By Soyini Driskell
For Karla Ballard Williams, capitalism isn’t a dirty word. In fact, woven into our market-driven economy may lie the next step in how we pursue lasting social impact.
“There’s nothing wrong with market-driven strategies for social change. By the way, that is capitalism!” said Williams. “We have to bring balance back into our economic system.”
Ying is an app for lending, sharing, and earning time through tasks and expertise; a few hours in one field can be traded for a few hours in another. An accountant can trade an hour of tax work for an hourlong music lesson or a stylist who banked two hours for a haircut can spend those same hours on a plumber, and so on – all paid in increments of time.
The sharing economy, time-banking, pre-currency trading, blockchain, volunteer work, and social impact are all things Ballard has studied for more than 20 years and is applying to Ying, her first attempt into making the modern-day barter system tangible – and profitable.
“Ying became an opportunity for us to take these colliding factors and variables in community and social impact that have been around for 30 years, and Venmo-ize it,” said Williams. “Ultimately, it’s a peer-to-peer skill-sharing platform that leverages time as your form of payment. You can use the currency of time to access services you need.”
The app is re-engineering the nature of a ‘transaction’ to become a person-to-person exchange built on services for one another, and building a larger community around the participants.
“One of our social hashtags is #tribeondemand,” says Williams. “We’re tapping into this beautiful resource of invisible skills that exist. Around our communities, there is under-tapped value that we make visible and accessible via the platform.”
Money isn’t part of the interaction, but a market mindset is part of the platform’s DNA, by Williams’ design. Her unique background in business, social impact strategies, and government work makes her the ideal person to streamline and roll out the digital evolution of time-sharing across the country. Her career has seen her, among other things, founding the state of Delaware’s first Urban League, being a United States Federal Communication’s Commission appointee on Diversity in a Digital Age, leading social impact strategies at Participant Media’s social action agency TAG, and rolling out the Affordable Care Act in the state of California, while amassing an impressive private sector resume in telecommunications, and client and portfolio development.
Williams is also a protégé of Edgar Cahn, the legal lion and public services advocate long considered to be the modern father of time-banking.
Through Ying, Williams believes the same tools we use to foster and measure economic growth on a national level can be leveraged locally, neighborhood by neighborhood, and on a person-to-person basis, instead of a person-to-product one. “Look at Visa. This was a system of people buying things or services on the card and Visa being the railway that measured those transactions. From a macro standpoint, they were measured even by our government, our GDP, to show us how well the economy was functioning through how much consumers were buying,” Williams explains.
Now, she’s charting a way to apply those principles to social change. “I want to bring innovation around the private sector and social impact.”
Ying has initially rolled out through partnerships with NGO’s, influencers, and a few select companies, but it has potential to transform communities- particularly underdeveloped ones- on a deeper, fiscal level. “There have been a lot of papers on this subject, about how social capital helps our economic system function. How it can get people out of poverty. There are so many beautiful benefits to social capital and, unfortunately, we are a country that has lost a lot of social capital in our society. I really believe that us starting to measure it and record these transactions will help build and perpetuate social capital.”
Williams is not anti-profit, bringing us back to that dirty word of ‘capitalism’. But how she defines ‘profit—unsurprisingly for an app with such a world-changing point of view—is anything but conventional.
“Of course we want profit. We want the profit of whole communities. We want the profit of whole families. With a lot of the non-profit strategies, to me, that’s all you’re going to get: no profits, no return. It’s important that we—leveraging technology to do so—create a model that allows for sustainability of the good we want to do in the world.”