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Estland: Bank of Happiness

VPRO Digitaal ,

Recession was in full effect in Estonia in the spring of 2009. On the way to the abyss. The real-estate bubble had just burst. The army of the unemployed grew each day. The Estonians, newcomers to the capitalist world, were suddenly in a situation where tempting facades came crushing down and many families found they had lost everything that had seemed so certain before. Profit-greedy banks had irresponsibly boosted the lending boom, therefore a large number of Estonians had lost all self-criticism and borrowed over their heads. The government made budget cuts and money melted like snow in the spring in all fields. As always, the people who were already close to the poverty line suffered the most. From now on their future lives were determined by the banks' merciless loan programs that even death cannot help with. The air was thick with desperation and rage.

In this situation, a group of activists who had had enough of the money-centered society came together. They founded a new bank in Estonia. The Bank of Happiness.

The people who joined the Bank of Happiness group felt that there is a gap in the society between human care and economic well-being. They are convinced that people have an innate desire to help others. And that there are people who need help in solving their everyday practical questions, but they do not know whom to turn to for help. Hence the idea to bring these two parties together.

In the autumn of 2009 the bank of happiness, born from the idea of a group of volunteers, regular people, was finally ready to start. The goal of the Bank of Happiness is to promote non-monetary values in order to help fellow citizens return to humane values. The precondition for the functioning of the bank of happiness are real needers of help and helpers or benefactors, people from amongst us.

Instead of the usual money, the functioning of the Bank of Happiness is based on a Good Deed.  Each good deed is a good deed and each good deed is worth one Token of Gratitude.

The Bank of Happiness is a place for exchanging good deeds. The goal is to encourage people to think and act from their hearts. The Bank of Happiness is an initiative that should change the general way of thinking in the society.

The idea of the Bank of Happiness has been so inspiring that people join in every day to help implement the idea. And it is no one's personal ambition or business project.

The voluntariness-based Bank of Happiness is run by the core of 7 people. But the main "engines" are two young women Airi Kivi and Birgit Tolmann. A psychologist and a public relations manager. For the time being, they work completely for free. For the last six months already, actually. Both of them are single mothers who were victims of the lending boom, but have come out of it much wiser. Basically, they want to remind the society that there are other phenomena besides money that society may be based on.

The practical functioning of the bank is an IT-solution that helps the Bank of Happiness to find its clients on the web and bring them together. The receivers of help give tokens of gratitude instead of money to their helpers for their good deeds. The bankers of happiness hope to negotiate with the major banks of Estonia so that the tokens of gratitude would be seen on people's bank accounts.

They dream that some day there will be an international Bank of Happiness - World Bank Of Happiness.

To the present moment, 5000 people have joined the Bank of Happiness. A lot of work lies ahead. It is extremely hard for the pragmatic Estonians convinced in the capitalist economy model and the power of money to believe in the power of a good deed.

I am interested in the inner organization of the Bank of Happiness. How the two parties are brought together. The giver and the receiver of help. And who are the people that use the bank of happiness actively.

We legden verslaggevers van Metropolis vragen voor over de economische crisis, woede en verzet. In Estland richtten twee vrouwen de Bank of Happiness op, met Goede Daden als valuta.