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Report of the Auroville International Meeting 2020 in Auroville

Participants:

AVI Argentina – Anandi E. Fernandez
AVI Australia – Kavithanjali Ramachandran, Kathy Christoffelsz
AVI Belgium – Jean-François Pinet, Bernard Vanden Driessche
AVI Canada – Andrée & Christian Feuillette
AVI Croatia – Irena Ateljevic
AVI Denmark – Max Sohrbeck
AVI France – Francine Finck, Evelyne Guinouard
AVI Germany – Friederike Mühlhans, Franziska Vömel
AVI Hongkong – Peter Lloyd
AVI Hungary – Andrea Kovács
AVI Ireland – Jürgen Faulstich
AVI Netherlands – Marianne Hilarius, Jannet Klingenberg, Josee Lamers, Roos van ,Triet, Johan van den Bor
AVI Russia – Sergei Kornienko, Oksana Kroxmal (Ukraine)
AVI Spain – Alfonso Galiana, Francine Schneider
AVI UK – John Mulrey
AVI USA – Mary & Jack Alexander, Maggie Greer, Fanou & Bryan Walton
Auroville – Vani Poirier, Martin Littlewood
Minutes: Friederike and Vani

Agenda: 

  1. Presentations of Auroville working groups, projects and initiatives (February 13 and 14)
  2. Update on International Zone and European House development (February 15)
  3. Meeting of the old AVI Board (February 17 and 18)
  4. General Assembly and voting (February 19)
  5. Meeting of the new AVI Board (February 20)

1. Presentations of Auroville working groups, projects and initiatives

During the first two days of the meeting the following groups gave a presentation/update on their work, which was very much appreciated by the participants:

  • L’Avenir
  • Entry Service
  • Housing Service
  • Water Group
  • Aura platform for a Circular Basic Income
  • Auroville Institute of Applied Technologies (AIAT)
  • Auroville Learning Exchange program
  • Child Protection and Safeguarding in Auroville
  • Craft Mela
  • Geomatics at CSR
  • La Navette
  • MeDi Clown Academy
  • Mohanam Cultural Center
  • Suryamayi presenting her PhD thesis and the new research platform
  • SVARAM
  • WasteLess
  • Youth Link

2. Update on International Zone (IZ) and European area development

A full day was reserved for IZ topics. The morning session began with a short presentation of the International Space in Bharat Nivas and its new office room. Then plans to organize guided tours for visitors through the IZ were presented, which would offer a good chance to make more people aware about the importance of IZ development and also to present what is already there and what is planned with regard to pavilion development.

Then the Auroville senior architect Helmut presented a development proposal for the European area and its aim “to provide an anchoring framework for development as flexible as possible…while maintaining a certain order and harmony.” Its central idea is to consider “specific features of European urbanity” – the Agora, Forum, Piazza or marketplace – and create a similar central space around which further development can happen in a harmonious way.

The realization of these plans may take some time but landscaping activities to beautify the area around the already existing European House (EH) are happening since its inauguration two years ago, thanks to Michael Roberts from Scotland, who has come again for several months to volunteer at the EH. He presented his very much appreciated ideas and plans for further landscaping of the area.

After the tea-break we received updates on the development of the African pavilion, the Brotherhood pavilion, the French pavilion and the plans to create a common space for the Americas.

In the afternoon the EH group gave a presentation about the last developments. The EH and its open platform is now being used for meetings and exhibitions, one of the buildings is used as an office space (a good fiber optic internet connection is there) and generates a little income from that. The other module is temporarily used for lodging by Michael Roberts, the landscaper. The originally planned third module of the EH is nicely substituted at this stage by the colourful Hungarian caravan. It is discussed whether this third module could rather be a small amphitheater than a building.

Next topic was the presently unclear situation with the International House (IH) and Martin had just started to give a little historical background to the situation, when our discussion was interrupted by Manu, one of the caretakers of the IH. Unfortunately no exchange and discussion with him was possible and it became obvious that a mediation/clearing process is urgently needed there.

