Joy of Learning 1 - The Auroville Economy

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Event details

The Auroville Economy - Are we different?
Session 1 of the Joy of Learning Series

When: Tuesday, September 2, 2014, 4:30 – 6:00

Where: SAIIER conference room

Offered by: Auroville Campus Initiative

Contact: edu@auroville.org.in

Documentation

Audio recording

Recording by Auroville Radio: "The Auroville Economy"

Summary and abbreviated transcript

Introduction

0:00:00 – Michael welcomed attendees, introduced the Auroville Campus Initiative and described the Joy of Learning series.

The Auroville Campus Initiative is an answer to the need for a common platform to share our knowledge and increase it. “Do we have an educational forum for Aurovilians? The answer is no, and this is surprising, given the diverse problems that Aurovilians regularly face”. The tendency is to share information only when it is called for to resolve an issue, and these situations are often emotionally charged. The Auroville Campus Initiative “disconnects learning from the prerequisite of having to solve a particular problem”, in what is meant to be an inspiring and creative environment.

0:05:33 – Alan outlined the session and described its intended dynamic.

“The idea today is to learn, rather than to bring one's preconceptions or default setting... what we're asking people to do today is to set aside preconceptions, opinions, thoughts on a topic. Try to empty yourself to allow new information to come in, and then from that position to offer your questions, thoughts, insights”.

Divya's presentation

0:08:45 – Introduction

“My effort today will be to highlight some of the features that are unique and different in the AV economy; to bring up some of the questions that come up in our everyday lives; and maybe to sit together to come up with some of the answers.”

0:09:58 – Pillars of an economic system 1

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“Our units have started out because of a need, because of a creative surge. Most of the times it starts with a creative input and then goes toward profit motivation, very quickly."
“I'm not saying anything new, but I'm just bringing to our attention things that sometimes go under the surface.”

0:14:30 – Pillars of an economic system 2

  • Human capital – Auroville's is multicultural, multi-talented, multi-skilled
  • Social capital – Auroville's is community-based
  • Education system
  • Legal framework
“We have our own Act. We get a privileged and protected space to try this experiment, including on an economic level. Binding all of these things is our a spiritual centre and a spiritual base.”

0:17:03 – Two paradigms

“Where do we come from? Where do I come from? I come from the mainstream education system, I have not studied in Auroville, I have not studied in Ashram schools – I come from this mainstream, privately held, private capital, private ownership, salaried [world]” and was thrown into a system of commonly-owned assets. These different influences have left us with “a hodgepodge of understanding of what should we do with our economic system”.
“Our experiments have tried to catch up with time – from the Basket experiment to the Circle Experiment – the Thomas' book has highlighted many of these experiments that have taken place.”
“This is the confusion, a dissonance that is coming up in our system – we have a system which is designed for [one thing], but we have a mindset, and the general atmosphere around us, which is pushing in another direction.”

0:20:00 – The Auroville maintenance system

“Everybody is dissatisfied with the maintenance system.”
“It was set at a time when the realities of Auroville were different. The Indian economy has changed, even simple things like food prices has changed... the costs of everything have changed. How we live our lives has changed.”
How to improve the maintenance system “is one of our biggest question marks... Is it the groups that will solve it? Is it the people who will solve it? Who will solve it?”
“Another reason why the maintenance system will never fulfill is this rise of consumerism.” There used to be very little available, but now there is more and “everybody wants everything”.

0:22:25 – Other gaps in the Auroville economic system

  • Financing of higher education
  • Old-age care system
  • Maintaining houses and communities
  • (Addition from audience) Housing for children born in Auroville
“Most people see housing as a gap. Now a person can't become Aurovilian without a house – Entry Service has filled that gap.”
“This unique human and social capital that is built up loses its energy due to these gaps. We have these gaps and we are unable to plug these gaps. So what happens is these very unique and talented people actually have to search outside outside. A lot of our energy is going out.”

