its very first village-level time bank service station to the public. Reciprocal services aside, volunteers can also use the credits they earn to redeem tangible items like a hearty meal at the local canteen for senior citizens. 

According to Ma Naichi, Secretary General of the Beijing Elderly Volunteer Association, the time bank in this village possesses several distinct rural features, as volunteers can, for example, assist senior villagers in their farming."The time bank system will not only facilitate elderly care, but also play a big role in community management and poverty alleviation," Cai Jun, founder of Fanglin TimeBank, a technology company that builds time bank systems based in Wuhan, Hubei Province in central China, told Beijing Review. 

"The system is based on people-to-people interaction. It has a human touch, rather than just being money-based," Cai said.   

China eradicated absolute poverty ahead of the December 2020 deadline, but this does not negate the fact that relative poverty will still exist for quite some time to come. Cai said the time bank system can be an incentive for people, especially low-income people to help each other.  

However, the time bank model faces a few challenges. The time cycle for redeeming credits can be exceptionally long, discouraging people from volunteering in the first place. Additionally, various programs are at risk of failing halfway through, resulting in the waste of hours accumulated earlier. "Time bank programs need to be run by a group of people who really believe in the system and can stick to it," Cai said. 

Moreover, a reliable system is important for keeping track of service hours and ensuring the smooth operation of time banks. Fanglin developed an application using blockchain technology to make data in time banks more secure. 

The application has been adopted by more than 20 organizations nationwide. In January 2021, the company will launch a free version of the application, open to all organizations. "This is our way of shouldering the enterprise's social responsibility," Cai concluded. 

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