For some of Auroville's commercial units, the global economic crisis may mean the end of an experiment. Others are confident that they will pull through.
“We are at the crossroads of something that has never happened before,” says Paul.
We are sitting in the laboratory of Maroma, surrounded by bottles with aromatic concentrates and other raw materials for Maroma's incense sticks, body care products, candles, ambient perfumes, oils, potpourris and other scented articles. Laura and Paul, who have been running Maroma for more than 30 years and who have turned the company from a small unit into one with markets all over the world and a subsidiary in the USA, reflect on how the global crisis may affect Auroville business and how they should rise to the challenges.
Maroma's response to the global crisis will be to invest more, modify the products and diversify the product range. “Our answer is to try to increase our turnover,” says Laura. “In a period of crisis, many people have the tendency to freeze and be scared. That's the wrong attitude, it brings you nowhere. Some say ‘Mother will provide.' That is a good expectation but while Mother provides vision and intuition, we have to rise to the challenge. We have to be creative and perceive where we can cut back and what can be developed and find products that can work in the market. People want to see something beautiful and spend less – that is the challenge for Auroville's commercial units. That is much more difficult than in a booming economy. You need to be open and optimistic.”
Do they expect many of Auroville's 120 commercial units to follow this approach? “We can only hope,” says Paul. “It is common knowledge that few of Auroville's 120 commercial units have been able to create substantial surpluses for Auroville. Many units have only succeeded in maintaining the unit executive, pay for the wages of the employees and make minor contributions to Auroville. We have often expressed our dissatisfaction with the lack of growth. We would like the Auroville commercial units to make a quantum leap and become substantial contributors to the Auroville economy. But in the present times we fear that some of these units, particularly those depending on sales from a very small market, may get into problems. The demand for their products may decrease, and if they have not built-up sufficient reserves, the unit will suffer and may even go bankrupt.”
In this context Paul warns about another problem of Auroville's commercial units. “More and more business executives are ageing. It would be nice to see some promising youth come forward and say ‘We want to participate'. Some executives worry that when they reach 65 and above, they won't have an income or pension. These issues are yet to be looked into by Auroville.”
Maroma, however, expects to pull through. “We are confident,” says Paul. “People are thinking twice about buying an expensive household appliance, but we are talking about a packet of incense with a market rate of US $2.50 which is not a price at which people will stop purchasing. But the market will not absorb a price increase to offset the increase of our expenses. We will work to introduce new products that sell well, such as natural soaps, so that the level of our future contributions to Auroville may not be affected.”