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October 2003

"Not just of benefit to Auroville…"

- by Sauro

Sauro, at Auroville's Future, talks about the importance of Auroville's external relationships



From a development perspective, there are four principal levels on which we interact with the outside world. Firstly, at the level of the bio-region there is presently a movement - together with other groups - to get it recognised by UNESCO as biosphere reserve under the Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme. We are also trying to be more involved in the process of planning the development of the bio-region and our neighbouring villages through various schemes.
Secondly, there is our Urban Outreach programme, whereby we are building relationships with other Indian cities. The obvious example is Pondicherry. When the city authorities in Pondy got to hear of Auroville's relationship with the European Union [EU], they asked if we could help them to develop some kind of link. We have been delighted to be able to work with them. One tangible result will be the "model street" renovation of Vasyal Street in the Tamil quarter which is going to start soon. It was partly achieved through partnership funding from Brussels.
Thirdly, there is our own networking with the EU, other multilateral agencies and European cities. The Asia Urbs programme was extremely successful. Of course, part of the funding for the Town Hall itself derived from that project. We are continuing to develop this relationship. Recently, we received literally a busload of European Ambassadors here in Auroville! They were very curious to see Auroville, and discover how and why such a small place could attract so many funds and projects from Europe. It is worth mentioning that - in addition to Asia-Urbs, - the EU has co-funded other projects in the areas of forestry and village education. This is thanks especially to the efforts of AVI-UK.
Fourthly, we are starting to develop relationships with other cities within Asia. This is just at the beginning stages, and I do not want to say too much about it. But again, it will form an important part of being able to share our knowledge, experience and existing partnerships with others for their benefit.
This is extremely important. It is very easy for the EU and others to look at us and say 'How come we are giving so much money and emphasis to this little place in Tamil Nadu, when there are so many other things that need to be done in the world?' And they have a very good point. So it is important to stress always that Auroville is not just devouring funds for itself. We must be able to show that we are giving back to the region and to India, that benefit and assistance which Auroville receives from outside is being shared. And most of all, that we do not grow in competition with others. What is good for us must demonstrably be good for others outside - and vice versa. This is another reason why our bio-region and Urban Outreach efforts are so vital. It is important that Auroville is perceived as being there to give also, and not only to receive.
I think especially of the young people that come from other cities in India to work with us. And on our own home-turf there is the Electricians' Training Programme run by the Electrical Service. This came about as part of the Asia-Urbs project. We were able to fund a two-year training programme in the basics of becoming an electrician. There were places for fifteen people, all of whom were local young men. They got the practical experience, plus the beginnings of a qualification. It was very successful! This is the best kind of application for funds, because it really helps people in a practical way. I very much hope that the programme will be able to continue, even though the Asia Urbs component has now ceased.
Our immediate target is to raise funds for Auroville's infrastructure. We are exploring with USAID how they can give us assistance to improve our power supply. We are negotiating with an Italian agency to provide support for projects in the area of waste management in collaboration with the Eco-Service. Back here, we are making preparations for our own reference-library on the third floor of the Town Hall. It will contain maybe a thousand new books on urban development, planning, infrastructure and so forth. The new web-site is being finished (go to www.auroville.com, and click on the Master Plan link); we are preparing to take over the hosting of the Asia Urbs web-database.
And, of course, we are always working on our relationships to the outside world! What we learn, who we know, how we work - all these can help other towns and cities to develop their own relationships.

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