When I give a talk about my adventures, I almost always describe the obituary exercise that I did around 20 years ago that ultimately led to me quitting my job and, via an environmental epiphany, heading off to row across oceans. And often I get someone coming up to me afterwards, sometimes in tears, to say that they are living a life of quiet desperation and would love to be doing something more meaningful…. But they can’t see how to make it work financially.
At the same time, the statistics on employee disengagement are staggering. Around 85% of the world’s work force claims to be either not engaged or actively disengaged. When you run the figures, that is a staggering number of human hours spent watching the clock and waiting for the next pay cheque.
This seems a shame – that there is so much important work that needs to be done to make this a more just and sustainable world, and so many people willing and wanting to do that work, but the money issue gets in the way.
How to resolve this? How do we give people the resources that they need to live, while encouraging them to do work that genuinely makes the world a better place?
For a while I’ve been interested in the idea of a universal basic income, an idea that is gaining traction and being piloted in some countries. (See the Basic Income Earth Network for some good resources on this.)
And more recently, I’ve become increasingly aware of complementary currencies, which might help to break the deadlock described above. If you haven’t come across the idea of complementary or alternative currencies, this is an excellent article by Bernard Lietaer, who is best known for creating the Euro, but has also invented thousands of alternative currencies to promote particular values within a community.
Another example would be Dashboard.Earth, an app which rewards people with points for taking action on climate change. These points can be redeemed at participating businesses.
We tend to think that money is money is money, a hard fact of life. What I love about these alternative currencies is that they massively expand the potential power of currency. If you feel that our conventional capitalist system, which seeks to maximise profit, is the only option we have, think again. There are other systems, and other currencies, that seek to maximise social good. Dashboard.Earth shows how we can put a tradeable value on good environmental behaviour, but just imagine what it would be like if you could use a currency that rewarded caring for others, or contributing to your community, or actions that promote peace, or love, or compassion.
Ultimately, money is just a human-created tool, a story that we have all bought into in order to facilitate the exchange of goods and services. That story has served us well for many centuries, but is now creating some unintended and undesirable side-effects, especially impacting on our ecosystem.
Because we created the story, we can change it. More and more, we are recognising the value of diversity – on corporate boards, in government, of agricultural crops, of wildlife, and so on. Currency can become more diverse too, and given the power of incentives, has the capacity to powerfully transform human behaviour.
Money certainly does not make the world go round. But it does have the potential to make the world a better place.