Posted by steve on July 8, 2006
I was doing Internet research into how Unit Trusts (see earlier post) advertise their investment opportunities. I was struck by how far away the organizations that benefit from my money are from me. I just get barely a piece of paper from the bank or building society advisor. In the Unit Trust scheme I met in the image stream you get to be close to the organization and get together personally with them. And it was useful stuff. Much better and more human!
This is the third investigation into Unit Trusts. The first one visited an exhibition of the organization and the organizations offering placement opportunities. These visits have raised several questions, including how a 10,000 SEK investment would provide anything useful, as 4% gives 400 SEK (what you might get as yearly dividend from conventional placements) equivalent to one carrier bag of food. Not much per year.
On the other hand, 10,000 SEK is the equivalent of the quarter of your food bill for one year. You would want to see a reasonable result for your money. Of course, if you were to eat up the 10,000 SEK we are talking of a food bill for 3-4 months!
This goes to show I cannot get my head around economics. It seems to be a system that allows you to compare apples and pears with each other.
In contrast. Units of Trust are dealing with realities – the number of days in a year, hours you can work, calories you need to eat, etc. I can’t see how systems that aren’t anchored in simple realities like that can be useful.
From an investor’s point of view you come close to the organizations, you make a commitment. They get capital and customers – an incredible benefit for them.
QUEST: My quest is to understand how an involved organization is expected to serve its customers and investors in the scheme. I need to be clearer about how it all works.
My quest, then, is to visit such an organization again to learn how they teach starting up organizations to use their facilities best. To join in the training, or process, or see the process where these organization that join, how they are trained and developed, as well as what is offered by unit trusts.
I am walking over the cobblestones of the square I visited earlier, towards the small town hall where I earlier met the facilitator group. I get the feeling this group is heavily involved.
A sign on the door invites you into the introduction to Units of Trust entrepreneurs’ day.
People are sitting at round tables in groups of four or so.
I sit down, collect a notepad, pencil and file.
One person welcomes us.
“This is the start of your journey towards providing sustainable services as an entrepreneur. I congratulate you on your choice, you are doing a good thing for society and lot of people are counting on you, and waiting to invest in your offering.”
“This is not like anything else. Many really want to support you and see it works well because they want what you have to offer. The purpose of these first sessions is to explain the principles behind how this can work. So that was my introduction. Any questions?”
“I know nothing about business.”
-“No problems we’ll help you with that.”
“I am not sure what I want to do, just something.”
- “OK. You can still go on the course. You are welcome, something will come up while you are on the process.”
The first exercise to do he calls the Basic Frameworks of Life.
What we have to do is write down what we think they are. On a square, the group have to put everything around that framework.
I am in a group of four. We get started.
“Human life?” someone asks.
We start to list what we consider are essentials:
• Social security
• Health care
• Household goods
Then we are asked to identify a maximum, minimum and a reasonable standard.
For water, I venture 50 liters a day, but do we need 2 liters a day – or hour – I realize I am unsure.
Maximum is 7000 liters, equivalent to the average US citizen or household.
We note these down on the square.
Minimum spare meters 13 square meters
Largest = say 50 per person.
Reasonable, lower quartile.
4000 KWh per year for a family
(If you go over what is reasonable you get fat!)
(We must be able to find minimum and reasonable standards of vitamins and minerals etc which are needed.)
Not being cold – a minimum wardrobe – one pair of shoes.
Five changes of underwear if you wash once a week
The whole group is getting into it, quantifying and qualifying. We quickly realise too much or too little is a burden. There is a comfort range that needs identifying..
In terms of security
Always know you can get the minimum
Never want for anything……
This exercise certainly makes you think. We carry on discussing details.
I wander around the other groups, they are identifying units and then evaluating max and min. Most have never thought of this before
Indoor temperature 21 constant
Minimum 17c Not too hot, not too cold.
The facilitator asks how much disagreement there is
”Not a lot so far.”
“Where was the difficulty – in quantifying and qualifying?”
The facilitator draws the point out that you know standards when you see them.
“If you were going to invest in an organisation what level and services would it be offering?”
We were not in agreement about what was reasonable – in fact we had difficulty quantifying a lot of the dimensions.
Someone comments they find this strange as we have done research for so many years so why is it not available?
(“And what has this got to do with investment? Someone wonders skeptically)
“We’ll come to that. Let’s have a break.’
Coffee and biscuits are available, and we mill around chatting.
One guy is into aviation. I tell him of my exploits into trying to invent a flying saucer
I also meet a farmer, he is into corn and wheat growing for bread making.
People seem to be engaged in what they are doing, mostly one man or mom and pop operations.
A guy from a large bank is present. I ask what he is doing here. “We need to change,’ he says ‘that is why we are on the course.’
We are called back to our groups.
I sit at the same table, the banker is with us.
Time for a DVD. A film of points. The point of points. Numbers flash on the screen
The presenter is walking through a field.
”Here I am in this field, what is behind all this? How many hectares is it? How long did it take to plant? How many people will it feed? How many hours do I need to work?”
He continues as he starts to walk across the field. “It’s a very simple equation. That is the basis of all human activity. How can we achieve what is reasonable for everyone with what we have?”
He presents a numerical framework for us. A hectare is an area of land, there are 1 600 working hours in one year and 365 days.
We have 1.2 or 1.5 hectares of agricultural land per person and a certain number of hectares of forest and other land to include water and stuff.
It is very simple.
He reminds me of David Attenborough.
