Small scale industry in Auroville
The Mother envisioned industry and commerce to be an integral part of life in Auroville and a means of financially sustaining the economy of the Auroville community. She designated one of Auroville's four zones as the 'Industrial Zone', and gave it the name 'Auroshilpam'. As this Sanskrit name connotes, industries in Auroville are mainly small-scale and pollution-free. Many of them deal with handicrafts. These 'business units', as they are called, either provide the basic material necessities for the residents of the community or generate income for the general maintenance of the township, while also
sponsoring other projects for the community and in the neighbouring villages.
Most of the approx. 125 active commercial units originally started off in order to fulfill a certain need of Auroville, either mechanical engineering needs, software services, recording music, to pioneer new technologies or simply to generate money. For example, Auroville produces a world-class wind pumping system, the need for which arose in the 1970s to pump water to nurture the afforestation efforts of the Auroville bio-region. Now this technology has been constantly improved, innovated and commercialised, meeting the needs of Auroville and elsewhere in India. Similarly, many other units have moved in a cycle of needs or new technology, stabilising the product through in-house research and use, leading to commercialising the technology or goods for outside use.
For most of the unit holders the motivation to run a unit is something like: "It gives me a chance to express my creativity" - for our potters, designers, architects and such, or "To establish and promote sustainable practices" - in the area of organic foods, renewable energy, natural dyeing, high class appropriate building technologies, etc. Most of these pioneering technologies face competition from generic products like fertiliser based agricultural practices, fossil fuel generated electricity, chemical dyeing of textiles, and such like. The sustaining environment of Auroville not only nurtures but encourages these difficult, nascent technologies, enabling them to flourish and be promoted in Auroville to further the aim of a sustainable lifestyle.
Auroville Board of Commerce
The Auroville Board of Commerce (ABC) comprises executives of all Auroville commercial units, who appoint a Core Group to take care of the day-to-day activities. The Core Group of the Board meets regularly to approve the opening of new units, handle applications for business credits, co-ordinate yearly auditing of accounts, and advise units regarding accounts, finance, marketing, management, etc.
Perhaps the greatest challenge that Auroville commercial units face is to be efficient and productive in a way which conforms to normal business standards without compromising the spirit and ethics of Auroville.
Given present trends, commercial activities will have to expand in order to provide a larger source of income for the general maintenance of Auroville, while also creating employment opportunities for its growing population and people from the local villages. Units need to be encouraged to meet the demands of Auroville, and funds need to be found to help new units start up.
Influence on village life
Apart from the Aurovilians, who work on a voluntary basis for a maintenance allowance, Auroville employs some 4,000 people from the local villages, whose work typically covers anything from agriculture to engineering, cleaning, gardening, driving, accounting, teaching, commerce and supervising.
There is also a blossoming of small-scale businesses, not belonging to Auroville, in the surrounding villages, like building contractors, handicraft workshops, taxi operators, boutiques, shops, etc, all of whom may have derived direct or indirect support from Auroville.