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Global Quest For Local LETS
Copyright � James Taris

20. Noppes LETS - 1,000 members and growing! (Amsterdam)

With the Gurus of LETS in Holland (left to right) ... Bert, Phillip, Et and Gottfried.

So I exaggerated just a little. It's actually 950 members. But the energy in that group is just amazing. Up until I arrived in Amsterdam, my contact was with groups of a much smaller size, ranging from 'just a handful' to around 200 members.

So why has Noppes LETS grown so much, while LETS groups in the rest of the Europe seem to average about 100 members?

To explain, I'll have to give you a little background history �

The Strohalm Organisation introduced LETS into Holland about 9 years ago, and very soon there were about 100 LETS groups operating around the country. Noppes, being well placed in central Amsterdam, was able to grow very rapidly, building its membership up to about 200 in its first year. Then in 1996-7, after seeing how well LETS had established itself, LETS became very newsworthy, causing them to get major media exposure. The result of that exposure grew the membership in Noppes to a peak of 1,100 members in 2000-1.

The system is quite advanced, with a regular full-sized newspaper (2 colour print) being produced, with half the pages featuring trade advertisements. They also print and circulate paper currency in units of 1, 2, 5 and 10 LETS points (equivalent to euro values). This eliminates the need for much administrative record keeping where very small transactions take place. In fact, there'll soon be a 0.5 note (50c) put in circulation as well, which will cater for the cost of very small transactions such as a cup of coffee or a cake.

By anyone's standards, membership turnover may seem to be very high in Noppes, with 300 members leaving every year. But these members are quickly replaced with another 300 new members, so keeping the totals fairly constant. And the reason for such turnover is that most members see Noppes as a social club. That's also the reason why most of the members don't trade! And changing this attitude is one of the challenges faced by Noppes LETS.

My meeting with the Gurus of LETS in Holland (see profiles at end of article), was to see how I could help them grow back to (or even surpass) their former glory. So rather than make my usual LETS Presentation as I'd done in each other country I'd visited, this meeting was more of a Question and Answer Session with some Brainstorming thrown in for good measure.

Top priority was placed on how to make food available to members through LETS.

Edwin got up to the whiteboard and shared his thoughts on how he'd like to get local farmers involved with LETS to make this possible. It was a well presented idea which involved part cash and part LETS points.

This then jogged my memory and I shared my knowledge of a LETS food co-operative which had operated using purchases from a bulk food store (wholesaler).

The meeting came to an end 3 hours later, after everyone seemed to have shared and absorbed as much as they could.

Then it was off to the pub for a drink. My policy is to always drink the local beer wherever I am. So it was surprising that there wasn't any Amstel or Heinekken beer on the premises. But there was another Dutch beer called Westmalle (or Bier Tripel) at 9.5% proof!

Cheers! (hic.)

James Taris

Profiles of the Gurus of LETS in Holland �

Nico - one of the 2 board members of Noppes (my LETS host while in Amsterdam, but absent from the meeting)

Phillip - the other half of the 2 board members of Noppes

Bert - Chairman of LETSLAND which he co-founded in 2000. LETSLAND was formed to support the 120 LETS groups currently operating in Holland today. Part of its role is to organize National LETS Conventions. The first of these will be taking place this month, both in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. He's also started a LETS system in his own home town.

Edwin - Treasurer of LETSLAND, and part-time thinker. He was motivated and inspired to get involved in LETS to make a formal connection with the economy. Specifically: economic justice, respect for the poor, and creating opportunities at an individual level.

Gottfreid - Representing Second Amsterdam Skills Bank (or Service Bank). Member of the board for 2 years. The Skills Bank had its humble beginnings 16 years ago when a Single Mothers Interchange System and a Neighbourhood Community Centre joined forces. After a hit-and-miss type of approach, it was eventually decided to restrict membership only to people who could (and would) provide reliable and quality services. Basically it was a firm message of 'shape up or ship out'. This approach has seen renewed confidence in the system which was being threatened by poor quality and unreliable services. The Skills Bank has an official membership of 190. But there are many ex-members still trading with current group members.

Et - Noppes council member and office staff. Joined Noppes in 1998. Goal is to design a more efficient computer system for the Noppes office.

This article is taken from the ebook,
Global Quest for Local LETS

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