Joy of Learning 2 - The Auroville Economy part 2

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Event details

The Auroville Economy - Auroville Units and Services - Unity in Diversity? I of II
Session 2 of the Joy of Learning Series

When: Tuesday, October 21, 2014, 4:30 – 6:00

Where: SAIIER conference room

Offered by: Auroville Campus Initiative



Audio recording

Recording by Auroville Radio: "Auroville Units & Services"

Summary and abbreviated transcript


00:00:00 - Alan recapped the first session, summarizing Divya's presentation (unique aspects of the Auroville economy, dissonance between the conventional way of looking at money and the Mother's vision, gaps in Auroville's present system) and Lyle's presentation (Auroville's money flows, Auroville's major economic aims, 'we do not know enough about Auroville's economy to be able to plan strategically').

Gilles' presentation : Mother's Vision on Economy

00:07:09 - "A clarification: Mother's vision of economy did not evolve, it was always clear; the question was when, where and how to manifest it."


"Actually there were 5 rules: no politics, no sex, no alcohol, no drugs, and later it was added no tobacco."

"Those working in the business units were maintained exactly like the others."


"Progressively everything was relaxed. This was after the war. A lot of desciples were returning from Calcutta, and they felt that the safest place was close to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. They brought their children, and so the Ashram opened a school."

"Some people wanted to give their money to Mother and Mother gave it back to them, saying 'you manage it as if it were money from the Divine, belongs to the Divine'."


"Mother approved every single application."


Gilles' Q & A


  • Q: Wasn't there some earlier experimenting, in Golconde?
  • A: Some conditions were put to Mother, but she didn't approve. It didn't work out.
  • Q: At which point in time did She mention the word 'Auroville'?
  • A: Early 1965.

Alain's presentation: A Chronological Account of Auroville's Economic Experiments & Milestones



Alain's Q & A


  • Q: "When did Yusuf join and how long did he work with you?"
  • A: "From the beginning of Pour Tous Fund, Yusuf was there."

Gilles: "I would like to add two things about the Prosperity system that was there in the beginning. One thing that Prosperity did that we have never done is provide basic furniture for people. With Prosperity there was a typical Prosperity bed, cupboard, chair, table, mattress. Another thing is that - I remember X telling me that when she asked Mother for Prosperity, Mother said no, and then X realized that she still had some money left. So she lived off that money until it was finished, then she asked again, and Mother said yes. So Prosperity was a system for people who did not have any money. It was a bit like what I told you about the Ashram, where people were either taken care of by the Ashram, or were on their own, maintaining themselves. There was no half-half."

(Audience): "I would like to add to what Gilles was saying, that there was a third category. My grandfather was visiting from 1928, and my father from the 1930s, and all through till 1985 or 1990 our family was part of that category where we paid ourselves for everything and still we were members of the Ashram. We did not take any Prosperity and still we were considered as members."

Alan reminded the audience that Joy of Learning is the beginning of a collective fund of information, which will be represented on the Wiki and the Radio, and invited everyone to collaborate.

Nicole & Isha's presentation: Overview of Auroville's Service Landscape



"What is specific to Auroville are these Prosperity services. The other types of services are found in any city in the world, but the Prosperity services, where the basic needs of Aurovilians are met by central services without the circulation of money, are really one of the cornerstones of what we are trying to develop, to attempt, with all our limitations, to manifest something of what we understand Mother wanted."

"City Services fund is the fund that provides goods and services to Aurovilians without the exchange of money."


"BCC tends to support those services that cannot fundraise or find means to be self-sufficient. Over the years people and activities have been pushed to trying to manage, whether by becoming commercial units or by charging for their service."


"In 2011 the FAMC tried to define parameters of what is a service."

"Those working in services have to function within parameters that are different from units and projects. Decisions about how the services are run, and the way services are delivered to the community, are taken by the community through its representatives [the BCC]."

"The other difference between services and units is that people working in services receive maintenances, they receive the basic maintenance that City Services can give, and they don't receive additional maintenance or other help that can come to people working in units or working in projects or other activities."


"PTDC and Solar Kitchen both came because a couple of individuals said 'ok let's do this now.' And because it was felt that it was a good idea by the rest of the people - not everyone, but a sufficient number - somehow people came together to create it. This is still, today, how the services are created. Still in that way rather than in a planned way."


"There isn't a mechanism put in place whereby funding is set aside for [improvements and development]. For example, since several years now, the BCC is not in a position to give capital grants. So how services grow in Auroville is an important question that we need to try and answer."


