Edgar Cahn

Ashoka Fellow
Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Fellow Since 2008


This profile was prepared when Edgar Cahn was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Edgar has developed a way to restore mutual care as a standard feature of the communities in which we live. He has created dynamic, self-sustaining social networks that promote trust, reciprocity, and citizen engagement. Edgar’s idea was inspired by earlier success with a model called Time Banking, which he developed in 1980 as a tax-exempt medium of exchange, earned by one person helping another. Programs based on this concept have since proliferated, but the model lacks financial sustainability. Edgar’s new idea, CareBanks™, is a social enterprise which provides an economic engine of support for community-based change agents and their constituents. Its mission is to rebuild the networks of caring and trust that hold communities together. CareBanks’ core values include: (1) Assets—every human being has something to contribute (2) Redefining work—some work is beyond price (3) Reciprocity—helping works better when the giver and recipient of assistance have equal standing (4) Social networks—communities are stronger than individuals (5) Respect—all voices must be heeded. With elder care a first priority, Edgar is transforming his successful concept of “banking” civic engagement to a citizen-based insurance program.

In this new type of insurance (or assurance) program, members pay dual monthly premiums in cash and service credits that ensure that they are covered when qualifying events occur (e.g., a hospital stay, caregiver illness, loss of loved ones, or recuperation from illness). In addition, CareBanks generates civic engagement, shifting from a deficit-based approach of service delivery to an asset-based one in which clients are “co-producers” in creating a reliable system of support for themselves and for their communities. With a focus on serving and engaging older adults, CareBanks needs and values those individuals who have been sidelined by age, health, or financial circumstances. Even the most isolated and vulnerable members can contribute, help others, receive help with dignity, and participate in building a strong, resilient community.

Time Banking (TBUSA) has spread worldwide, through and beyond the organization Edgar founded. He launched CareBanks under the aegis of TBUSA, maintaining the concept of promoting reciprocal volunteer efforts, but adding the capacity to assure that members will receive services when needed. Also, Edgar has designed a full-time paid position for a “client leader” who is responsible for recruiting, managing, and sustaining the program.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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