13:39 PM, 10th May 2012, About 10 years ago 48

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My article this time is more of an open question to which I would like your input. Background first.

I was listening to ‘In Business’ on Radio 4 the other day, a programme about something I had not heard of- the business concept of “Frugal Innovation”, currently much in favour with many huge corporations and even David Cameron.

The idea was first put forward in a book by the late C K Prahalad “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”. He took his inspiration from the ingenuity and inventiveness of the Indian rural population in devising solutions to problems in their community when the average wage is 50p a day. Hardly enough to allow them to go around making prototypes and also not a normal market for corporations looking for people to sell to.

Frugal Innovation itself grew out of an Indian concept ‘Jugaad’ which is a Hindi word meaning “To fix-around”, originally used to describe the mad variety of vehicles you see on Indian streets. I’ve been to India twice and it’s my favourite place on earth. You see motorised push bikes adapted to carry bricks or old taxis with elongated chassis that somehow become charabancs. They take what they have around them and turn them into something else they need.

This mechanical flourish also extends to general thinking and innovation in a community strapped for cash. Just like the UK at the moment.

It’s as much a way of thinking as anything else. Flexible and improvisational. Unlike the big top-down corporations, Jugaad thinking can respond very quickly to immediate situations on the ground without having to hold endless meetings or test phases. If something doesn’t work, try something else.

My favourite Jugaad story to illustrate this point concerns the Chinese white goods manufacturer Haier. They made cheap washing machines for rural communities in China. One day an engineer got a call that a farmer’s waste pipe was constantly blocked. When he visited he found that the farmer was using his machine to wash the dirt off of his potatoes and the mud kept blocking the pipe.

Instead of moaning that the guy was an idiot and his warranty invalidated, the engineer asked around the community and found that all the farmers did the same thing, so he called head office who acknowledged that the customer’s needs weren’t the original intention and responded to that. They started putting wider waste pipes on the machines.

This led to the design of new machines that could not only wash clothes and potatoes but also peel potatoes too. Now before you think that is a quaint rural story, bear in mind that because of thinking like this Haier is now threatening to take over the American market of GE and Whirlpool. It’s bottom up stuff.

What has fired me up about Jugaad thinking is my increasing frustration with the government’s policies on housing. Obviously for us lot who work directly in it, by which I mean landlords, tenants, housing advisers etc, we can see the problems face-on and the solutions are often fairly obvious but government, all governments, not just the current lot, will only ever respond with solutions that fit in with their over-arching plan for the country, so politics gets in the way of real work.

Cameron is inspired by Jugaad and is most probably the drive behind the Localism concept, which I am actually in favour of, with overnment getting out of the way and letting real people sort things out.

Localism is to a certain extent laying the ground for more Jugaad thinking and as more councils go down the route of the Social Lettings Agency model we can all expect more improvised and responsive solutions and partnerships being found.

For example, last week I went to meet the manager of my local Credit Union about how we could partner up to find local solutions to housing problems in my borough. He suggested that we could encourage tenants we meet to join the Union, its only £1 and get their LHA paid into their account, which is then ring-fenced so they can’t touch it and a standing order is set up for the rent. These regular payments contribute to re-building credit ratings and take away a landlord’s fears of direct LHA payments, making, theoretically, LHA tenants a possible consideration.

I also had a meeting with a new team set up to run a 2 year pilot to offer hands-on support for people where the whole family is on benefits, not only helping them with financial intelligence but also in getting work.

For my part I am about to run tenant training courses to educate them about rights and responsibilities. This is being done in Harrow council and making tenants more attractive to their local landlords as a result. Off the back of this I have been meeting with a few independent letting agents that we can work with who have agreed to help us promote our tenant prospects in the knowledge that rent is sorted, the tenants trained in responsibilities and ramifications, and the backing of my team in giving free legal advice to landlords and the family team with hands on guidance and mediation.

Talk about frugal innovation. All this cost any of us was an hour of our time to connect up.

My question to you is, thinking freely and with no “Yeah but”s, what solutions would you propose to your most pressing or annoying problems as a landlord or agent? I mean not suggestions that would involve new government laws, it ain’t gonna happen.

Alternatively, are there any Jugaad or partnership solutions that you know of that work well?

The more things we gather together as an online community and then circulate amongst the wider housing community the better chance there is of pulling off some radical solutions.


by Ben Reeve-Lewis

11:13 AM, 15th May 2012, About 10 years ago

We can learn from the past Mary you are right, but it must be on our own 21st century terms.
What I keep pushing for in my local authority, and which is the basis of my open, non-landlord hating approach is the very idea of the PRS as a community that is interdependent on each other. That’s were the internet is such a wonderful tool.
Town Halls cannot hide behind the old bureaucratic walls any more, it doesn’t work.
In Lewisham where I work, we were the first to create a borough-wide strategy for connected ‘Time Banks’ where people swap time and services, rather than simply volunteer, much like your baby care tokens some years ago. Our health-care time bank has been particularly effective.  Doctors noticed that they were swamped with patients whose only really affliction was loneliness, so Lewisham GPs started a time bank where people give their time to talk to people and connect up. GP appointments dropped by about 80% within 6 months.
I know in a way it is simply replicating a connected community, the difference is, events and politics of the past 30 years have broken society up into separate consumers, so we need to consciously create that same situation that once existed naturally.
A historian whose name escapes me wrote a really interesting paper on why the renaissance grew out of Florence while southern Italy was destitute and put it down to choirs, which abounded in the city. Every choir had a carpenter or pot maker who swapped products and services, whereas southern Italy, which was ruled by a top-down system of governance, simply stagnated.