"Basically we have this trend that's now affecting the fabric of Auroville, which is that people more and more use personal money in order to find answers to their needs in life, or their perceived needs in life - and there is less money coming in to the Central Fund, so less possibility for us to actually find resources to offer collective services that will cover the same needs. So this is also an important question that we need to reflect on."


"One doesn't really see the collective objectives in this pie chart."


"Whereas if we would organize the same activities in a different way, and regroup them under the services we had seen before - Administrative, Prosperity, Municipal, Education & Culture, Outreach - we would actually come to a presentation that would be much clearer in our communications of what we do with the money in Auroville today, in terms of the types of services that we offer to people and the resources that we put behind the different types of services."


Nicole & Isha's Q & A


  • Q: You mentioned that there are services that use a "hybrid" economic model. Can you give an example?
  • A: One example is schools. Schools get a budget through SAIIER and through City Services. But you have also a number of guests who put their children in Auroville schools and they have to pay a certain amount, half of which goes to BCC and half of which is used by the school.
  • A: Another example is the Auroville Bakery. The cost of bread is kept stable, but then there are cakes and croissants and things that are income-generating for the bakery. The term "hybrid economics" is not new - you can look it up and see all kinds of other examples.
  • Q: How are budgets decided for services under City Services?
  • A: The budgets are in line with the budget requests - generally the BCC sees a small yearly increase to keep up with inflation and rising costs. If the BCC were to suddenly receive a request for a large amount of money, this would be hard to grant. There are also inherited costs, from decisions made earlier, such as the decision to support the Aurovilians working at Matrimandir.
  • A: We should mention that the whole topic of maintenances is a separate topic.

General Q & A and discussion


Alan: We have a strange Catch-22 situation, which is that some people to a certain extent are deciding that they need look after themselves, to put their energy and resources into looking after themselves, because for one reason or another they don't feel that the service sector is going to support them. The services need money in order to increase, to be able to provide better services, and yet we're at that point where some people feel that 'well, I don't trust Auroville to be able to provide for me, to look after me in my old age, to allow my child to go for higher education - therefore I have to put all my energy into making sure that happens'. This is one of the fundamental questions it seems we're facing at present: how to move forward from that position.

Gilles: I would like to say something about the 'no circulation of money' - what is no circulation of money about. The real purpose of no circulation of money - because Mother said, Aurovilians do not have money - is no selfishness. You have money, the other guy doesn't have, you can afford a pizza or whatever, and the other guys can't afford it. Now we have a problem because Auroville is not an egalitarian system, Mother was never in favour of an egalitarian system. She lodged people in the Ashram in large houses and others had just a bed under the staircase. For that there has to be an enlightened management, who says 'ok, you get a motorbike, and you don't get anything'. It requires a different sort of management. This is the crux of the matter.

  • Q: In 2001 or 2002 there was this "Kind" alternative currency starting - it's running in Financial Services but not really running - is there any, let's say re-trial to open an alternate currency for Auroville? I've been reading about them in places all over the world and they seem to work well, especially now with everyone in a financial crisis.
  • A (Alain): There were people working on an alternative currency for Auroville, 'Auros', but the main person working on it went away. I think it worked to some extent.
  • A (Nicole): My recollection is that it never really took off. And one of the reasons why it never took off was that it was still an exchange of currency, and what we were after was no circulation of currency. This idea of an exchange between people is something that is more like the outside economy. Mother had said that people coming from outside would be able to buy coupons, at certain points on the periphery, so that they could access some kinds of goods on the inside. And then you wouldn't have this differential value of the Rupee and other currencies.

Alain: Earlier there was much more the practice of giving, of gift economy. Some people say that the gift economy is the future. Gilles: It is important to remember that the spirit of Auroville is one of offering, not to humanity or a part of humanity known as Aurovilians, but to the Divine.

Gilles: There are people who have to have less food in order to buy a cycle for their child. This should not be the case. But an alternative currency will not solve the problem.

