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October 2005

 

Transforming business

- Alan

Between 2nd – 4th September, a seminar was held in Auroville on the topic of ‘New Business and Global Consciousness’. It brought together Aurovilians and some Indian and international businesspeople in what the organizers described as a ‘reflection’ on changing trends in global business.


What are those trends? Marc Gishi, in his keynote address, explained that the last two decades have seen a new business paradigm emerging. Business is now seen to be not only, or even primarily, about making profits. Rather, business has to assume responsibility for making the world a more equitable and more sustainable place. “In this new paradigm,” explained Marc, “profit becomes your efficiency in promoting the common good”. The World Business Academy , set up by Willis Harman in 1989, began to explore this concept. But this, Marc noted, was only the first step. “The second step is the rediscovery of the spiritual dimension in business activities”.
This is all revolutionary, and Marc admits that no more than 3% of businesses today are exploring these avenues. “But those 3% are undoubtedly the forerunners of a huge change as humanity is already subconsciously aware that the traditional path of development is leading to collective suicide.”
For Marc, one of the key questions was what role Indian businesses would play in furthering this new paradigm. However, for the Auroville businesspeople the key question was somewhat different. They wanted the Indian businessmen attending to tell them how Auroville businesses could be improved. These two differing objectives were to coexist rather uncomfortably over the course of the three days.

The first day was taken up by presentations which, in differing degrees, explored the theme of the conference. Pashi Kapoor pointed out that the Auroville Charter provides the basis for the way in which Auroville's economy should function. “We have to learn to become selfless, non-competitive, non-possessive collaborators in a larger dream.” Toine, with his precision-instrument mind, decided to spell it in his ‘Auroville Economy Charter'.

“1. The Auroville economy serves the material needs, which arise from an aspiration towards a change of consciousness.
2. The Auroville economy provides each one with the material means required to be a servitor of the divine consciousness.
3. The Auroville economy respects the value and sustainability of the natural resources of the universe.
4. The Auroville economy creates a self-supporting environment without exchange of money.”

The relation between the economy and business was never clearly enunciated in this seminar, resulting in another blurring of focus. The next Auroville presenters, however, tried to clarify what made Auroville businesses different. “The prime purpose of Auroville business units,” said Alok, “is not to make profits but to express some inner aspiration of the individuals who are managing them.” “We are not owners,” said Paul, “but we have a responsibility to our workers, the community and, above all, to Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.” His partner, Laura, put it more pithily: “Our work is our yoga.”

Mr. Ravi Chaudhry, founder Chairman of Cemex Consulting Group, New Delhi , returned to the other focus of the seminar. He pointed out that today the concerns of business and society run on different tracks. “How can this gap be bridged? Only through a complete transformation in the way business functions.”

Mr. Subbiah who, until recently, was the Chairman of the Murugappa Group – a $1.5 billion Indian conglomerate – had a rather different take. He pointed out that many traditional Indian family businesses, like the Tatas and Birlas, have a deep-rooted value system. “We are all brought up to believe we are trustees and not owners of the business. For me, the two fundamentals are doing your duty without being attached to the fruits of the work, and ensuring that nobody loses if they transact business with you.”

Mr. Manoj Chakravarti, General Manager of Corporate Affairs for Titan, a Tata company, exemplified the spirit in which Tata, India 's premier business house, operates. “In our founder's words, ‘What comes from the people must go back to the people'. In other words, social responsibility is crucial. We believe that sustaining financial excellence depends on how good we are in delivering to the community and how good we are in looking after the environment. We believe that if we make the environment, the local community and the world a better place, the company will be much better off in the years to come.”

Mr. Sergio Lub, CEO of Jewels Company and founder of an alternative currency, felt that Indian business remained something of an unknown quantity for the West. He emphasised the need for better communication and the development of trust-based relationships. To this end, Sergio developed the first ‘social networking software' to interconnect like-minded people who care about and want to change the world on a basis of mutual trust.

Mr. Tachi Kiuchi is also a committed networker. Co-founder and chairman of The Future 500, a group that strives to promote sustainable environmental practices, he pointed out that humanity was in grave danger because it had lost its ‘sense of survival'. “Today many businesses strive to become bigger and bigger, but who cares about what is happening to the world?”

It was precisely this concern which motivated Rosanna Agudo to develop and teach to business people what she terms the ‘Technology for Inner Transformation'. “I believe that business is a key agent in the global transformation process described by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, and that, from now on, prosperity and profits will be the consequences of how well-aligned businesses are with the forces of evolution.”

Day two, as often happens on the second day of a three day seminar, was somewhat messier. Topics like complementary currencies and the role of money washed around before Marc returned to his fundamental question: “What can Indian businesspeople bring to the global conversation about the role of business in the 21st century?”
Mr. Subbiah politely pointed out that the answer had already been given. “We must return to our ethical roots. That is our contribution to the global debate.”