The film continues. Lorry driving. Machines have similar limits. Based on fuel, man-hours to manufacture, and the lifetime of the machine and maintenance hours, and the fuel to drive them, related to amount of work that has to go into make the fuel plus the agricultural land or land needed. Back to hectares/ or calories and working hours.
And for an organization. On this simple basis, this way of accounting and counting, we can describe how we create a standard of living. And also to equate the standard with the areas of land involved.
Then you know how many hours and hectares and the machine and organization. You always come back to the same measurements and units.
The DVD shows pictures of ships and boats carrying freight.
The Presenter: “each boat has a capacity to carry in terms of volume and tonnes. And there is an effort in terms of man-hours and fuel required to carry the freight to another area. Easy to work out if you include the speed of transport. All these simple things are the basis of points system. But what does this have to do with organizations?”
The facilitator asks if we understood the film…
“I still don’t get what a point is, just what the basis is,” says someone.
“True, but let’s not jump the gun.”
We are given a new exercise; a pyramid.
You have to put things in order. You have to choose one of the things from the square like 4000 calories of food. You have to break them down into things that make up the basics.
See if you can identify different levels but at the bottom you have to come down to the basics – to man hours, land area and water etc.
My group discusses – and decides to choose – the flat example, 13 m2 for all. Someone else means it is difficult but agrees anyway.
We get sticky labels and start to discuss levels.
At the bottom is the land the building is on. Then there is the required to produce energy.
Then the materials. How much land do you need for that?
We park that question.
Then there are man-hours to build and then maintenance, upgrades etc.
There is metal for pipes etc. That has a man-hour component.
For materials there are the man-hours required to get materials out of the earth. The only thing that is not clear about this is the minerals taking from the land. You need land to take it from. Non-productive land, I had not thought of that.
We seem to have identified a lot of layers to work on.
• The actual delivery of the service is at the top.
• Then there is the set up.
• Underneath that, basic materials at the bottom in two sections Land to produce bio material and land where we extract materials from the crust
So the group concludes we have three separate levels under this particular service.
“Are we getting there?” The facilitator asks. I wonder, but the facilitator seems pleased anyway.
The facilitator: “What have we learnt from this?”
I venture: “This about minerals …it is not land area but it is in tonnes.”
“Yes, it explains the boat bit,“ he replies.
You have tonnes of minerals, not originating from the biosphere.
“Are we agreed it is working?” He asks. “We identify that all services originate from fields, water and minerals. There are three basic levels: extraction, construction and maintenance and running.”
Every group has identified the same levels, we just have not thought of it before like that.
So, we have come to a juncture. Homework is to take the service we are thinking of offering and to break it down into the pyramid. Thinking of what is required in the context of maximum, minimum and reasonable.
Obviously, the time frames for construction and running are different, as construction effort would be divided over time, so the different levels need to be treated differently. We are just required to map them out. The facilitator closes the session for today.
Everyone starts to pack up, I go over to chat to the facilitator.
I was expecting more open space type exercises. He replies it is not always useful for training. We must start up with the basics.
You are seeing the point now of developing the facilitator group. I like the ideas of the facilitation team. I realize I could set up a separate facilitation organization myself.
He leaves me I continue wandering around, not much is going on. I think it is time to go. As I leave I see a lemonade stall. I find this amusing as business courses always use lemonade stalls as examples.
I take the lift back to the departure hall; I see the exhibition stand is still there. I sit next to a woman on the bench I started from.
She says:” I’m wondering if I should invest in unit trusts.”
“I recommend it,” I say.
Farmyard – geese – ducks – this is what I associate with her.
I ask her about her impression from visiting the stand.
She feels it is a good idea, almost too good to be true, she always mistrusts things like that!
I feel we are living off the work done by our forefathers to create systems and structures. Today we are using metal, machines, materials put together by those who came before us. Yet we are using them in a non-sustainable way. You could say we are not working in the same way.
I am also surprised that the figures for what is reasonable living standard are hard to find. And that to work out from a systems perspective how much materials are needed by us – I believe society is looking the wrong way somehow. Suppose a train is coming from the other direction?
None just yet – I would like to understand points better.
I like the DVD idea. Maybe I’ll try it if I can borrow a camera – and write the script.
I think the comparisons I learned about could be used immediately to show the way forward for various systems or collection of systems. The diagram below shows the difference between different operations that require different inputs for construction and operation. A double Hi is an operation that should be replaced (Road transport system) a Hi on construction and Lo on running should be kept (Rail network). Lo on construction and hi on running costs should be replaced.
The New Scientist has an article showing how much material is needed to run London. (Population 7.5 million)
WATER 1,000 million tonnes
FOOD 2.4 million tonnes
FUEL 20 million tonnes
TIMBER 1.2 million tonnes
PLASTICS 2.1 million tonnes
METALS 1.2 million tonnes
GLASS 0.36 million tonnes
CEMENT 2 million tonnes
BRICKS; BLOCKS;SAND;TARMAC 36 million tonnes
OXYGEN 40 million tonnes
PAPER 2.2 million tonnes
c02 60 million tonnes
household waste 4 million tonnes
INDUSTRAIL WASTE 11.4 million tonnes
SO2 0.4 million tonnes
NOX 0.28 million tonnes
SEWAGE 7.5 million tonnes
I visited a historical spa organization and presented the idea of raising capital and giving right of use in return. We calculated that raising $100,000 dollars, with $1,000 from 100 people would be possible, if we offered right of use of holiday apartments at a rate equivalent to cost of production of the service, which was at roughly $100 a week. Several other conversation with people leads me to change my earlier skepticism. As long as the “unit holder” uses the right to use and pays the production costs, it is a good, non taxable deal all round.
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