Monday, 11 July 2005

Windhorse:Evolution as a Buddhist Business

Keturaja, Windhorse's Director of HRThis is part two of a series of four articles on Windhorse:Evolution, the FWBO’s largest and most successful Right Livelihood business, based in Cambridge, UK. The articles look at the ethos of the business, recent changes and challenges it has faced, the experiences of some individuals working in it, and some of the many projects funded by their current dana.

Most of the articles are taken from the W:E magazine, and are reprinted by permission.

Keturaja, Windhorse:Evolution's HR Director, talks to Tejasvini about some of the Buddhist flavours to be found at windhorse:evolution.

Buddhist Presence
Many of us have come to work at windhorse: evolution because we value working with other people who are inspired to practise the Buddhist path. Our ethos, and the five principles of the business are inspired by Buddhist practice. We very much welcome those who are not Buddhists, we value their contribution and would like to support their continuance in the business and we would also like to maintain a strong Buddhist presence in the company.

Renaissance in Community Living
Over the last few years a wide range of lifestyles of people working here has evolved. In the 80s and early 90s a very large percentage of people who worked in the business, especially those in Cambridge, lived in residential Buddhist communities. Now some live alone, or live together in couples and there are people who live with friends or with their families. I think the business benefits from that breadth of lifestyles. Having said that, over the last couple of years the communities seem to be very vibrant here in Cambridge. There seems to be a renaissance of keen interest in them. At the moment most of our communities (3 women’s and over 10 men’s) are nearly full and we haven’t many spare places.

Autonomy and Variety
Each of the communities is quite different. Although the community dwellings are nearly all owned by the Windhorse Trust, they’re largely autonomous in the sense that the people who live in them decide the details of how they want to live together. For example, some communities are very keen on meditating together in the morning; some are vegan; others are vegetarian but they’ve decided not to be vegan; some like to eat together, some don’t; some like to meet together in the evening maybe once a week for a community night and others don’t. Some are either men’s or women’s communities and they like to maintain just a single sex environment, whereas others are open in the sense that partners are allowed to stay and are happy to stay. This means there’s quite a varied richness of community life.

Smaller Living Situations
Unfortunately living on one’s own is quite expensive in Cambridge, so we do have some limits for those on the ‘support package’. However it’s certainly possible for people to live together either in twos, in a partnership or just with a friend. There is a range of living situations from living in twos right up to living in larger communities.

One thing I’m very keen to do is to expand the opportunities within the properties owned or rented by the Trust. At the moment our communities range in size from the largest, which houses up to 9 people, down to the smallest, with about 5 people. Some people are already living in communities of three or four, but I’d like to expand that opportunity within the properties that the Trust owns.

Remuneration Choice
We have developed a choice of remuneration for people within the business – either the ‘support package’, which has evolved over the years, or a wage, or a salary in some positions. Being on support involves a collective arrangement and being happy to live a simple lifestyle, but the wages and salaried positions also involve something in the way of a salary sacrifice in relation to similar positions in other businesses.

Benefits of Support Package
You could look at the benefits of the support package in a number of ways. Certainly being on support allows the business to maximise the amount of money that it can give away. The company is able to make more profits and give more money away when people choose to be on support, specially if they live in a community, which is relatively inexpensive. Being on support is a way of giving very generously.

I think there are other benefits of support as well. It involves agreeing to live a simple lifestyle, even though the support package that we have meets more than just basic needs. A simple way of living also minimises the use of natural resources from an ecological point of view.

In addition there’s a collective element in the practice of being on support. Most of support consists of allowances, which are just taken, but there are some elements that involve discussing one’s own needs, and I think that’s a useful reflection and clarification on needs and wants. We all have a relationship with money and how we use it, and quite a lot of our conditioning is tied up with our feelings about money. Somehow the support system draws out and reflects back one’s own conditioning in regard to it. Sometimes that can be quite challenging, but personally I have found that it helps make me aware of my own conditioning and deciding whether I’m happy with that conditioning or want to change it. For example some people find it difficult to ask about their own needs, and so the people involved in administering the support system practise being open and encouraging, helping people clarify what their needs really are.

Ethos - and conclusion
We would like to maintain and strengthen the ethos of the business and promote the values of generosity, simplicity of lifestyle, personal growth, honesty and mutual helpfulness.

To this end we will continue to recruit those who share those values and are in sympathy with the Buddhist ideals that underpin them.

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