At this point the Auroville businesspeople once again appealed for help and advice. Ravi Chaudhry responded that as, in his view, “Auroville is much more about concept than practice”, it is difficult for outsiders to pinpoint exactly what was needed. “Rather than coming to us, you need to access the wisdom that is already in Auroville.” When an Aurovilian commented that very little information is shared between commercial units at present, Sergio was incredulous. “You don't even communicate with each other? This is totally dysfunctional!”

Mr. Subbiah responded to the evangelical note he sensed in some of the previous day's presentations by Auroville businesspeople. “We can see what Auroville has done for the land, we can see that you have built Matrimandir, but it is much less obvious what your business units have achieved. Your businesses must become an example of what you want to see happen before you try to convert others. You must become the values you want to live by.” He also noted the importance of involving the local people. “Explain to them why you are here, let them see that you are making a difference in their lives and their community, and they will become your best ambassadors and supporters. That's how the Tatas and all the great Indian business houses operate.”

At this point, the facilitator called for an action plan. Marc, noting that Auroville could be a catalyst for bringing together Indian and Western businesspeople in the ‘new conversation', proposed a follow-up seminar in Bangalore early next year. Other suggestions focussed almost exclusively upon what could be done in Auroville itself. “You have to create an open house for your business units where you can share best practices and expertise,” said Sergio. Toine's action points for Auroville business units included a need for diversification of activities, rotating successful managers, a common business budget and exploring a new employer-employee relationship. He also noted that we have to evolve other ways of evaluating the performance of our businesses beyond the traditional profit/loss criterion. Tachi suggested setting up a training centre in Auroville for the local people. He also proposed that a high-level science and technology institution could be based here. Ravi was one of a number of participants who suggested that Auroville should even have its own business school which would stress the role of values and consciousness in commerce.

The final morning was spent evaluating some of these suggestions and trying to assess what the seminar had achieved. This was not immediately obvious. On the downside, there was the familiar sight of people talking past rather than to each other. This was partly due to the fact that people had very different agendas – Marc wanted to further a ‘global conversation' while the Auroville business people wanted very practical advice – and not all of them could be dealt with satisfactorily in such a short time. It was also noticeable how few Auroville businesspeople attended the first two days of the seminar, something which Alok put down to poor communication. “The next time such a seminar is held, the Auroville business units have to be involved from the beginning and not merely informed about it very late in the day.”

Perhaps the major criticism of a seminar devoted to new business and global consciousness is that nobody really presented a concrete model of what new business would look like in its totality. There was much discussion about new value systems but how are these reflected in management, in products, in disposal, in different relationships to customers, society and the environment? Without concrete examples, the suspicion remains that ‘new business' – and this includes many Aurovilian enterprises – is often really only old business with a few value labels or improved work practices added-on.

On the positive side, the seminar saw the successful launch of Internet streaming by Auroville radio, enabling over 200 people around the world to follow the proceedings live. Sergio's gift was a workshop introducing Aurovilians to ‘social networking' on the Internet: many Aurovilians already signed up to a network which allows access to like-minded groups around the world.

However, perhaps the biggest achievement of the seminar was that, in Toine's words, “We've established an interactive field with Indian business people”. In this sense, the fact that Auroville doesn't have so much to offer at present in terms of radically new business practices is less important than that new contacts have been made which may lead to interesting developments in the future. True, ‘New Business and Global Consciousness' is a ridiculously over-inflated title for what happened over the three days of the seminar. But Auroville often advances by throwing out such a grappling hook and hauling itself forward with the help of those whom it attracts to share our debates and concerns.

Seminar on Auroville Radio
About 250 people from 25 countries followed this conference live. The countries included Hong Kong , India , South Korea , Syria , Japan , China , Lithuania , Kazakhstan , USA , Brazil , Norway , Sweden , UK , Denmark , Holland , Germany , Switzerland , Italy , Belgium , France , Emirates, Malaysia , Ukraine and Russia . Auroville radio has also recorded the entire conference on MP3 files. For further info contact info@aurovilleradio.org

Follow up Action Plan

The attendants of the Seminar on New Business and Global Consciousness agreed that the following topics need to be followed up. For each topic, except topic no. 13, Aurovilians have committed themselves.

1. White paper on Auroville Units

2. Auroville's Human Resources Survey

3. Auroville Development Holistic Road Map 2012

4. Auroville New Business School

5. Business Training Centre for Aurovilians and local residents

6. Women Business School

7. Visitors and guest's data collection

8. Open house Auroville Business Units

9. Booklet on Auroville Business Units Experience

10. Auroville Products Business Corporate Identity

11. Joint Ventures

12. Second Seminar 24 – 28 Feb 2006

13. Create a prototype model unit


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