0:25:20 - Outcomes

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0:26:22 – Conclusion

The crux of the Auroville economy is that “people are building collective wealth vis a vis private wealth. Which makes this system, Auroville's system, unique from the mainstream system.... We have to be very careful that we don't just then copy blindly the mainstream system and kill the very system for which we came.”
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Q & A #1

0:27:35

  • Q: In the first 15 years of Auroville as far as I remember, it was maintenance in kind. Why did we shift from maintenance in kind to maintenance in cash?
  • A (audience): When I came in '73 there were some [cash] maintenances paid by the society, but they were also giving Prosperity. In '82 there was a shift – there was a link between maintenance and work. Suddenly it became closer to “if you do a certain work, you have a right to a maintenance”.
  • A (audience): Actually what changed is that in 1984 we made individual accounts. Before that it was budgeted activities. The link between work and money came much later, around 2002.
  • A (audience): I don't think that is correct, I am certain the money account existed before 2002. These things need to be clarified.


  • Q: I had the impression in your presentation of Auroville economy you relate to legal framework facts but not to our psychosocial realities… who builds and maintains Auroville: is it 2,000 Auroville volunteers or is it 2,000 volunteers plus 6,000, 7,000, 8,000 local workers? Do you present the Auroville economy or one part of Auroville economy – the Aurovilians?
  • A (Divya): I gave a very small snapshot. But if the Auroville voluntary workers had not formed the basis, it would be very different. Workers are paid within the market economy system, but not everyone.

Lyle's presentation

0:33:50 - Introduction

“I agreed to talk about AV finance. The economy you're talking about is production of goods and services, while finance is primarily about money flows.”

0:35:33 – Auroville's aims

Auroville's Major Economic Aims
  • Establish and sustain a self-supporting city of 50,000 people.
  • Provide for everyone’s material needs, not according to notions of right and equality, but on the basis of the most elementary necessities.
  • Ensure that everyone contributes in work, kind, and/or money.
  • Eliminate the exchange of money between Aurovilians.
  • Become the city the Earth needs.
“As a community, we haven't really examined what these mean. The idea of 'self-supporting' – what does that really mean? This second statement, which is actually something that the Mother said about Auroville, has been staring at us for 40 years, and we have not defined what it means – 'the most elementary necessities' – not as a community. What are we actually supposed to be providing each other as a community.”
“If we want this economy and our community to be alive, we need to reignite these aims. That means revisit them and discuss them, and come to some agreements about what they mean.”
Auroville has no strategy for achieving its aims.

0:38:10 – Auroville groups

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“The FAMC doesn't manage strategically. It manages tactically. … The FAMC plants trees, puts out fires, but does not really answer the question of how do we make the forest grow – what are the strategies we should be putting in place to make Auroville grow as a community. It manages not proactively but reactively.”
“The FAMC is a representative body. What that means is that there is not a single person on the FAMC whose primary job is it to be on the FAMC.” Each member's first concern is his or her role as representative of some other body. “They only meet once a week, for a couple of hours. ... The question is, is this scalable?” Today we have 2,000 people, we're supposed to aim for 50,000 people. “How is this structure going to carry us forward?”
“The BCC probably acts more strategically than any of the other committees, simply because they have to do an annual budget.”
The Unity Fund takes in the internal and external contributions. “It essentially provides an accounting function. It's an executing body – money is specified for a specific activity, and the Unity Fund releases that money.”

0:42:34 – Unity Fund

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“Specified money is tactical money, brought in for specific projects. It helps the collective, but it limits our ability to act strategically with this money.”
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Since the financial crisis, we haven't grown. We're flat.
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“I think one of the unique features [of our community] is that we do have a lot of people here who are concerned and do understand that the development of the bioregion around us – that we're tied to it. That we cannot operate independently.”

0:45:56 – City Services (the 18%)

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In fundraising it is important to have a diverse source of funds. “60% of our income is coming from about 18 different sources. That is not as healthy as we should like it to be.”
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“In actual terms it looks very good. It doesn't look quite as good when you adjust for inflation – it goes down significantly. And when you adjust it again for per capita, it's a bit scary, because the commercial units and the guest houses – which are supposed to be our most productive sector – are actually seeing a decline in per capita growth when you adjust for inflation. It's something to look at. … Maybe the numbers are not telling the full story, that is very possible. They're just numbers. They could be misleading. But we need to start looking at them and asking the questions, and then trying to develop some strategies to think about how we might want to change them if they need to be changed.”
“You will not find anywhere in Auroville a document where all our policies are neatly put in once place. It's hard to figure out what's really going on here economically… To have it all in one place where we can start thinking about it holistically would be a first step.”

