Years ago, when I volunteered in rural Romania, the locals swapped and bartered their skills, tools and homemade produce with each other as they had been doing for many years. This way of co-operating was second nature to them, particularly in a cash-scarce culture which was the case for many back then.
Structured Skills Swap | Local £££s
Since then, I’ve come across the same idea but in a more structured format in the UK, some community-led, others facilitated by the local council and often with their own ‘currency’.
There are local LETs (Local Exchange Trading Systems or Schemes) which are local community-based mutual aid networks in which people exchange all kinds of goods and services with one another, without the need for money. Standalone projects also exist such as the Share Shed (A Library of Things) in Totnes, Devon. The project enables local people to borrow items at nominal cost so that they don’t have to buy them for themselves.
Another version of this is an ‘alternative currency’ which is used by local people and local businesses with the singular aim of strengthening the local economy and keeping locally created wealth to do just that – stay local! There are two successful cases of this – The Brixton Pound and The Totnes Pound.
The ultimate place to discover more about the latest sharing ventures across the globe has to be Shareable. Always worth popping over there if you’re looking for a dose of inspiration!
The skills swapping which happens in this way is very much part of strengthening communities at a very local level. Developing sustainable communities is often a key aspiration in any social impact plan. This made me curious about how these very same principles are built into the philanthropist’s approach at source; ie are they part of the philanthropist’s toolkit in terms of how the philanthropist always ‘does business’ in both the corporate as well as the social enterprise world?
Partnership & Collaboration - just business terms?
Partnership working and collaboration are the formal expressions used for this skill, expertise and resource sharing. However, these are the business terms and are they simply a mutually convenient way of working to progress one another’s goals? My feeling is that they make perfect sense as a way of working, however, I suspect that they arise for purely economic reasons, rather than a more heart-centred feeling of wanting to make a real and genuine difference in the world. This is probably the difference between the straightforward business and the social enterprise models (and the many variations that inhabit the spectrum between these two points).
I recently had a personal and unexpected skill swapping experience that is what prompted this conversation. I am an active member in several Virtual Assistant Groups on Facebook. In one of these, the Group Admin recently posted a thread inviting group members to ‘barter their skills’. This generous offer – with no price tag or sales motivation attached – triggered a hive of activity on the thread with 250+ responses! It empowered the group members to work together to find solutions to each of their individual business development challenges by pooling their skills and talents. It doubtless sparked lots of new connections in the process too!
Heart-centred, Organic Skill Swaps
I too proffered my skills – mentoring newbie virtual assistants (VAs) in exchange for an extra pair of virtual hands to help with my back office admin tasks. I’m mentoring two newbie VAs now and, as well as thoroughly enjoying the experience, hope to add value in exchange for some much-needed admin support. As if so often the case in these more heart-centred transactions, there are other unplanned spin offs that are genuine benefits. As well as admin support, the mentees and I are now in a (no fee paying) client – contractor relationship. As well as mentoring, the VAs are also navigating their first client relationship and can use this experience to hone their skills for when they sign up their first real client.
This is a shout out to all #philanthropists (new and established), social entrepreneurs and everyone creating a positive change in the world: do you integrate skill swapping into your culture? If you already do it, tell me more! If you’re not there yet, then let’s talk about how you plan to do it! Please share your experiences and inspire others. Thank you.