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Why housing associations are uniquely placed to scale social value | Episode 2

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Zoltán Kozma
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PUBLISHED ON November 23, 2022

The Purpose Champions is an official Goodsted podcast. Each month, I will host guests who follow their purpose and strive to create social and environmental impact for their stakeholders and communities🏆

These stories will be full of inspiration and insights for our community to learn from and take action to progress on their own purpose journey. You will also hear from leaders of impactful initiatives and have a chance to get involved in their mission by sharing your skills and time.

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In this episode, we hosted Jake Boomhauer, Board member at Orbit Group and Policy Lead at Modern Methods of Construction in the UK Gov. Jake tells us more about his experience and share thoughts on the social housing sector about why organisations are uniquely placed to scale social value and how it needs to be looked at holistically. We also chat about what steps those can take who are early in this journey.

Listen and watch the full episode here:

Purpose Champions podcast - Episode 2 with Jake Boomhauer

Content:

Selin: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Purpose Champions Podcast, where we shine a spotlight on those championing social and environmental impact for their stakeholders and communities. In this episode, we talk about the social housing sector, which provides lower-cost rented housing and aims to address quite a few pressing issues, including homelessness, inequalities, poverty, and sustainability. However, research recently conducted by Social Housing magazine in partnership with global accountancy firm Mazars, revealed that nearly 90% of organisations believe that the sector is not doing enough when it comes to demonstrating social value.

So today we're speaking with Jake Boomhauer, who works in central government as a policy lead for Modern Methods of construction. He works across government and alongside stakeholders in the built environment to take forward objectives and policy. Jake is also a board member at Orbit Group and he was recently appointed as the Housing and Communities Advisor to Goodsted. The topic of social housing is close to our hearts at Goodsted, as we've been working with the housing association called Aster Group for the past couple of years, as they have been doing an incredible job of progressing the social value subject and are using our platform to run their colleague and stakeholder volunteering programmes. So when we met Jake this year, we thought it would be great to have him as an advisor in this journey. As we work with more organisations in the sector.

Hi Jake, it's a pleasure to welcome you today to hear your story and your thoughts on why demonstrating social value are so critical for the housing sector.

Jake: Hi Selin. It's really good to be here, so thank you very much for inviting me.

Selin: To start off with, can you tell us a bit more about your experience with the social housing sector and why are you passionate about it?

Jake: I actually got involved with the social housing sector as an engaged resident a number of years ago. I lived in a housing association home and I got involved with some of the customer engagement groups they had and some of the estate inspections. I was really curious about how this organisation was providing affordable housing in my town where I lived and I wanted to know more. So I got involved, met some of the staff, and found out a little bit more about the sector. A little bit later an opportunity arose and I applied for a position of board member which I'm glad to say I got. And I've been serving on the boards at Orbit Group now for about six years. For the second part of your question, why am I so passionate about it? Honestly, it has the power to change people's lives. At its core, housing associations provide affordable houses for people and if they are not worrying about poor quality housing, paying bills, or unaffordable rents, they can achieve great things.

Selin: It's great that you were proactive and actually made the most of the opportunities that social housing associations offer. 

So over the past few years, what changes have you seen in the sector, and what has really impressed you? 

Jake: It's been a really turbulent few years. There have been so many changes in the regulatory space in the building safety and fire safety areas. Of course, we had a very reactive response to the COVID-19 pandemic. What has impressed me most is the sector has come together —and, when I talk about the sector, I'm talking about 1600-1700 different housing associations. What has impressed me most is them coming together and addressing the challenge head-on. When it's about building safety, it's about informing the right people and sharing best practise, lobbying, and working out how we can keep customers safe and feeling safe. And the next challenge is just around the corner. We are in at the moment a cost-of-living crisis and the costs are set to increase over the next few months. That is another challenge that I'm certain the housing association sector will rise to.

Selin: It is really incredible how the sector was able to collaborate effectively on that scale to support their customers. And you're right, hopefully, this will continue. 

So my next question is, do you think there are some areas in which the sector can still improve on?

Jake: I think what I'd like to see is a little bit more diversity in the boardroom. There has been a lot said and I think it has improved, but for me, I don't think that has moved quickly enough. There are a number of benefits to having a diversity of thought, skills, experience, and backgrounds around the boardroom. If we really want to be representative of the communities that we serve, the board, and the organisation should be representative. But that's not to say that it hasn't improved. There are a couple of really good, really progressive programmes out there around Trainee NED programmes, which is where organisations team up and bring along potential or future board members and they train them in a safe area where they can ask questions, they get them technical training, sector training. That's great. And you know that that can help build a pipeline. There are a lot of benefits that can be had from having a diverse and inclusive board. And that is the one area that I would like to see more of.

