Living Economies Expo 2017

Around 120 people from around the country came together in Lyttelton in late March to listen to twelve national and international speakers, make connections with like-minded people across the country and to see, in action, what Project Lyttelton is achieving. They were learning about living economies.

Living Economies, their website says, is a New Zealand educational network promoting systems of exchange that foster community wellbeing. “We aim to strengthen and help sustain regional economies by promoting interest-free means of exchange - currencies based on and respecting the living systems of our planet - to complement money in local communities.”

Margaret Jefferies from Project Lyttelton, who was one of the organisers, says that “living economies, to me, is about creating a local economy and community that is able to thrive - and the environment that it is in is able to thrive - so that all our needs are met. That includes both our social and emotional needs. Things are done locally. All over New Zealand there are people promoting this idea of local economies and looking at our systems. They all see the main dysfunction - the money thread that goes through all the different layers of our society. It is the money system that is causing the chaos and that needs to change as soon as possible. It is about creating real wealth, and real wealth is not just money - it is happiness, meaning, connection, and the continuation of our environment so our children and grandchildren can still have what we have.”

The conversations at the Expo were all about what is good globally, and what needs to be done to work locally so we can create something new, that breaks with the old paradigm.

The international speakers included Stephanie Rearick, from Madison Wisconsin in the USA, who is the founder and former co-director of the Dane County TimeBank - a 2800 plus member TimeBank devoted to building a just and inclusive economy. They are also working with youth at risk: Young offenders are given the opportunity to be heard by a jury of trained peers, and then they have a chance to say what it is that they would really like to be. Whatever it is there is nearly always a member of the TimeBank who can offer to teach the skill. The young person is supported by their community. 

Two other international speakers set the ‘big picture’. Gar Alperovitz is a US historian, political economist, activist, writer, government official and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative and co-chair of the Next System Project. His address set the scene for how systems could be changed at the local level. In the same vein, Nafeez Ahmed, an (amongst other things) award winning investigative journalist who tracks the ‘war on terror’ in the context of what he calls the ‘crisis of civilization’, sees opportunity in the face of crisis. And the opportunity is local.

New Zealand speakers included Niki Harre, Associate Professor of Psychology whose recent research has focused on sustainable communities and positive youth development, and Deidre Kent, on the need to address all the negative indicators as a single system, and how this can be done only at a local level. Unfortunately the weather that weekend delayed Tamati Kruger, a Tuhoe social and political analyst who has dedicated his career to the development of his iwi.

There were many other excellent speakers: you can listen to them all at

Phil Stevens from Ashhurst, another of the Expo organisers, said he particularly enjoyed the opportunity to experience some of Project Lyttelton’s sustainable community initiatives. The kai (which was exceptional) was provided through the TimeBank, or via a voucher to be spent at the local Farmers’ Market. Participants met with social enterprise initiatives including one producing compositing toilets for use in an emergency, and a start-up doing low cost modular housing. “It was much more than flying into a city and listening to speakers,” says Phil. “The ability to see close-up things happening, and interact with the community was an important part of the whole event.”

There are living economy initiatives all over New Zealand - in pockets in places like Wellington, Whakatane, Carterton, Raglan, Invercargill, Auckland, Ashhurst… and of course Lyttelton and other parts of Christchurch. “You start work locally,” says Margaret, “then start looking at the areas around you. Mayor Dalziel always brings up what Project Lyttelton is achieving. In Lyttelton we are fortunate, it is in a basin, with contained edges.”

As a result of the Expo a new network is being established. Living Economies has been more of a board - the need now is for an on-the-ground network. It is called MANA - the Mutual Aid Network Aotearoa. Phil Stevens says that this will provide groups working to foster a local economy and the connectedness of people in their community with a way of learning from and keeping in touch with others.