Community organizer and entrepreneur Karla Ballard envisions a world where social capital ranks highly alongside monetary capital.
It’s the basis of her company, Ying, a skills and tasks sharing platform for communities to take care of each other and share talents and time. Ballard said she grew up with a strong social network in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, and after a career in the public and private sectors, she began working on the platform in 2015 while living in Los Angeles, driven by the idea that others should have that, too.
Ballard’s background is in finance and banking, but her mentor and an originator of the concept of “time banking,” Edgar Cahn, had a planted a seed in her head about what capitalism could be.
“I am pro-capitalism, but I’m pro-expanding the definition of it. As a banker, it was important to understand the financial market, but also of understanding community capital and social capital,” she said. “We’re not really capturing with our GDP the true essence of what our society is made up of.”
So Ying was born as a platform for folks to share and receive help with everyday tasks like cooking, graphic design, dog walking, or simply picking up mail when you’re on vacation. A community — a neighborhood, apartment complex, school or other group — gets set up in the platform, and every member starts with 24 balance tokens, representative of how many hours each of us has in a day.
“There’s no, ‘What if they have a Harvard degree?’ — it doesn’t matter. This is community capital. There’s no more throwaway people,” Ballard said. “Your hour of humanity is not worth more.”
Users can pay others in their community with the tokens for tasks or skills shared, and receive them when offering their own skills. The platform will soon use blockchain technology for purchases, and will incorporate US dollar payments in upcoming months, Ballard said.
After developing Ying for a few years in LA, and working on a beta version with a group of about 1,500 people in 2017 and 2018, a family emergency brought Ballard home to Philadelphia in 2019. With support from the Knight Foundation, she partnered with Leonzo Vargas at GLBL VLLG, a community of creatives and artists in Philadelphia, and the pair imagined what Ying could look like in Philly.
“He really got me so in love with my city,” Ballard said. “It was one of those things like, ‘This was [meant] to be in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.'”
When the pandemic hit, and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis followed shortly after in May 2020, subsequent protests and organizing across the city reinforced to Ballard that Philadelphia was a good home for a community-building platform. Since the company’s inception, the founder said she’s raised $1.3 million and grown her team to seven people, most of whom live in Philly. The platform is up and running with some Philadelphia and DC users, two cities Ballard says have the type of community capacity needed for it to thrive.
A 3.0 version of the Ying platform is forthcoming in October, including Ying Alerts — work that can be picked up for traditional payment. A business might need help sweeping or cleaning, or a neighbor might need their sidewalk shoveled, Ballard said, similar to traditional gig work, or “like hyperlocal Fiverr.”
Ballard’s aim with the company is to help reinforce that communities have intrinsic value when they share resources and skills among themselves.
“Our person is mission driven. They care about something more than themselves,” Ballard said. “It’s someone that has the ability to care about their local community.”