Selin: Yeah, I completely agree with you. Diversity inclusion is quite a big part of social value and actually what you mentioned about diversity in the boardroom is also especially really important. 

With regards to social value, is there anything else you think the organisations need to do more of?

Jake: Inevitably the sector can do more and always can do more and you know, as custodians of assets, we are charged to house people first and foremost, but then build communities. And how do we do that? Well, one way is, is through social value. There are many things we can measure Selin, many metrics we can get. But due to the kind of qualitative essence of some of the things we're talking about, it's not always possible to measure everything. And certainly, if there's kind of secondary and tertiary effects, that can be really hard to quantify. But again, as registered social landlords, just because we can't measure something doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it.

Providing social value is at its core what we do and there are many ways to achieve that. It's about customer engagement, it's about resident engagement. And when we talk about social value, one of the ways I've seen it is through providing opportunities to volunteer. This can be with customers and tenants, this can be with staff members, and it can also be with partners. I mean, as housing associations, we are heavily reliant on contractors and partners. And, you know, through a couple of changes, though perhaps looking at a social value procurement framework where a contract is let out, it can be measured and scored. One of the measures we want to be looking at is what social value will that provider supply if they're awarded. I spoke earlier about how we can build a pipeline of board members and one way we can ensure that pipeline is by investing in our communities through a great volunteering programme.

Selin: That's great. I actually really love how you mentioned that when looking at volunteering programmes, we can engage not only colleagues but also customers and suppliers, and progress social value goes through this. 

Can you tell us a bit more about your past experience with volunteering and what were some of the benefits of these experiences?

Jake: So volunteering has been great actually. I volunteered in a special needs school a number of years ago, and through that single day of volunteering, I was actually offered a secondment and was seconded to go work in a school. But above and beyond those kinds of tangible outputs, like a new position or a new job, it gave me a sense of purpose. It really gave me the opportunity to rediscover my why. You know, why am I here? What is my purpose? And through working in a school and then through working and volunteering as a secretary for a charity forum at work, you know, it's great — it's so rewarding. I met some brilliant people, it has helped me advance my career so all these opportunities have been quite wonderful. I believe in the power of volunteering and as I said, I got into the sector by being an engaged resident and volunteering my time there.

Selin: So from your story, we understand that there are clear benefits of volunteering, a social value for the individual, but of course is also valuable for us as a society to create a better future for the next generations. And as you may know, the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 are there to help us as a blueprint to show what challenges we need to address. Also, not sure if you know this, but we're actually 43 years behind achieving these goals, so we really need to do all we can to progress more. So Jake, what would you say? 

Why should organisations care about this other than of course because it's what we need to do to have a better world? What are some other benefits for the organisations and is there a business case to be made perhaps for those champions who are trying to make a case for the top management to prioritise the subject even more?

Jake: There is absolutely a business case for this. One of the biggest ones is around the kind of employee well-being, which of course leads to greater retention of staff. One thing we've seen in the sector lately is a lot of churn and of course, these benefits are for the end users, residents, and tenants — we are talking about learning new skills, meeting new friends, sharing what you learn, increasing resilience for the community which you live. And I talked earlier about the potential kind of job prospects as well. When we're talking about suppliers in the housing association sector, we're heavily reliant on contractors. Engaging the entire supply chain can have huge benefits for the sector as a whole. Again, this is the entire picture. You've got to look at this holistically. It's not just about employees and colleagues, it's about residents and tenants, it's about your wider supply chain, it's about your impact. We are not bigger than the communities that we serve and it's about doing the right thing.

Selin: Great. Thank you for sharing those valuable insights. And so for anyone who's listening to this podcast right now, if you're looking for resources or any documents that can help you prove the business case for prioritising a programme like this, we're happy to also share documents and articles that talk about this to make it easy for you to communicate it to your teams or the top management. 

What advice would you give to housing associations who may be early in their journey with social value and volunteering programmes?

Jake: I would say probably the best thing you could do if you're early on in your journey is reaching out to the many organisations who've already taken many steps into this. The National Housing Federation has some good documents and guidance and best practise on this. And of course, I would be remiss not to talk about HACT, which you should certainly look up in terms of measuring social value and various methodologies. For a sector that manages 17% of the homes in England, we are so well placed to be able to make a difference to contribute to meaningful goals like the UN Sustainable Development Goals and organisational objectives to enhance the lives of customers. The opportunity is great, but the cost of inaction is greater. If we can all do a little bit more than what is necessary, let's see what that looks like.

Selin: That's a powerful point to end on. And thank you, Jake, for joining us. I really enjoyed our conversation and I look forward to continuing our work together on this.

Jake: Selin, It's been a lot of fun. Thank you very much for the invite.