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Madagascar trip puts UK housing problems into perspective

Jo Cowling took a three-month sabbatical from International Private Finance, a London-based firm specialising in mortgages for international properties, to help build schools and protect wildlife in Madagascar.

Ms Cowling said the locals displayed great pride in their homes, no matter how modest they were, and always upheld values, such as integrity and honesty, which Britain’s financial industry could learn from.

She said: “People are not greedy and have no consumer ideals, though I am not sure how long this will last, as it is, in a big part, because they simply don’t have access to the media or the products. Their society does not value possessions and wealth, but much more important are qualities such as integrity, honesty, and supporting those around them.”

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While many Malagasies were “surprised” to hear that many Britons did not own homes, Ms Cowling said the experience would make anyone appreciate how lucky they were if they lived in a developed economy.

She said: “The people were inspirational in every way and I think this comes, in a big part, from the fact that their society has not ‘developed’ in the way ours has, and traditional values are still very important.”

Ms Cowling, who volunteered in association with UK-based charity Azafady, said her employer had been highly supportive of her sabbatical trip. She said: “IPF really value the importance of both taking a break, and getting another viewpoint on the world and doing something worthwhile.”

Adviser view
Keri Carter, director of Worcestershire-based Broadway Financial Planning, said: “I would fully endorse the idea of taking time off to pursue fantastic opportunities. Everybody at my firm has taken time off to refocus, because it’s easy to lose track of what’s important and get swallowed up in the more materialistic side of our careers.”