0:51:30 – Are our services efficient?

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“As an indicator is has absolutely nothing to do with efficiency. The share of public service has to do with the orientation that we have. As Divya talked about, our orientation is as a collective. Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland – these are governments that have social initiatives. And they're wealthy, and they have a high percentage of people in public employment.”
What do we know about the health of Auroville’s economy?
Not much.
  • We have not clarified the aims.
  • We don’t have a strategy.
  • We have not agreed on indicators to evaluate our economy.
  • We have not agreed on targets that we would like to achieve within a reasonable amount of time.
Is our economy failing or succeeding?
We don’t know.
“Are we succeeding? I don't know, maybe we are. But we have to start deciding what it means to succeed and what it means to fail before we can answer the question.”

Q & A #2

0:55:09

  • Q: Have you made an analysis about how close we have come to the ideal of no exchange of money?
  • A (Lyle): We have to define what it means to us. How would we actually measure that – and I don't only mean numbers, there could be qualitative aspects. We have a lot of interesting initiatives, but how close or how effective they are is the question.


  • Q: Is the income of the units included in the overall City Services income?
  • A: What is included is the contribution of the units to Auroville – their 33%.


  • Q: I was wondering if in futures studies of the Auroville economy there can be found a way to include all the time Aurovilians are spending besides their jobs – on creation, brainstorming, inventing things – that can't be put down in a percentage or financial overview.


  • Q: How did the contribution percentage come to be 33%, when my understanding is that the Mother indicated that all profit from units should go to the maintenance of Auroville and the building of the city?
  • A (audience): At the time it was decided to have one-third for cashflow, one-third for investment, one-third for the community. At the time we found it to be a healthy financial and commercial proposal.


  • Q: I would like to reinforce the question of 33%. As a businessman I was working in the outside world and contributing to the tune of 70% of my net profit. My company was scrutinized by a chartered accountant and had income tax inquiries every 3-4 years. So you can imaging how accurate our accounting was. I notice that in Auroville there not much of this internal auditing. You mentioned some units are not contributing. Why, in a time of crisis, with not enough housing, do we remain with this 33%?
  • A (Lyle): Guy explained why it was put in place quite a long time ago. It is something that should periodically go up for review. Many people feel that the one-size-fits-all is not appropriate. In a progressive tax system the contribution expected is much higher [when a unit is doing well], while for a unit that is just starting out it might be lower. You're right to ask why haven't we reviewed the situation.


  • Q: Talking about the 33% - I think we have to remember that the units belong to Auroville, and so whatever is in a unit belongs to Auroville. It's not two different sides. The other thing is that there is an effort now to make a statistical office in Auroville. As Lyle says, the data is not available. But along with what is measured in money we also have to measure what is given in time, in kind. Financial trends going down could be a good sign if they indicate that things are being given in kind rather than in money.
  • A (Lyle): It isn't that we don't have a lot of data sitting around – we don't analyze it.


  • Q: There is a division between our commercial units and our priorities - what the community really needs. I would say there's even an insincerity, if an unconscious sincerity. We have to focus on the question of what really are our needs.
  • A (audience): The entrepreneurs may not have started their particular business with the question of what particular product or service is needed in Auroville, because you can hardly have 250 commercial units making money on people who are not supposed to be asked for money and contribute to that. There is some problem there. Many entrepreneurs have started with very valid ideas of 'what I can contribute to', 'what I can do best'.


  • Q: I'm saying that there needs to be a balance. As an Aurovilians I cannot afford most of the products.
  • A (audience): The products are not made for Aurovilans to consume, they are made for making money.
  • Q: For-profit businesses are not the only way of making money. Money will flow in when were are sincere. We have to move in a direction where people's needs are met within this economy.


  • Q: Ideally, we are rich. Economically we may feel like we are poor but we are not poor. We have three kinds of people living in Auroville: one is living with a maintenance, another is living with a maintenance plus their own money giving by family or something, another is the unit holders. Make connections between these three and we will be rich. The problem is that people are afraid to touch, because you are up, and middle, and down. We have to bring somehow the three categories to the same level. Who wants to work on that? How do you want to work on that? That's what the Mother said – like dining in the ashram. When we start living in the same level, then the ideals of Auroville will come.
  • A (audience): The maintenance system came because we were not satisfied with the in-kind system. We have to take that into account. As Lyle said, the conditions have changed. It was rice and dal and ragi porridge, sometimes not even a vegetable. If you want to go back there, your choice.


