Startup Service in Auroville: Designing for Generosity
"Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages." - Auroville Charter
"For in this ideal place money would no longer be the sovereign lord; individual worth would have a far greater importance than that of material wealth and social standing. There, work would not be a way to earn one’s living but a way to express oneself and to develop one’s capacities and possibilities while being of service to the community as a whole, which, for its own part, would provide for each individual’s subsistence and sphere of action." - The Mother, in A Dream Envisioning an Ideal Society
On Dec 16th 2017, a group of 40 friends from around the globe gathered in Auroville to dive deep into the question: how can we design for generosity, and lead with inner transformation in our labor-of-love projects?
The retreat invitation read: "We will bring together people from diverse backgrounds and a common intention of manifesting a Gift Economy. We will look into practical nuances of conscious engagement with money and multiple forms of capital in the current context and also steps we can take to create a future where 'money would no longer be the sovereign lord.' Having hosted over a hundred retreats focused on Inner Transformation, we have repeatedly experienced the magic that unfolds when a group of people take a step together into the "unknown" and collectively hold space for sacred emergence."
The typical three-day Startup Service retreat was condensed into one day, but the spirit and love was by no means diluted. Below are some glimpses from our time together.
Tilling the Soil
The seeds for a Startup Service retreat in Auroville have been planted long ago. The confluence is obvious -- and inevitable -- to any friends who are familiar with both Auroville and ServiceSpace. Auroville is a "site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity." It has been fostering the spirit of Karma Yoga and has incubated several social enterprises. ServiceSpace has been leveraging 'Technology with Love' and co-creating projects in the spirit of gift economy.
Four years ago, Startup Service retreat was born as an initiative for turning our service intention into action. It brings together people from diverse backgrounds and facilitates the process of starting a new project, adding momentum to an existing project, or collaborating with like-hearted participants on emerging projects. Since then, four such retreat has brought together generosity entrepreneurs around the world.
One year ago, a core anchor for Startup Service, Deven and his family, moved to Auroville. In addition to holding weekly Kindness Circles with 10-year-old school children, they have also been also laying the groundwork for Startup Service Auroville.
On the evening before the retreat, there were a couple of events on 'Transformation of Consciousness and Money' held in the Unity Pavillion, a symbolic and most fitting space. (Jaya and Shivaya, the executives of Unity Pavilion took their project to the retreat the next day.) Nipun first gave a talk on "Gift Economy and Inner Transformation". He summed up the message with a quote from Vinoba, "All revolutions are spiritual at the source. All my activities have the sole purpose of connecting heart to heart."
On 4th October, 1958, the Mother placed a “challenge before the whole financial world” to transform the earth by putting it into contact with the supramental forces that would make life bountiful. She also said “Money is not meant to generate money; money should generate an increase in production, an improvement in the conditions of life and a progress in human consciousness.” Deven and Jaya made a presentation to share insights from an exploration of an experiment called Mother’s Bank that had emerged while asking “what would a financial institution or a bank look like if it were to be created today for manifestation of the New Creation based on the vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother?”
The evening ended with a candle-lit Awakin Circle in the Hall of Peace, which also houses the Peace Table for Asia, which was gifted to Auroville by the Nakashima Peace Foundation in 1996.
And all these events are just what happens on the front stage. Behind the scene, countless hands have poured so much love to the smallest details, with volunteers coming from around India. For instance, several volunteers stayed up till 2am to draw exquisite notebook covers with inspiring quotes, and hand-made all the name tags for retreat participants.
Setting the Context
The Startup Service retreat on December 16, 2017 was generously hosted at Verite in Auroville. It started with Yoo-Mi sharing the "startup" days of ServiceSpace, a young organization with ancient and counter-intuitive values. Deven followed up with connecting the dots between ServiceSpace and Auroville's vision.
We then went around the room to invite each participant to share one quote that inspires them. People offered Hindi poems, Chinese songs, sayings from saints, and lived wisdom from their own life. A 20-year-old Austrian entrepreneur, Elisa, reminded us, "Don’t let rejection define you. Let your reaction to rejection define you."
(Little did we know that a few volunteers were busy taking notes, and then spent their whole afternoon to weave the quotes and each participants' photo into a slideshow as a surprise gift at the end of the retreat!)
Nipun then led the group for a birds-eye view of what's happening in the forefront of business and technology. Referring to the values underlying the innovations powered by the Seven Deadly Sins, he posed six questions for generosity entrepreneurs as antidote:
- Are we designing for impermanence?
- What are our creative constraints?
- Are we using multiple forms of capital?
- Are we leading with inner transformation?
- Are we unlocking the many-to-many potential?
- Are we working without an exit strategy?
Designing for Generosity
With these questions and values as our shared context, seven teams of change-makers shared their labor-of-love projects with the whole room.
Aarti from Mumbai is on the cusp of taking her mental health healing circles to the next level to support more survivors of sexual violence. Her first paid project made her feel very ambivalent about receiving money for her sacred work.
Helena and Rajan from Auroville have received the support and blessing to create a community center and retreat house to offer circles, exhibitions and meditations related to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. But they are facing hard questions on financial sustainability and relations with local villages.
Arun from Bangalore has created software to support distribution logistics for essential medicines to villages across India. He asks, "How can we really embody the 'selfless service' in 'SaaS' -- software as a service?"
Archana from Indore presented her idea of unconventional and self-learning program, as well as her daughter's idea of connecting neighbors to come together for home-cooked meals.
Dinesh from Pondicherry shared about his work and vision to connect local farmers and consumers through organic food store and related initiatives.
Jaya and Shivaya from Auroville shared their intention to shift the Unity Pavilion space towards a complete gift economy approach.
Chandresh shared a vision of creating a residential and co-working space for young people in Auroville that also serves as a fab lab and maker's space, fostering innovation and new ventures in the spirit of 'new economy'.
With such a rich menu of inspiring projects, all the participants spread into small groups, huddling around each project. For the next two hours and over lunch, the groups delved deeper into the nuances of each project, and pooled the collective intelligence to explore how the labor of love could be a living laboratory of gift economy and inner transformation. The groups returned to share their progress with the whole room before the closing of the retreat. All the teams received a bagful of offerings from the participants in multiple forms of capitals.
The new perspectives and friendship fueled another two hours of informal conversations, as many participants lingered around to connect with one another. As one participant quoted Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things - only small things with great love.” Now that’s a design principle for all generosity entrepreneurs:)
Here are some photos from this gathering.