11:34 AM, 15th May 2012, About 10 years ago

Didn't Thatcher just say once that 'there is no such thing as society just the individual'
I think such a mantra has caused the me, me, me society.
This has caused possibly a breakdown in consideration and common courtesy which used to exist before this consumerist society.
Of course it is in the interests of business to divide and rule.
They do not wish to have people band together to obtain better prices.
Localism should hopefully provide access to funding for local solutions, a bit like your Florence analogy.
Personally though I just think it is a Tory agenda to get local communties to do things without any funding from the state.
Just another way to reduce the deficit and reduce expenditure on local councils.
Essentially getting people to do things for nothing that the state has provided via paid employees.
However given that there is no more money, we cannot alow the govt to drive people further into the ground.
So there is little choice than to rengage in some sort of community effort or there will be degradation of services and facilities which are expected to be around for the good of all; like libraries.
Withe literacy levels at their lowest for decades is it really a clever idea to close libraries!!?

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

11:54 AM, 15th May 2012, About 10 years ago

“Personally though I just think it is a Tory agenda to get local communties to do things without any funding from the state”.
Absolutely spot on Paul. Localism has nothing to do with a belief in people power, just an advancement of traditional Tory ideas of hands-off governance but who cares what their reasons are? The results are what are important here.
I find it continually hilarious that what the conservatives are promoting with Localism is in essence an old anarchist model called “Anarcho-Syndicalism”, communities forming connections to run their own affairs without government interference.
But I doubt we will see David Cameron standing up in an open topped car, wearing a beret and shouting “FREEDOM FOR TOOOOOOTING!!!!!” haha

by Mary Latham

11:54 AM, 15th May 2012, About 10 years ago

Ben that health care bank is brilliant. One of the biggest illnesses today is loneliness. I would love to see elderly people being taught to use internet - just the basics so that they can communicate with other like minded people.  So many of us have an old lap top in a cupboard we could donate them to the elderly and I am sure that the internet providers could be encouraged to offer a free service to elderly people as part of their contribution to health care.  Of course there are others who are house bound who would also benefit from a system like this too.

My sister lives in Italy and there are still communities in the north where they share produce.  In the villiage where my brother in laws family grew up they have festivals where the whole villiage brings something to celebrate the harvest. When someone dies, even when they have long since left the villiage, they all turn out to celebrate their lives.

Choirs are an excellent example of people finding a creative way to forget their woes - look at miners chiors - and to come together to create an experience that they can share with the whole community.

My dad used to say "there is nothing new under the sun" Ben and I don't think that we need 21st century ideas better to use those that are proven to work and just tweek them.

I really respect the fact that you are getting things going in your area but it would be far better if people who live in those areas began their own schemes - they would feel owership and pride rather than "the council" coming up with a scheme.  I too like localism and if it works as it could we may see local people finding local solutions to local problems - that would be great.  People like you could facilitate the coming together of these people so that problems could be identified and solutions found.

by Mary Latham

12:01 PM, 15th May 2012, About 10 years ago

Paul I am totally none political and I don't really care why we need to change society just that we do.
When Mrs Thatcher said "'there is no such thing as society just the individuals" she meant that we cannot wait for "society" to make changes society is made up of individuals and we ALL need to play our part. To many people "leave it to someone else" constantly moaning and doing nothing.  We need to "be the change we want to see" roll up our sleeves and make change happen. I have been doing this in the PRS for 25 years and I will continue until the PRS is a place where good tenants want to live and good landlords thrive.

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

12:22 PM, 15th May 2012, About 10 years ago

Yes I agree Mary it should come from the community up but we have to start somewhere and the ultimate aim is to teach them to fish, not give them fish, if you get me. Thats what the training programme is all about that I am currently putting together. My aim is to have an educated PRS with knoweledgable tenants into the bargain.

What galls me is that although I have senior management approval and a budget I have to do it on top of chasing criminal landlords and defending mortgage repossessions and largely have to do it without many managers knowing what I am doing, otherwise they would get nervous and want a meeting haha

Many councils have great initiatives. I was just sent this link to the Audit Commission on council schemes across the UK http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/SiteCollectionDocuments/Downloads/20110909_housinggoodpractice.xls

by Devon Landlord

11:39 AM, 15th May 2012, About 10 years ago

I would like to thank all those who have contributed to the debate on Juggard and I say this as a new member of the 118 community. I have learnt so much from the information freely imparted. I have taken very much to heart the value of Credit Unions, something about which I was largely unaware. I have made contact with our Local Authority, the Devon wide Plough and Share CU as well as Tasker Payment Services. I see the value of the CU philosophy becoming a cornerstone in dealing with many of the problems that the Universal Credit system will throw at landlords and I hope to be able to work constructively with these organisations in the future.

My hope is that Landlords can promote the value of becoming a saver with a CU by insisting that any new LHA tenant join one before agreeing to an AST. This will help protect the landlord's self interest and also help the tenant too, especially if they have money management problems. Well done Juggar it helps us think and get solutions outside the box and at minimal cost to all concerned.

by Mary Latham

13:03 PM, 15th May 2012, About 10 years ago

Interesting Ben thanks for the link

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