3. Meetings of the old AVI Board

We had reserved the first day of our Board meeting for an introspection and reflection on our past two years of collaboration, which had their challenges. Then we concentrated on defining “Values, vision and aspirations” for our future AVI work:

  • Serving the Mother, being guided and inspired by Her
  • Serving Human Unity
  • Celebrating Diversity
  • Supporting universal values
  • Manifesting love, friendship and brother-/sisterhood
  • Manifesting integrity, generosity, respect for differences
  • Respect deep listening and sharing
  • Joyfully accepting impermanence, fluidity and flexibility
  • Accepting to be on an evolutionary path

During the second day we concentrated on bringing these values down to practical steps and proposals for the new Board. They focused on the following topics:

Liaisons

We discussed again the question of how to broaden the base for our AVI work and how to strengthen the communication between the Board and the Liaisons. We want to find out what kind of support the Liaisons are expecting from the Board. This is what AVI can offer to them:

  • AVI offers a platform/window to present Auroville in their countries
  • The Liaisons can be found on the AVI Website
  • A page in their own language can be linked with the Website
  • Liaisons can join AVI events, contact other AVI members in the area, use the network, meet like-minded people and learn more about Auroville

We very much appreciate that many of our recently joined Liaisons are younger people but we have to keep in mind that some of them have young families and are busy earning their living, so we cannot expect too much from them.

Mary, supported by Martin, will have a look at our Liaison guidelines with the questions to be answered and see whether they need a rewording to make them more inviting. A team of Vani, Jürgen and Alfonso (for Spanish speaking countries) are responsible for the lively contact with the Liaisons. Telephone calls proved to be a much better means of communication than mail or email.

We decided to remove the Liaison Bulgaria from the list since Lyubomir is no longer active as the Liaison and has expressed his wish to leave. Josee and Friederike will write a letter of thanks to him.

For the Liaisons Italy and Israel we are looking for support or transition to a new person. Alfonso will follow up with Sauro and Vani with Yuval.

AVI Statutes

At our meeting in Ethnomir the question was raised whether we need to change our statutes. Advised by Martin, who has been involved in the previous two statutes updates, it was agreed that the existing ones offer enough possibility to be flexible and expand our work in a way we aspire to. The statutes say, for example, that the General Assembly decides on the venue of the next meeting, and also elects the Chairperson and Secretary but it has not been generally practiced like that, both decisions were regularly taken by the Board. We will ask the General Assembly to give the mandate to the Board for these decisions.

Structure of representation on the Board

We would like to have more people joining the Board from outside Europe and USA. One way could be to co-opt Liaison people from other countries to the Board in future. This could bring in different cultural perspectives. It has to be taken into account, however, that it is the task of each Board member to work for all countries, not only to represent their own country or continent.

Financial Support for Auroville

Grants from the Government of India are on the decline, therefore it is becoming more and more important that AVI makes efforts to fundraise for Auroville and support income generating projects. Young people wanting to join Auroville should be made aware of the necessity to engage in income generating projects, not only in service oriented ones.

The fundraising calls sent out during the Auroville presentations have to be communicated to the Centers so that they can propagate them in their newsletters, websites, mailing lists.

Starting crowdfunding campaigns could also be an option, as well as to support the sales of Auroville products in our countries.

Next meetings

We decided to stick to the pattern of having our biennial meetings in Auroville and hold the General Assembly with elections then. The next one will be in Auroville in 2022. It was proposed to have the meeting in August because of Sri Aurobindo’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

Every other year we will see if there is an invitation by an AVI Center or Liaison. If there is none we will hold a smaller meeting in Auroville (without General Assembly, Auroville presentations etc.) since many AVI people go there each year anyway.

For 2023 Kavithanjali, member of our Liaison Australia, offered to organize a meeting in Perth, which we welcomed a lot. For 2021 we have no invitation yet, perhaps a smaller meeting could be organized in Europe. Vani will feel out with Gunnur/Turkey and Friederike with Bogi/Hungary.

Despite our common concern to reduce our carbon footprint we consider it extremely important to have physical meetings. Our recent meetings in Spain and Moscow, which for instance helped to establish closer contacts with the respective Sri Aurobindo Centers, thereby broadening the base of AVI work, were proof of this importance.

Contributions to our common AVI account

We agreed to maintain our present practice that the AVI Centers pay an annual contribution of € 600 if they are able to, if not they give as much as they can by their own free estimation. The AVI Liaisons pay an annual fee of € 30.

To cover the costs for our AVI representative (travel costs, office expenses etc.) is a major part of our expenses. It was agreed that costs for “business” lunches of our AVI representative, for instance during the planning phase of the meetings in Auroville, can be taken from the AVI account.

