Lyle first came to Auroville in 1991. He was working in Lesotho , a small country in South Africa doing development work. Auroville gave him ‘a good balance to the work he was doing there'. He met his partner, Simone, in 1994, and in 1999 joined Auroville.
“How has it been for me? Auroville is compelling. Mother's aims are magnificent, and to work with people who aspire to these ideals has been a great privilege. I have not experienced another place that contains this atmosphere.
My work at the Financial Service is both interesting and frustrating. Auroville finds it difficult to come to terms with money. We don't agree on how to implement Mother's basic principles regarding money, and people have strong opinions. Personal maintenances (stipends) are a strong bone of contention. A maintenance is enough to cover recurrent costs, but what do you do when, for example, you need a new fridge or your moped needs major repairs? A person living on a basic maintenance has to depend upon other means. This situation creates confusion and sometimes resentment. It weakens our overall commitment to Auroville and contributes toward a high turnover in work placements.
At any given time about 220 people are on a full maintenance and about 100 on a part time maintenance. This is a large proportion of our work force of 900-1,000 workers. Imagine a country where every fourth person is working for the government. Where would the money come from to run the country? This is what we face in Auroville.
We are also stuck in a circle of stagnation. Without people we cannot raise our material conditions, without basic material conditions we cannot attract people. At Transition School each year we are very concerned because we do not know how we will fill gaps in the coming year. New and skilful people will only come when we can offer them the security of reasonable housing, worthwhile work, and work at a liveable maintenance, which incidentally is a basic human right.
Auroville does not generate enough money to grow. In fact our financial growth rate adjusted for inflation has stagnated over the past few years. One reason is that the type of person who is attracted here is mainly a person with spiritual aspirations, which is usually incompatible with the entrepreneurial spirit. Here a person has to invest his own resources to initiate a business. If the business is not successful the person loses his personal investment, as they would outside of Auroville; but if the business is successful, the proceeds and the assets belong to the community. Not many entrepreneurs are inspired by this scenario. My friends in the USA think I am absolutely crazy building a house that is not mine! I'm not saying that we should turn toward this capitalist model. I'm only saying that we haven't agreed upon another model that is equally compelling for people with the capacity to grow Auroville materially.
But there are some things we could change. We should be looking at means to increase this proportion. We have a historically negative attitude to “making money”. This needs to change. We do not have a clearly articulated process for starting up a business. People have to run around trying to find answers to basic questions. We don't have mechanisms for entrepreneurs who are interested in Auroville and might be willing to donate, but who are not ready to join. Getting loans is more difficult than it should be because there is no mechanism for units to pool reserves. And we cannot take commercial loans.
Another difficult area has been to agree upon what it means not to exchange money in Auroville. At an individual level it is simple and builds the community. Glenn repairs my bicycle and Clair teaches me French. Neither asks for anything. There is a camaraderie that is built. But, at a community level it becomes more complex. When we provide “in-kind” maintenances (e.g., a lunch at a community kitchen, an electrical subsidy, or clothing) instead of cash, we limit personal freedom to choose. For some Aurovilians this is critically important. We all have different levels of resources available to us. Someone who is less well off than me is more personally limited by an in-kind system.
Secondly, every time we establish a new “in-kind” scheme, like offering lunches at various locations in Auroville, a new list has to be drawn-up, and funds need to be transferred accordingly. If it were static, it would not be difficult, but it is always changing. Right now we have several such lists (electricity subsidies, lunches, health insurance, and the Pour Tous distribution centre for example). This increases our administrative costs. Some people feel that this is unimportant or less important than moving toward a no-exchange of money economy, and it may be so. But, our resources are not unlimited; we need to discuss both the benefits and the costs.
Aligned with our economic problems, perhaps even contributing to them, is our inability to rapidly and effectively respond to organizational problems. In the last 8 years I have seen a decline in community participation in organizational issues. There is a concentration of power, a lack of clarity regarding the roles of various working groups and a lack of accountability to the Residents Assembly. We are losing our voice as a community. At the same time, we are growing older as a community and not enough young people are coming forward. It is important now that structures, processes, and mandates are put in place so that our experience is clear and transparent and beneficial to the next generation.
It would be good if working groups presented an Annual Work Plan to the Residents Assembly. These should state the objectives, the activities, and the resources required for the year. And then we should develop mechanisms for systematic reflection. Without a forum for reflection and assessment we diminish our opportunities to grow. Often, we discard rather than refine. This is not in accordance with Auroville's Charter which tells us to be the bridge between the past and the future. We can't be that bridge if we burn it.
I realize that this sounds as if Auroville is not functioning well. At the larger level we have difficulties. But at the activity level there is plenty to inspire us. My work at Transition School has been amazing. Auroville's children have a wonderful openness. They are genuinely interested in learning. Equally inspiring is the team of people that I work with. We are at Transition School for love of the work, not for money. We know that we have to respect each other all the time, even when we disagree. There is also an organic hierarchy where people who are capable and willing naturally take on responsibility. We all agree on the mission and the principles. We give each other the freedom to work within an agreed curriculum in whatever manner best suits the individual teachers. This gives the teachers great motivation and satisfaction. We feel we are here for Auroville and the children. We have no formal administration. The twenty-five odd teachers and staff meet every Friday, and in the 8 years I have been at the school we have never failed to come to a consensus about any issue. I have worked within many organizations and I have never seen this anywhere else. Possibly it could only happen in a place like Auroville.