Digital Barter: Kindness without borders

An idea whose time has come again. The barter trade dates back to more than 6000 BC but today mode than 8000 years later, it has become part of what the pandemic-stricken world calls as New Normal.

Last March 15, 2020, Bacolod City was among the cities in the Philippines that was covered by the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Only selected individuals were given quarantine passes while the rest of the city, with a population of more than half a million, stays at home. This got me into thinking how the rest of us can get what we need without going through the long lines of in the grocery stores during limited hours. The pains of financial losses also started to seep in workers, who are mostly daily-wage earners lost opportunities of earning money.   

When lockdown restrictions happened, I knew I won’t be able to stay still and just watch the events unfold without doing anything. Every day, I find myself sitting in front of my computer taking stock of all the ideas inside my head, which we tag as innovation, and which I call as simply doing new things to get new results.

My mind was running fast as I regularly post on Facebook, share on Viber and WhatsApp groups about ideas that I discuss with startups and other innovators. Digital registration and payments for social amelioration program (SAP) beneficiaries to avoid queuing, mobile boticas especially for senior citizens, vegetable (utan) community kitchen instead of simply distributing sardines, contact tracing applications, eHealth solutions, farm to table solutions, and reviving the barter system.

The UN WHO COVID Response Badges

When I saw the United Nations COVID19 Response badges in April when I joibed the TalentHouse Design Contest – the orange badge caught my attention – #SpreadKindness. For weeks, I was depressed not being someone who’s in the frontlines. But I told myself, maybe – there is a way I can earn myself at least one badge. And I knew the easiest was #SpreadKindness.

One by one, I saw my ideas fusing with other startups who thought of the same ideas. Despite being in quarantine, I felt useful simply by just listening to these startups and providing them with advise and suggestions, and helping promote their applications. The whole quarantine period has made me busier than in normal times.

Of the ideas I have, I was able to start a page for laws and circulars called “Natty” in honor of Natividad Almeda-Lopez, the first woman lawyer in the Philippines. In a smaller scale, I and my husband who cooks “utan” quite well, started “Utan4All”, which as of today already shared “utan” for 28 days to poor communities. I acted as mentor to a startup project called booqbcd.com, an online medical consultation website which now has more than thirty volunteer doctors in Bacolod. Every day I create designs for my ideas and for various organizations.

On May 8, 2020, around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I finally felt exasperated about not even having the simple pleasure of choosing toiletries for myself and would simply list what I needed for my husband twice a week grocery trip.  Then it crossed my mind to personally start a group to revive the barter system – and called it BACOLOD BARTER COMMUNITY. I never had any name in my mind except that and never changed the group name to this day. Community is the important word for me. Humbly speaking, it never occured to me at that time that May 8, 2020 is going to be historic.

I invited around twenty friends and they also invited more. I posted my first item – an extra liquid eyeliner which I haven’t opened because I didn’t like the color.  When I went to check that night, a friend already offered to exchange vegetables and fruits for it. I cannot explain my happiness – that something that I don’t use now produced something I can actually enjoy.

The next day, it grew to a thousand, on its 27th day, the Bacolod Barter Community, now popularly know as BBC has more than 195,000 members.

A whole lechon in exchange for anything other than food, large orchid plants for a sack of rice to be given to a poor senior citizen, or a refrigerator for a COVID-19 testing center in exchange for a Red Cross pin, or a bowl of “aratiles for happy hormones” in exchange for a branded cologne. These are just some of the bartered items at BBC.

The pandemic has triggered a mode of exchange of good and services that existed some 6000 BC to surface again. The barter system which was started by the Mesopotamian tribes, Phoenicians and Babylonians some eight thousand years ago has now been resurrected with a more meaningful dimension, triggering the Filipino “Bayanihan” spirit of giving.

Just when the country’s economy faces a potential collapse, Bacolodnons started to show the world that money is not everything.  As councilor of Bacolod for nine years and an advocate for information and communications technology (ICT), I have always championed the use of social media for good. With thousands of Facebook followers and more the than fifty pages and groups that I manage of Facebook, I thought about starting a page where people can exchange goods without using money. Initially, I designed the group page only for women so we can exchange cosmetics and personal items.

In trade, barter is defined as system of exchange where participants in a transaction directly exchange goods or services for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money.

But this traditional activity has become more inspiring today since there is a need to create innovative solutions to the adverse effects of the quarantine.  I am particularly inspired to see members letting go of expensive bags, perfumes, and other personal items in exchange for sacks of rice, sardines, noodles, milk, used foams and blankets for poor families.

A second-hand Ford Ecosport, microwave ovens, industrial coffee makers, electric fans, television sets, sacks of rice and trays of eggs, orchids and large potted plants, garden soil, branded clothes, bags and perfumes, cakes and dishes, signature watches and shoes, cosmetics and toiletries, infant formula, baby cribs and toys, books and paintings, jewelries, guitars, chandeliers, and dog food are just some of the items being exchanged at the Bacolod Barter Community.

