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March '03

Economic experiments

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The income-sharing experiment called 'circles,' started in 1999, is being given a substantial boost by the the New Dawn circle experiment.



New life for the circles

-by Carel,

as published in Auroville today


In 1999 the so-called "circle" experiment was started. It aims at making a step towards an economic system characterized by no exchange of money inside Auroville, and by the community taking care of the basic needs of the individuals dedicated to Auroville. The biggest challenge was that many Aurovilians lived on an inadequate community maintenance and could not make ends meet. To deal with this challenge, groups of people created circles, each with its own common pot. The income of each member is put into the pot, and each member draws from the pot whatever s/he deems necessary. The common pots of all the circles together were in turn considered as one pot, which means that a deficit of one circle was to be compensated by the surplus of another. The commercial unit Maroma provided an additional buffer to cover consolidated deficits.

When the experiment was reviewed in February 2001, it appeared that about 80% of the circle participants are those who have an inadequate community maintenance. The difference between what is needed and what the community pays is on average Rs 1,000 a month. Being a member of a circle gives the possibility of getting a somewhat larger maintenance. However, the pooling of individual maintenances proved insufficient to provide for the basic needs of all circle participants, even though some circle participants with personal resources contribute more than just their own expenses. [see also AVToday April & November 2001]. Since then the number of people who continue to donate more to the circle than they take out has steadily decreased. The fires of enthusiasm seem to have dimmed.

The New Dawn circle experiment

"It's time for a system overhaul," explained Alain Grandcolas of behalf on the New Dawn circle. "We studied once again what Mother had said about the ideal economy. And that brought us to a different set-up, with the following parameters.

1. The circle should provide only the basic minimum goods in kind to the members (this scheme is called Prosperity and allows for no exchange of money within Auroville for obtaining the needs of the body).

2. The circle should also provide a minimum pocket money of Rs 1500 per month.

3. The circle should have a special fund for basic needs that are not covered from the monthly Prosperity.

4. The circle is not meant to cover housing requirements. These requirements are addressed by the Housing Service.

5. Each circle member should contribute to Auroville through a full-time work, recognized as such by the Auroville Maintenance Group.

6. Monthly maintenances are paid directly into the circle account. Self-supporting people are expected to contribute a minimum of Rs 4,000 to the circle account.

The New Dawn circle has been testing each of these parameters for the last two years.

Providing goods in kind

Providing goods in kind instead of allowing circle members to shop at Pour Tous and at the Bakery and be tempted by articles not really needed, has led to substantial savings. "Once every week a list is distributed of the basic items to which a circle member is freely entitled," explains Shraddhavan, "and the products of those lists are home delivered. The list is regularly updated, and there is sufficient space to allow for an individual's special requirements. In fact, we noted that the basic needs of each of our circle members are different, but we have been able to meet them." The basic needs covered under 'Prosperity' are nutrition (lunch and dinner through the Solar Kitchen, breakfast, milk, bread), Pour Tous (a weekly delivery of basic items - toiletries, cleaning items, household items, simple medicines and stationary, supplementary food), Nandini (clothes and soft furnishings), health (through the AV Health Fund), water, electricity and community expenses, photocopies, petrol (in New Creation) and telephone bills (up to a maximum of Rs 600 for two months). All of these basic services of Prosperity are provided by the New Dawn Circle equally for each of its members, whatever their contribution into the Circle budget.

Pocket allowance

In addition to "Prosperity" New Dawn provides to each member a minimum "pocket allowance" of Rs 1,500 to cover extra individual needs, which is deposited by the Circle into the "Kind" account of each individual member. This pocket money can be used to cover articles from Pour Tous that are not included in the weekly request form for basic items, for Auroville restaurants, purchases from Auroville boutiques etc. Up to half the monthly allowance may be drawn in cash for expenditure outside Auroville.

Sunchild Fund

For other basic needs that are not covered by the Prosperity scheme and which members cannot cover themselves, the New Dawn Circle has created the "Sunchild Fund". This fund provides for non-recurrent and exceptional expenses, such as dental treatment, bike repairs etc. Each month Rs 200 per member is deposited from the Circle budget into that Fund. Withdrawals from this fund can only be made with permission from the circle executives, or, when it concerns large amounts, with approval of the entire circle.

Sharing maintenance

The maintenance of every member is put fully into the Circle and each one is free to spend any other income in the way s/he likes. If someone works part- time and receives half maintenance, participation in the circle would be possible but pocket money is not given.

Pilot project

The New Dawn circle experiment can be regarded as a pilot project. "The New Dawn circle is a cross-section of the Auroville community," explains Alain. "There are 21 people. Seven of them are Indian, of which three come from the surrounding villages. There are four Russians and ten westerners. Fifteen of our members depend on community maintenance, six members are self-supporting. We know now how much each circle member costs the circle. We calculated that if everyone would use all the services to the full, the costs would be Rs 4,500 per person per month. But they don't. We have been spending only Rs 3,800. When members have high electricity bills - for example if they need air-conditioning - or high telephone bills, they keep these bills outside the system."
Can the New Dawn experiment be translated into an all-Auroville experiment? Alain thinks so, but advises caution. "Our present circle is the result of an organic growth which lasted two years. It would be best to experiment with one new circle of about 20 people in order to get more experiences with fresh members and test our pretty strict monitoring to avoid any possibility of abuse. For a system comprising 600 Aurovilians and newcomers, two full-time monitors posted in the Financial Services and one coordinator for each circle of about thirty members would be required to meet the individual needs. The system can be financially independent if self-supporting people participate. The objective is that the present existing ratio of 2/3rd of the Aurovilians who are on community maintenance and 1/3rd who are self- supporting, would be reflected in an all-Auroville experiment.


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