Thu., July 18, 2013 11:15am (EDT)

At Estonia's Bank Of Happiness, Kindness Is The Currency
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
Updated: 1 year ago

Juan Pablo Gonzalez, a science and math teacher, posted to the Bank of Happiness an offer to teach urban planting, including hydroponic techniques, from San Diego. He and his wife were inspired by the site and offered to help by translating it into Spanish.
Juan Pablo Gonzalez, a science and math teacher, posted to the Bank of Happiness an offer to teach urban planting, including hydroponic techniques, from San Diego. He and his wife were inspired by the site and offered to help by translating it into Spanish.
Estonia's capital, Tallinn, is considered one of the world's leading "smart" cities, where the government and businesses alike rely heavily on computer technology.

But one group in the Estonian capital is using the Internet for something completely different: an online forum that markets good deeds.

It's called the Bank of Happiness, but it doesn't involve money or credit. Founded five years ago in this Baltic city, it's a forum in which more than 2,000 civic-minded individuals from Estonia and other countries connect to offer or receive services free of charge.

The site carries more than 500 ads in English, German and Estonian from people offering or seeking all kinds of things, including tutoring, tips on baking and business, and even juggling lessons. The website is also translated into French and Spanish.

Founder Airi Kivi says the goal is to make people think and act with their hearts.

"I thought, 'We need something like this Bank of Happiness, where people can meet each other and do something cool,' " says the 39-year-old Kivi, who is a family therapist and clinical psychologist.

The fact that the Estonian economy was in shambles at the time 2008 didn't factor into her decision, Kivi says.

"But a little bit later, I thought, 'Wow, [the] Bank of Happiness is perfect for this economic crisis and a lot of people are unemployed and they can use our bank,' " she adds.

So how does it work? It's simple: You register using your real name and post what you are offering or what your need is, as long as it doesn't involve cash or products.

The site relies on members to report violators, of which there have been few, Kivi says.

As a masseuse, Tallinn resident Terge Reintem has one of the more popular postings on the bank. One of her clients is Kivi.

She pays Reintem with a "thank you." Kivi says a hug or box of chocolates is also acceptable tender as long as it's heartfelt and not mandated.

"This is something that is very important to us, that we don't have any exact credit or measures that you gave 10 times massage and now you have 10 points," the founder explains.

Reintem says that's fine with her. She says she signed up when she was unemployed because she needed to practice her skills.

She says she stayed on even after finding a new job because it feels good to volunteer.

"If I discover a new technique, I can practice them on my bank clients first," Reintem says, adding they are often nicer than the paying ones.

Member Veronika Davel says she was also unemployed when she joined. She unknowingly violated the rules with her first request when she asked for a product: a computer because the CD player on hers had broken.

Nevertheless, a bank member responded and gave her a used one. Davel says she later re-gifted it to a 13-year-old boy.

"Later, I didn't need it because my parents gave me a gift, and so I could make some child happy, because he wanted to have a computer to play games and he was thrilled to have a new computer," Davel says.

But she wanted to do more and began offering services of her own on the bank's website.

"The main thing I really could offer was English, to study English," Davel explains. "Also, a young girl who makes massages, she needed translation, needed to have better English for her job."

The site has many more offers of help than requests for it. That's as it should be, Kivi says, adding that the bigger reward comes from giving.


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