Written by Chris Parsons
This Valentine’s Day, mon amour, if you’re lucky enough to be in the right local shop at the right time and the moment comes to cough up what you owe, you might find yourself given the alternative of sealing the deal with a kiss or two…
But before you charge down to your friendly local retailer and invite the owner to pucker up in exchange for your savoy cabbage, please pause. You might get in trouble. This isn’t, in either sense, your standard smacker and nor is it the overly amorous Bristol Pound team inviting you to sign off using a couple of cheeky, digital Xs with your next purchase using the fabulous TXT2PAY system. This my friends, is Brazil.
And we all know they do things differently in Brazil, right? Great Britain loosened off its tie a tad and went without the starched collar during 2012’s summer of sport, but we’re all expecting something hotter, something sexier, from the Latin land of samba and capoiera at Rio in 2016.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that when the eastern coastal community of Vitória in Brazil set up their local currency à la Bristol Pound, they chose to name their new notes beijos – or kisses, to those of us still struggling with disc one of the Portuguese Linguaphone boxed set. Now that’s how to get people to take notice.
As it turns out, local currencies are all the rage in Brazil. The nation may be one of the fastest growing world economies but not everyone experiences that growth equally – more than 16 million citizens meet the UN’s criteria of living in extreme absolute poverty and in the favelas that ring Brazil’s big cities, some of those citizens are taking steps to control their own destinies.
There are now more than 50 community banks operating social currencies in Brazil under the principle of a solidarity economy that helps neighbourhoods to come together and keeps money local.
The granddaddy of these schemes is Banco Palmas, set up in 1998 to provide banking services to the suburban poor of Fortaleza, Brazil’s 5th largest city. Two years later and Brazil’s first social currency, palmas, was born, existing alongside the national currency just like Bristol Pounds do in the UK.
Small, interest free loans in palmas are offered to both local businesses and local people and, crucially, applicants aren’t confronted with a maze of red tape and piles of banking forms – they simply ask neighbours to vouch for their trustworthiness.
Banco Palmas hasn’t spent the last 15 years resting on its laurels either. Just as Bristol Pound has developed TXT2PAY, allowing users to instantly pay traders with a few clicks of a mobile phone, the Brazilian bank has developed the PalmaCard; essentially an interest free credit card that re-affirms the bank’s commitment to keeping money in the community.
So if you pop out to your favourite café today and watch the barista grind the beans for your espresso (Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee, after all), when you grab your phone to pay, just think that 5,000 miles away, those beans could have been helped on their way to you courtesy of a few kisses. And, this Valentine’s Day, as your eyes meet the barista’s over a romantic text transaction, who knows where that thought might take you…?
Chris Parsons was born in Southampton, now lives in Horfield and is studying for a Bsc in Environmental Studies. On days when he’s allowed outside, you’ll generally find him either riding his bike up and down Gloucester Road and hanging around outside Joe’s Bakery or Pearce’s Hardware – two fine, Bristol Pound-accepting, local establishments – or digging up his garden, thinking about the films he could be watching instead. Chris narrowly avoided going to school with Craig David and is bored of Lance Armstrong.