Estonian entrepreneurs create ‘Bank of Happiness’

Bank of Happiness

As a way to combat the global economic crisis, a few young Estonians have created the Õnnepank, or “Bank of Happiness,” a new way to get people to help one another out through an online, free bartering system.

The Times of London explains:

To become a client, an Estonian must register online, listing the useful things that he can do for others (eg, grocery shopping, walking a dog, fixing cars) and those that he would like done unto him (eg, having a suit darned or windows cleaned). The “bank” — really an internet portal to allow the civic-minded across Estonia to network altruistically with each other — will formally open for business in May. Professor Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, calls it “a creative idea, worth following closely”.

When I first heard about this, I wasn’t really clear on the need for a website to provide something for free like this, but I suppose it makes sense. The Times continues:

The Bank of Happiness is not necessarily peddling reciprocation — a teenager might fetch a weekly shop for an elderly neighbour, even if the neighbour would be unable to do much in return. Instead, a stranger who has seen the good deed listed by the neighbour online will step in to help the teenager.

The bank is hoping to create virtuous arcs, rather than circles, of unadulterated altruism all over Estonia, with the feeling of goodness serving as its own reward. The helper also receives tangible evidence of his kindness: a “banknote” — printable from the bank’s website — offered by the grateful recipient in lieu of money, inscribed on the back with the date and nature of the deed. The note can then be passed on to another good Samaritan. And there is no system of equations to codify how one deed compares with another; the system will be self-regulatory.

Õnnepank’s founders are Tiina Urm and Rainer Nõlvak, the masterminds behind Estonia’s national cleanup day in 2008 — Teeme ära — where tens of thousands of volunteers gathered together all around Estonia to cleanup massive trash piles and to change people’s mentality of how to remember to keep the country clean.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this project — those Estonians come up with all kinds of awesomely wacky ideas!

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