  • Q: The numbers are not really reflecting the economy that I see. There is a lot of black economy as I call it. There's a lot of money that flows out of the system, in a good way and in a bad way. Of course you see people flying here and there and it's clear that it's not coming from maintenance, so we are all clear that there is a lot of money that is uncharted in these numbers. And in the good way, for example I do a lot of voluntary work and it creates things that are not really quantified. And maybe this statistical thing can address it – but I wonder if we can address the real numbers. We need to acknowledge that there is a lot of money that is not charted.


  • Q: I am a visitor to Auroville. I believe Auroville is going to be the most important place in the world within our lifetimes. I teach design at a university in the US, I teach design, and I talk to people about what is going on here and they can't believe they have never heard of this place. I believe the greatest resource you have here is this vibrant mental energy of looking at the bigger picture – which has changed drastically in last 25 years. If there was some focus on using Auroville as an experiment for solving larger global issues – there is so much money, there is so much funding, there are so many resources available, we would not even have to worry about whether it's 18% or 25% or 3%. If we started just opening our doors up and looking at issues that need solving – because believe it or not, if the world is going down, which it is, at a very fast rate, it's going to affect Auroville. Auroville has the potential to lead the way. Everything else can come behind that.”

Panel question

1:24:44 - Alan asked the panelists (Suhasini, Chandresh, Lyle and Divya) to come up with one practical suggestion which they think could make a radical difference to our economy in the next 5 years.

Suhasini: There's one point in Divya's presentation that is very interesting, because we have a system of governance, economy, social structure, education – that we take for granted as something that has been strategically put in place. We never analyze the history of this, or the output, and we keep getting frustrated only about the output... The [aims of Auroville] are never strategically, in a timeline, put together. We have a lot of projects coming in, but they do not have a channelizing effect that would create a wave. A lot of energy goes into just keeping our acts together, whether we like it or not, because it's not the synergy of different activities coming together. … We keep on reinforcing the outside against the inside. The market economy is in India whether you like it or not.... What we have is an economy that will never come together for the growth of Auroville because there is no governance structure that is focused on policy-making. My proposal is can we have an analysis of how we came to this system, and agree that historically we have reached here, so that we can go beyond it.

Chandresh: I would like to share that I am an idealist and a dreamer, so usually I would like to go top-down and see how we can strategize. I've worked on many groups outside and international or whatever you want to call it – standards, committees – and outside is not so dismal as here. There's a lot of goodwill outside, good teams, good people, good CSR. At this point I think we should just focus on how each person is unable to really contribute the best he or she can, in the context of our collaborative structures.

Lyle: Create the means to think strategically.

Divya: We need to increase our population from 2,000 to 5,000 in the next five years. If this could happen all the energy – creative energy, money, and everything – would flow into Auroville.

Chandresh: This is an anecdote that I have read: it seems in the early days there was a lot of pain of supporting basic living. It was brought to the Mother: “we are finding it very difficult to sustain”. And she said “when you are 10,000, your difficulties will go away.” Once we grow in numbers, the supporting system becomes evident. Supporting our internal growth, by everybody who is here, should be our priority – how can we make those structures happen.

Photo gallery

Written comments

  • Very good presentation, Lyle!
  • We have to define: Basic Needs. Everybody who works' food, clothes, house, transport, health, education, work
  • Repeat the show on Fri 12 Sept 4:30pm at Unity Pavilion – community meeting with FAMC
  • What about the economy of the Tamil community? Do a Tamil version and offer it. Translate the notes into Tamil
  • Create a "I give __ hrs service per week to the community" statistic
  • Work or service – who gives 0 service give 20,000 Rs. per month (or else start giving service, any service)
  • How can Aurovilians build up a pool of money/resources known to all for Strategic Planning
  • Future of Auroville is in hand of Auroville schools. Are we focusing on our education? “In this place children should grow integrally without losing the contact with soul” - The Mother
  • Would like to see some statistics on involvement of Auroville youth
  • All AV units give in kind to Auroville through Free Store
  • Profit by units should be used in Auroville only, and to support Auroville

Followup

See Also