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