The idea for an internet-based Community Exchange System arose in the 1990s, when a Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) operating in Johannesburg, South Africa, started failing. It was set up pre-internet so was manually operated. This meant that all the administrative tasks, including recording trades, compiling and sending out directories of offerings and wants, sending the members their statements, fell on the shoulders of a lone administrator. This soon led to administrative burnout and a decline in trade.

A group of monetary activists in Cape Town took up the idea and created the world’s first internet-based LETS group in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2003. This was called the Cape Town Talent Exchange, which evolved into the Community Exchange System (CES) when other groups asked to share the internet interface.

While recognising its LETS origins, CES has evolved the concept and taken community trading to another level. This makes it ‘beyond-LETS’ or ‘super-LETS’, though its users prefer to think of it as an evolved entity that is not LETS but a new type of exchange system in its own right.

CES is not just a mutual credit recording system like LETS. It promotes a wide range of exchange methods, including record keeping, time banking, organised bartering, swapping, gifting, sharing and any other modes of exchange that can be imagined.

CES is comprised of 1359 exchanges in 107 countries, making it the first global network of alternative exchange systems. While it is a global network, it is fully decentralised with each exchange operating independently of the others and having its own management team and rules of operation.

Community Exchange Systems Ltd is a not-for-profit company registered under Section 21 of the Companies Act of South Africa. For many years the CES was not formally constituted and in an effort to remedy the situation Community Exchange Systems Ltd was registered in October 2008. The reasons for registering the Company include:

  1. To provide a clearer method of decision-making.
  2. To provide a clearer method of incorporating existing and new exchanges into the CES community.
  3. To provide for the appointment of a Registrar to act as the chief administrative officer of the CES and as the link between the CES and individual exchanges. The Registrar also performs certain functions in terms of any charter or other agreement with individual exchanges that may be adopted.
  4. To provide for the involvement of a wider group of people as members of the new Company who will in turn be responsible for the election of directors and for approving major decisions.
  5. To provide for continuity in the absence of the original developers and administrators.
  6. To provide for the formal consent by the systems developer for the Company and individual exchanges to use the systems.
  7. To provide clear administrative procedures provided by the Companies Act in place of an unwieldy constitution.

The first directors of the company are Tim Jenkin, a co-founder of CES, chief programmer, administrator of the CES and Ashoka Fellow; Don Northcott, a founder member and early chairman of the Cape Town Talent Exchange (CTTE) – out of which the CES grew; Dawn Pilatowicz, top trader and membership administrator of the CTTE; and Ken Meek, a member of the CTTE from inception, a top-ten trader and legal advisor to the CES. There are a number of additional guarantor members, all active traders in the CES community. Although the management and membership of the CES is drawn largely from CTTE, it is the intention of the Company to widen its membership to include nominees from participating exchanges, and Administrators of CES exchanges are invited to nominate suitable and interested parties. The function of the members is to attend annual or special general meetings, approve reports and accounts, consider major proposals, appoint directors and uphold the ethos of the system in general. Although the distance will be a prohibiting factor for many, it is hoped that AGMs can coincide with CES congresses and be occasions for the exchanging of views and friendships at an international level. There are now hundreds of participating exchanges from all parts of the world with inter-exchange trading facilities via the CES. Not all nominees will be able to be Company members but we would like to spread membership as far as possible within the requirements of the Act.

This is exactly what the world needs, different ways of exchanging that are outside of the monetary system run by the 1%. It brings power back to the people, connects communities and focuses on people’s talents.
Natalie Nolte

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