Girls’ Economic Empowerment – Why Context Matters for Financial Education

By Eva Halper, Credit Suisse Global Education Initiative

Girls’ Economic Empowerment – Why Context Matters for Financial Education

Last year I wrote about why it makes sense for corporates to invest in girls’ education and introduced Credit Suisse’s Financial Education for Girls program that aims to improve the financial knowledge and life skills of approximately 100,000 girls. At the time, the program had been implemented for only 18 months. This year we are entering our third year of partnership with Plan International and Aflatoun International, who are specialists in their fields (female empowerment through life skills and financial education respectively). However, delivering Financial Education isn’t easy. It raises questions such as, what to teach? At what stage of a young person’s life? and How can we make it relevant to his or her local context? The need for development programs (such as life skills, improving health outcomes or interventions) to be context-specific is already well understood, but less so for financial education programs.

If I think about my own example, when I was at school I understood the concept of what a mortgage is, but it was only when I was thinking about actually buying property that the whole subject (terms and conditions of financing, what sort of funds would be sufficient for a down payment) was suddenly of interest to me. In other words, it became relevant (and important). But at least at the time I needed to think about these things, I had already benefitted from some basic financial education. I had picked up information along the way and also at home. But what about young people – girls in particular – who don’t benefit from any such foundation at all?

Because how to effectively deliver financial education is still a relatively poorly understood area, we felt that research into this particular aspect would be an important component to include in the Credit Suisse Financial Education for Girls program, while also contributing insight for the field. It was of course also reassuring that our attention to context – including whether you are male or female – is as important for this type of program as for other interventions.

Program delivery and research

Young people need not only knowledge, skills and a responsible attitude to managing money but also the confidence to support their ambitions. These are critical life skills for young people to have as they transition from school and join the adult world. Providing children and youth with a strong set of financial, social and personal skills as part of their education equips them at an early age to thrive. Findings from studies in both developed and developing countries indicate that there is a gender difference in financial education: women tend to have less knowledge, skills and confidence in this area.

As a funder, Credit Suisse hopes that the work we support will have a legacy beyond the immediate project beneficiaries. One of the goals of the partnership is therefore a research project that explores the impact of financial education on adolescent girls, taking into account contextual factors and the broader ecosystem on which program impact depends. The findings from the research project aim to contribute to the debate around financial education, by focusing specifically on girls but also recognising and taking into consideration the role of boys. The resulting recommendations are aimed at development practitioners and funders but should also be of interest to national policy makers.

How did we do what we did and what did we learn?

As a first step, the partners carried out a literature review of girls’ economic empowerment programs that address financial education to determine which intervention models are most effective. This is the first time (to our knowledge) that such a review has been undertaken. The key take-away from it is that to be effective, programs targeting financial education for girls must include non-economic elements, such as life skills education, sexual and reproductive health education or other elements which are determined by context as necessary and appropriate. The most robust programs were those that contained social (i.e. life skills) elements combined with financial. The research confirmed that programs need to address the specific context (ecosystem) of the communities where the program is being implemented.

This review enabled us to come up with a Theory of Change which centres on holistic thinking in program design. The specific realities of beneficiaries’ lives need to be addressed through social components in order to deliver financial education most effectively. This was found to be fundamental to program success.

We hope that the findings of this review of financial education programs)and the resulting Theory of Change, will encourage more research into financial education for girls. We are now exploring how and to what extent addressing local contextual factors impacts on effective program implementation. Our partners, Plan International and Aflatoun International, are surveying hundreds of children, teachers, parents and other community members to find out how girls’ acquisition and application of financial and life skills can be enhanced by community buy-in, work on gender norms, career guidance and other interventions.

Credit Suisse understands that supporting girls is essential to lay the foundations for their future success; not only in terms of their skills and knowledge, but also to change their expectations of their own futures. Such change in expectation is key to changing society’s expectations for girls and the role that is permitted them in society and the economy. And financial education is an essential life skill.

To find out more about the research into girls’ economic empowerment programs that address financial education register for our webinar on March 28th at 09:00 EDT.

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