  • Q: Mother at one point has commented that the experiment of the Ashram, of giving people their basic needs, and the people dedicate their lives to spiritual development, has failed. (Gilles: She has said that. But she also started Auroville!) With regard to the Ashram she used those words, 'the experiment has failed'. Just to put this in the point of historical fact. The other thing is that when we paint these pictures of historical phases, I have the impression that we [are describing the ideal instead of reality]. I remember times when I was dependent on maintenance, but I never lived on maintenance - I could not have lived without some extra money from my old mom in Germany. It's not that I was proud of depending on my mom, as a 40-50 year old man, but it was part of my life, and I was grateful that I had the means. But it was not 'I was living on maintenance'. My money, my assets had all been given to Auroville - so there was nothing else to fall back on. I am sure that out of 500 people receiving maintenances, at least half of them lived in the same hybrid situation, if not 90 percent. And I wonder about these early years of '72, '73, '74, '75, when I was here only briefly, and it was not a bit similar. All these people receiving a basket or an envelope - that was it! Receiving the empty basket, you could live on it? So there must have been mixed systems of support at any time in Auroville.
  • A (Isha): We will come to the topic of maintenances. And to clarify when we were talking about 'hybrid economies', we were referring not to individual support, but financing and how to keep everything funded.
  • A (Alain): I think what was described is correct. At that time we tried to make a system that was as fair as possible. The system worked because we all had other means. Frankly speaking, in '76 and all those years the situation was quite difficult. It was the opposite of what happens with a bank run - with a bank run, when there is a problem with a bank, the people all rush to get their money out. In Auroville it was the opposite, we felt that it would work out, and I think this is what sustained Auroville. People felt that, when Mother started Auroville, it wouldn't really fail.
  • A (Gilles): It is true that very few people actually manage to live on the maintenance. And that a lot of us either have some private money which comes once in awhile, or can take money from a business unit, or can do some work on the side. The other guys [who could not manage this way] left. That's all, they left! It worked for some of us, it didn't work for others. And that we have to face. We have to change the system.
  • Q: This whole thing of moneyless economy - the way I interpret this is that money not be the driving force in our economy. Money is always going to be needed. Cash is always going to be needed. But it should not become the driving force for what I do. If I do something for money, it's completely different than, as you said, doing something as an offering.
  • A (Gilles): Money was always going to be used for interacting with the outside. Mother explained that. [What we're looking at] is just the way of maintaining ourselves. I see the rule of not having money as a way to reduce selfishness. You can say there are many possible ways of reducing selfishness, and I agree, I do not make a dogma of no circulation of money - I'm saying 'look, we have to reduce desires, we have to reduce selfishness'. That is really what the aim is.

Panel question


Alan: I would like to end with a question to the three presenters. In the next five years, what would really give our service sector a boost?

Alain: The old system of Prosperity - it would be nice to have that today, a place where people could go to get the things they need, instead of asking for money to buy this or buy that. It's very different, to be entitled to go to a place and see the things. I think it will make a difference.

Nicole: I think if we could, either through these hybrid systems that we have developed, or through devoting more money from ourselves and from our resources, actually come to a level of maintenances for Aurovilians that would be a decent level. And then have a mechanism for which choice, a certain amount of choice, in the services that people could access. That is something that would give a boost to the services. I think that something that needs to happen and needs to happen fast is the conscious quality of what Auroville can offer. If what we offer is something that has really the spirit of Auroville with it - this requires a little bit of money, a little bit more than what we devote to it now, but not a lot more. But then people respond to that vibration. They respond to that vibration and feel 'ah, this is Auroville'. And this fulfills a need in people that is not fulfilled by going to Pondy and buying this and that. So I think if we can basically do that, again centrally funded so that we avoid all this circulation of money, this is really something that will give us a big boost.

Gilles: For me everything is services. There are many people who have the attitude in Auroville that those who spend the money are the good guys, and those who earn money are the bad guys. This is fundamentally bad. Earning money for Auroville is doing service for Auroville. Providing a good learning opportunity or opportunity to work, to express one's talent, is doing a service to Auroville. That is very important. So I cannot see and I refuse to see this difference. I will tell you something Kireet-bhai told me, 28 years ago - we were visiting in Delhi and he told us the three great failures in Auroville: education, economy, and what he called democracy, our governnance system. I told him 'it is extremely difficult, you do not know' and he told me 'you are finding excuses'. And I realized that he was 100 percent right. And this is what motivated me in writing the project for Solar Kitchen and for PTDC. What I see today and what shocks me very much is that all our working groups are firemen. They are all busy dealing with this emergency. Auroville is not managed. We are drifting. We don't have community priorities, we don't have things that we are focusing on. And when we try to appoint the people who are supposed somehow to manage our community - Mother said it's not governing, it's organising. This is not a criteria we're asking: 'show us what you have been able to organise'. That is not a criteria, there is no plan of action for what has to be done, and there is a lot that can be done. I think every one of you has some idea of what can be improved in general. And a top priority to me today is higher education. And I'll tell you why: I have white hair, and I don't know who is going to pay my retirement. This is a main problem - the youth is not here. The youth leaves and doesn't come back. I think what we need to attract, and that is through higher education. ... That is a problem for every parent, 'how am I going to pay for higher education for my kid'. There has to be at least some option.

Alan: Gilles has pulled out four or five topics which will be addressed in future Joy of Learning!

See Also

Auroville Retreat 2015