The Mother envisioned social enterprises 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. Auroville has around 170 enterprises proving employment to around 5000 people from the neighborhood.
These social enterprises 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.
Purpose of creating social enterprises
- To create abundance for the growth of Auroville.
- To contribute towards building a common collective prosperity.
- To express beauty and harmony in matter.
- To build and strengthen a shared economy.
- To provide a healthy and sustainable environment for the development of people from Auroville, the Bioregion, India and the World.
- To develop while maintaining a harmony with nature and environment.
- To support fair trade practices To support fair and lawful labor relations.
- All actions as a service and offering to the Divine.
- A spirit of non-ownership above personal possession.
- Conduct of stewardship on behalf of all the residents and Humanity as a whole.
- Trusteeship on behalf of the collectivity.
- Adherence to Indian Laws and the Spirit of Auroville.
- Transparent in representations.
- Generosity and sharing of resources
Most of the approx. 170 active social enterprises 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 enterprises 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 entrepreneurs the motivation to run an enterprise 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 social enterprises, 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 enterprises regarding accounts, finance, marketing, management, etc.
Perhaps the greatest challenge that Auroville social enterprises 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. Enterprises need to be encouraged to meet the demands of Auroville, and funds need to be found to help new enterprise startups.
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.