Spanish institutions are in no shape to help struggling
Spaniards, so they're turning to alternative banks and ways of
exchanging goods to get by.
With Spain's crisis deepening, its citizens are not waiting for
its institutions and leaders to deliver a recovery. They are instead
turning to cooperative economic models: bartering, professional
exchanges, ethical banking, and crowdfunding efforts to hold
powerful institutions accountable.
Nurya Lafuente found her niche here. Back in 2008, armed with a
degree in social education and anthropology, she could find no work,
so she created an online company called Yo Voy (which translates to
Hundreds of people contact her and tell her what service they can
offer, and she connects them with people who need that service. She
charges an hourly wage for the time it takes her to make the
connection or to do the work herself - filing immigration papers,
paying a traffic fine, or organizing a party. "I don't know how to
do anything, but I know where to find everything," she says. "I'm
the middleman. I didn't intend it that way, but that's how it
happened. I specialize in making things work for others."
The quest for economic alternatives has picked up in recent
months. Neighbors are organizing online and on the ground to do what
banks and government institutions no longer can or are willing to
do. They are repopulating the countryside with communes; they are
moving savings from traditional national banks to home-grown
socially responsible entities; and they are connecting those in need
with those who can help. "We are witnessing a significant increase
in cooperative economy, alternatives to survive the crisis," says
Jaime Pastor, political science professor at Universidad Nacional de
Educacion a Distancia. "Spanish and European institutions and the
market in general fueled the idea that everyone could buy anything
with cheap credit. It created the illusion of popular capitalism and
a real estate bubble, and the crisis showed us it wasn't real."
Cash-strapped citizens are also turning to exchanges, rather than
the typical buy-and-sell process: a city apartment for a country
home, a car for a motorcycle, one toy for another, plumbing for
language courses, room and board for baby-sitting, cleaning for
senior care, and even repopulating deserted towns for a plot of land
to live on.
These alternatives represent only a minute segment of the
economy; and their impact, if there even is one, will only be felt
in the long term. But the fact that Spaniards are increasingly
seeking not to fix the system, but to work outside it, could
catalyze the kind of political and economic reforms that the country
needs. "Quantitatively it's very limited and reaches only a minority
of people, especially the unemployed, but they are reviving an
economy that had long been forgotten," Dr. Pastor says.
Talking through their bank deposits
Grass-roots activism is already forcing politicians into action.
Last month, the government was refusing to investigate the collapse
of Bankia, one of Spain's largest banks, despite being forced to
nationalize it and seek a European bailout of the financial system.
The public prosecutor announced an investigation only after the
15M movement, the Spanish version of the global "Occupy" movement,
raised more than EUR 20,000 (about $25,000) via crowdfunding to
launch a class action suit against Bankia and its former top