Startup Service in Auroville: Designing for Generosity

Posted by Zilong Wang on Jan 29, 2018

"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.

Startup Service, Auroville: Group Photo

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.

Posted by Zilong Wang on Jan 29, 2018 | permalink

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  • Helena and Rajan wrote ...

    It has given us new perspectives to look at our project, clarity in identifying the available capitals and what needs to develop and work on. It has given me a lot of joy to be with people who resonate deeply with ideas of care for the human beings and the growth of consciousness it was very assuring. The Generosity that was present on many levels was extraordinary.

  • Archana Parsai Gehlot wrote ...

    Me and Atri wanted to express our deepest gratitude and love to such an amazing, wonderful self less team of true spirited human beings. As Nipun rightly says in his bio - "Bring smiles in the world and stillness in my heart." We could really feel the act of kindness and design for generosity projects are really bringing smiles on billions of faces and stillness in volunteer's hearts. This kind of gathering empowers one to think beyond selfish desires and makes them think how easy it is to take first step towards connecting the hearts. I am full of emotions and empty of words to express my feelings. Everyone in the group was full of spirit and energy and their willingness to support in whatever way they can to make an idea/project successful, mesmerises me. My sincere gratitude for all the friends I met at the retreat. Thanks and lot of love

  • Anandi Zhang wrote ...

    Deep joy and gratitude.

  • Aurelio wrote ...

    Deep Gratitude to all the team and all who helped - for the offering of this dedicated space!

    A perfect tuning at this turn of the year - with today's winter solstice celebrating the return of the light on this upward path of the solar way - into new realms of being and working together - in service!
    .....for a new humanity evolving, a new consciousness unfolding....
    Happily, encouraged, powerfully, sweetly, listening to the magic that is so close, through the key we are given - to share, to serve.

  • Hemant Lamba wrote ...

    Thanks for sharing this space of sharing. While in support circle for Aarti's dreams we had a sharing on right attitude towards power of Money. During this sharing an observation sparked discussion on relationship to money. Largely two energies play predominantly while dealing money. One by attachment propelled to accumulate and second by rejection by renunciation of Money. This leaves money with those who then perpetuate further energies engine of greed. Sadhus enjoy their bliss in renunciati  See full.

    Thanks for sharing this space of sharing. While in support circle for Aarti's dreams we had a sharing on right attitude towards power of Money.

    During this sharing an observation sparked discussion on relationship to money. Largely two energies play predominantly while dealing money. One by attachment propelled to accumulate and second by rejection by renunciation of Money. This leaves money with those who then perpetuate further energies engine of greed. Sadhus enjoy their bliss in renunciation. Both essentially are different types of attachments, where Ferrari becomes a gadget of display in one case and having no clothes, house or a bank account become a showcase in other.

    There is a small minority who are detach while handling money and use it as an instrument of the Divine to bring change in Conciousness.

    Very few spiritual teachers have talked about Money. Sri Aurobindo and Mother did and has been a source of inspiration for me and others in Auroville.

    Hide full comment.

  • Uma Prajapati wrote ...

    Thank you all, thank you Nipun.
    At the session I learn to language my journey, personal and of my organisation upasana.
    Being a life long volunteer at Auroville ,holding a link of most material to most spiritual.
    It filled me with deep gratitude towards Auroville and all of you.
    Love always

  • Arun Ramanujapuram wrote ...

    It was wonderful being there and learning. Thank you for your presence.


  • Nipun Mehta wrote ...

    Thank you, for organizing the retreat and holding the vision for this year's immaculate gathering -- and for so many years. It was so wonderful to hold space with all of you around our shared values. Lot of our conversations also reminded me of a rich spectrum of value creation -- and I look forward to supporting all your projects along that spectrum. Do feel free to call on me as your brother in service, in case there are small ways that I can be helpful.

  • Aarti Kuber wrote ...

    Thank you so much, each and every one of you, for co-creating a magical weekend filled with compassion and support. I was so touched to see the effort made by the organizing team, hugs to all of you.

    I am still processing my thoughts and feelings post the wave of love I received at the retreat from all of you. I learnt so many new things and got much deeper insight into the values and plans I am working with. Just like Archana shared, I am also running out of words to express my gratitude and let you know just how much you have contributed to my life. Well, what I do know is that I feel unstoppable and equipped with the tools to make possible what I dream of. I feel like I have so many friends backing me, who believe in me. It helps me stay grounded and also gives me the courage to fly and soar. Thank you for helping me turn my hope into faith and my faith into belief.

    Stay in touch! Lots of love.

  • Hermann Gams wrote ...

    Dear DreamA´s!

    Thank you so much that I had the chance to meet all of you in my "Indian year".
    The last week made my connection to Indiia and especially the Servicespace -community
    closer again.

    Auroville was a wonderful experience and I will always remember it as a very special place,
    a huge "Thank you" to everybody who was involved for making the StartUp Service Weekend possible.

    Looking so much forward that TOGETHER we´ll create the world we dream of !
    ......take this as a little inspiration what inspiring "masterpieces" co-creation can bring.....

  • Harald Katzenschläger wrote ...

    Thanks for your invitation & the opportunity to learn more from the Auroville Community. We felt so welcome and I left as a grateful guest.

  • Arti Gopa wrote ...

    I am very grateful to the whole team for organizing such mindful retreat. It was a spellbound experience and I wanted to express it through these lines -
    What a lovely experience
    By beautiful people with their mindful presence.

    Deep thought discussions flow
    Leads us to take steps to grow .

    Unconditional love showered by all volunteers
    Makes me feel that life is worth to be here.
    Beautiful presentation on inner transformation with sincerity
    Just makes me wonder to have such clarity.