I am inspired to see people finding what they need from other members like seafood, a can of Spam or corned beef, large water containers, used bicycles, electric mixers, seedlings, art materials and even cravings for “aratiles”.  

The mechanics I set for the page was simple. Using my lawyer’s lens, I just had to seal the so-called “meeting of the minds” in contracts with two parties saying “deal”. The medium of exchange are items and no cash is allowed. Buying or selling is strictly prohibited. Members can post pictures of the item they want to barter with its details or description and estimated worth. Initially, members can also mention the things they want or are looking for in exchange for the items they posted. But now, we discourage this practice.

Then other members can comment in the thread, particularly to ask questions or to offer an item. The process continues until the owner of the item chooses from the thread. Once the choice has been made the barter is now deemed completed and both parties are asked to shout out “deal”.

Once exchange is completed, the members are requested to edit their post and indicate that the barter is completed, done, or closed.

Initially, the page encourages food, ingredients, edibles, beauty products or toiletries, but after a week, it has become a source of a variety of items. No harmful, unlawful, expired, indecent or unlicensed items are allowed, and members are immediately asked to report posts that violate rules or appear suspicious, illegal, or bearing any misrepresentation. Now the list is continously growing.

The parties then agree in the thread for the exchange or delivery arrangements. Members are encouraged to keep their contact numbers, delivery addresses and other personal information secure and discuss delivery arrangements in private messages.

Strictly no minors are allowed in the page. Each member shall be responsible as consenting adults dealing with one another in good faith. It is presumed that all the items being bartered are owned or can be rightfully disposed by the person bartering them off. Members are also required to fully disclose the correct class, grade, model, state, or quality of the items.

As part of the mechanics, I encourage the members to keep the page fun, dynamic, useful, and inspiring in this time of pandemic. Every day, we have challenges to keep the members engaged and aligned to the vision.

The first week of the community page drew so much attention that private and public sector leaders and citizens of other cities and municipalities in the Province of Negros Occidental started to permission to copy the format. Today, more than a a hundred cities and provinces around the country have already started their own barter community page.

A few days after I opened the Bacolod Barter Community, I also started Global Barter Communities so I can help other communities and we can share best practices. Here are some of the communities whose founders reached out and joined our best practices community. The list is actually growing each day. I am sure I am missing many cover photos in the gallery.

Manila Barter Community Founder Shumate Royo conceptualized the initail cover photo design and tagline: Commecting Communities Through Bartering.

Therea are also many other barter communities which chose to use their own cover photo designs as well as many other which reached out after they have established their ow Facebook groups.

We have a founders community group to serve as platform for sharing best practices. Here are excerpts of our barter manual:

VISION: The Global Barter Communities (GBC) envisions a world where kindness is without borders and humanity is define by the extend with which every race can help one another to survive the global impact of the pandemic and adopt to the “new normal”.  We stand in solidarity as different barter communities established by local stakeholders in common mission to promote barter as part of our way of life as Filipinos.

MISSION: We will strive to establish and redefine the traditional barter system as a new norm of helping one another and shall not in anyway promote commercialism and materialism but positive values such as generosity, determination, honesty, patience, integrity, gender sensitivity, equality and ecological awareness.  We commit to promote these values as the cornerstones of our respective barter communities.

CORE VALUE: Barter is exchanging goods and services based on the mutual and voluntary decision of two persons. It is not selling, for the good are not exchange based on price but value. It is not also donating for the good are not given without anything in exchange. It The price of the item or service is never equal but the happiness and feeling of satisfaction should be equal. We commit to encourage the members of our community to embrace these values.

Although money is the standard and most effective means of economic exchange, but these are not normal times and there is limited mobility of people, services and goods, and the lockdown restrictions affected many families, even those in the middle class. 

Economists since the times of Adam Smith, known as the Father of Modern Economy in the 1700s believe that pre-modern societies engaged in barter before using money as means to exchange goods and services. Eventually, due to the inefficiency of barter due to the “double coincidence of wants” or that both parties need to have what the other wants, the use of money came about.

Barter is said to have been replaced by the monetary system because there is no common measure of value in barter and certain goods are indivisible to serve as a unit of another good which is worth more than what the person wants to obtain. There also is a lack of standards for deferred payments, and difficulty in storing wealth, hence modern society found it impractical.

Today, modern barter and trade is said to have evolved considerably to become an effective method of increasing sales, conserving cash, moving inventory, and making use of excess production capacity for businesses around the world. Barter has taken on a new meaning amidst the pandemic. It has become a platform for people to find what they need and to let go of things that they do not need anymore. It helps the environment by making sure that things are used and not just wasted. It also allows members to raise resources using items so they can give out to communities in need.

The Digital Age have greatly boosted humanitarian advocacies today, allowing people to create more meaningful impact to their communities in the face of global crisis with the “Bayanihan” spirit. 

Because the pandemic has no borders, the coronavirus has claimed millions of lives around the world. But kindness, too has no borders. Let us #SpreadKindness to save millions of life.

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