Focus of AVI involvement

We agreed to propose to the new Board the following focus of AVI involvement (in brackets the names of those who volunteered to follow up):

  • Participation in International Zone visioning and planning and in Pavilion development (Evelyne, Martin, Vani, Friederike)
  • Participation in the development of the „Universe-City“ idea (Josee, Friederike)
  • Strengthening of relations with Liaisons (Vani, Jürgen, Alfonso)
  • Support of AVI groups and initiatives – follow-up on presentations by AVI groups (Friederike)
  • Media: Regular website updating, AVI brochure, AVI leaflet, linking with Auroville Outreach (Mary, Vani, Alfonso, Paul)
  • Volunteer programs (Friederike)

4. General Assembly (GA) and voting

The Chairperson Josee welcomed the participants and expressed her good wishes for a fruitful meeting. The Secretary Friederike gave a report on the Board discussions of the previous two days (see above). She then explained the voting procedure and also a proposal from the Board: we had 11 nominations for 11 seats on the Board (Vani as the Auroville representative and 12th member on the Board is not part of the voting process). The Board gratefully saw this as a good sign for Mother’s guidance and agreed to suggest to the GA that the 11 nominees are elected as a group and not by single vote. All members present at the GA with voting rights agreed to this. Vani added that on the voting sheets she received from Liaisons which could not be represented at the GA (Brazil, Luxemburg, Mexiko, Switzerland, Uganda, plus Board members with voting rights Camille, Isa, Mandakini and Sonny) only two did not tick off all 11 nominees on the sheet.  So the composition of the new Board is as follows:

Vani Poirier (Auroville)
Jean-François Pinet (AVI Belgium)
Christian Feuillette (AVI Canada)
Evelyne Guinouard (AVI France)
Friederike Mühlhans (AVI Germany)
Isa Wagner (AVI Germany)
Jürgen Faulstich (AVI Ireland)
Josee Lamers (AVI Netherlands)
Francine Schneider (AVI Spain)
John Mulrey (AVI UK)
Mary Alexander (AVI USA)
Maggie Greer (AVI USA)

The GA agreed to appoint Bryan Walton( AVI USA) as our new honorary Board member. Bryan will be there to assist us whenever needed with his longstanding experience in Auroville and AVI.

The GA also agreed to give the mandate to the newly elected Board to choose the next AVI Chairperson and Secretary and also to decide on the next meeting venue.

We then heard the activities reports of the Centers and Liaisons represented at the GA. It was very encouraging to see the wide range of activities of the different AVI groups, each having their own focus and character. Two members of the “auroville.com” team were present and expressed their amazement about all the different fields of AVI activities. They offered to collaborate with us since they have a vast address database of people who want to stay in contact with Auroville. Friederike and Jack offered to follow up with them.

After the lunch break our treasurer Sonny was connected via Skype and gave the financial report. We thanked her for the meticulous preparation of the report and her efforts in managing our accounts so well.

Then Friederike presented on behalf of the A4A team the most recent update on the fundraising campaign for land which is now already in its 6th year. Approximately 2800 donations were received from which 52 new plots could be bought, equaling 59 acres of the Master Plan area. A big bravo was expressed for the untiringly active A4A team!

The following open exchange between the representatives of the Centers and Liaisons mainly focused on the question of how the smaller Liaisons could be supported. Kavithanjali shared that AVI Australia would welcome support in the process of registering as a Center in order to be eligible for tax-exempt status and also to possibly register for youth and students exchange programs. Jean-François shared that AVI Belgium is considering the same. The Board members offered their support to both of them. AVI Netherlands has offered support to AVI Belgium, with regard to the use of their newsletter, workshops and tax-exemption possibilities. Proper research is needed in the respective countries since rules can differ considerably.

A second topic of discussion was how to reach out to younger people who are used to gathering information and being in touch via Facebook and similar platforms. Those AVI Centers which already have a Facebook page are encouraged to share their experience.

5. Meeting of the new AVI Board

The new Board started its first meeting by concentrating and sharing on the question “Which qualities do we want to bring to the Board?” (see further down). This was followed by a little exercise – each new Board member paired up with one or two old Board members in order to get “burning” questions answered about tasks and functions of the Board.

After lunch three members of the Working Committee, Chali, Carel and Sauro, joined to update us and answer to our questions. The following topics were discussed:

  • International Advisory Council (IAC): The Governing Board (GB) has been requested several times, also from us, to call for the appointment of a new IAC. We will see how we can support this call also in future.
  • We mentioned the idea to create an Advisory Council for AVI. It was questioned why people of a higher profile would want to join such a council. They would request to have travel and other expenses covered, which AVI could not meet.
  • L’Avenir/TDC: A new interim team will start its work in a few days with the specific task to ensure communication between the different technical TDC teams. It has been appointed by WC and Auroville Council, not by a selection process. Asked how a new team will be able to do its work successfully when there is still no agreement in the community about the overall direction of town development it was explained that it is possible to work along the lines of the present Development Plan. David Stein, a town-planner from New York who has already advised Auroville on regional planning in earlier years, is now back in Auroville, supported by AVI USA, to further work with TDC on a regional plan.
  • Government of India (GOI) grants for TDC are on hold, so new funding sources have to be found. AVI may be approached for specific projects.
  • Asked how else AVI could support TDC, the WC members asked us to bring experts into contact with Auroville. We mentioned AVI’s substantial support for the 2019 “Way Forward” workshop with international experts, which showed that experts’ advice is not always welcome.
  • Housing and economic crisis: While GOI has given substantial grants for housing in the past, especially for youth, no grants are given any longer. Presently there are no new housing projects which could meet the urgent needs, 253 people are on the waiting list. It would be very much appreciated if we could develop ideas for fundraising, especially for youth accommodation. But it is equally important to create work opportunities and income generating enterprises for young people, it would be good to attract more people with an entrepreneurial spirit. AVI could help by sending out this message and by bringing Auroville into contact with social enterprises, new economic experiments, interesting start-ups and such. It should be mentioned, however, that the GOI grants are only a small portion of Auroville’s annual budget. The biggest income is from the Auroville enterprises.

NTDA (New Town Development Authority): At present the authorities of Tamil Nadu do not pursue anymore the NTDA option, they plan to constitute a District Planning Authority that can incorporate the plan for Auroville and the bioregion. This is a long process, meanwhile there is not much legal protection. Land purchase is still the best protection, especially to complete the city area and critical areas in the green belt.

  • Vikram Ram files: Auroville has created its own task force to go into all the allegations of Vikram Ram and presented the first outcome of its investigations to the Governing Board, which was quite impressed by the quality of the work. This investigation report was also sent to the GOI. The GB nevertheless recommends an official criminal investigation.

We thanked the WC members for their visit and promised to keep on supporting Auroville in all its major challenges.

We then concentrated on the point “Focus of AVI involvement” as suggested by the previous Board. The basic structure was accepted, one group added and the new Board members joined the groups as follows:

  • Participation in International Zone visioning and planning and in Pavilion development (Evelyne, Martin, Vani, Friederike [later also Isa joined])
  • Participation in the development of the „Universe-City“ idea (Josee, Friederike, Mary, Maggie, Evelyne)
  • Strengthening of relations with Liaisons (Vani, Jürgen, Alfonso)
  • Support of different AVI groups and initiatives – follow-up on presentations by AVI groups (Friederike, Christian)
  • Media: Regular website updating, AVI brochure, AVI leaflet, linking with Auroville Outreach (Mary, Vani, Alfonso, Evelyne, Maggie)
  • Volunteer programs (Friederike, Christian, Francine [later also Isa joined])
  • Mobility in Auroville (Christian, Jean-François)

Our final point on the agenda was the nomination of chairperson, secretary and treasurer. Martin opened the discussion by recommending, from his experience, to give more room in group discussions to the quality of silence. He then described the role of chairperson as someone who rather facilitates than steers discussions and group processes and also enables and fosters individual initiatives.

Thus encouraged the Board decided unanimously to support the following nominations:

Christian Feuillette, Chairman
Friederike Mühlhans, Secretary
John Mulrey, Treasurer
Mandakini Lucien-Brun, co-opted for A4A activities
Alfonso Galiana, co-opted for the contact with Spanish speaking Liaisons

There was also a proposal to co-opt our new Liaison person for Uruguay, Rafael Duran. This was seen as a little premature since he joined AVI only two weeks ago. But it is an interesting option to be discussed again at the next Board meeting.

We closed our meeting with a minute of silence, full of gratitude for the inner and outer guidance we encountered during the meeting. We had expressed before our special thanks to Vani for preparing and organizing the meeting so well and to Martin for his great support in our collective process.

Addendum:

A few days after the meeting the following was agreed by email communication:

Mary Alexander will serve on the Board as Vice-Chairperson

Christian summed up our sharing on the question “Which qualities do we want to bring to the Board?” like this:

Our aim is Human Unity.
The foundation of our Teamwork is Sincerity and Integrity,
Integrity in Serving.
Let’s keep always aware that we are acting for the Mother,
for Mother’s Dream to be realized on earth.
For this we should keep our Trust in the Divine,
remain open to the Presence
and seek the Guidance from the Mother,
in all her four Powers or aspects:

  • Concentration, Focus (MAHESHWARI)
  • Expression of our Intention (MAHAKALI)
  • Mother’s Energy and Clarity in the details (MAHASARASVATI)
  • Respect, Good Will and Love (MAHALAKSMI)

Divine Mother’s Love, carrying its deep unalterable sense of Unity.

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