Two weeks ago, WomenStrong International had the honor of presenting at this year’s Global Youth Economic Opportunity Summit (GYEO). GYEO is a gathering of leading organizations and global experts on the social and economic wellbeing of young people, hosted by the financial empowerment organization Making Cents International. Presentations from the United States Department of Education, Making Cents International, Mastercard Foundation, BRAC USA, the Brookings Institution, and others spoke to the importance of preparing young people for a changing world of work in which digital skills, behavioral skills, environmental conservation, and the gig economy play increasingly important roles in the workplace. This year’s summit highlighted four themes that the organizers termed Building a Foundation, Ready for the Global Workforce, Livelihoods through Self-Employment, and Global Context Matters.
WomenStrong believes firmly in the importance of building a foundation of life skills education to enhance the economic wellbeing of young people, especially girls. We do this through Girls’ Clubs, currently run by WomenStrong consortium members in Ghana, Kenya, India, and Haiti. Our Girls’ Clubs teach girls (and boys, too, through our Boys’ Clubs in India, Kenya, and Ghana) the essential life skills they need to thrive economically and socially; the Clubs also provide a social safety net where girls can receive encouragement and support from their peers.
To help others at the GYEO Summit provide girls with the vital life skills they will need to live bright financial futures, we presented two new resources to attendees. The first is a new WomenStrong manual developed in partnership with our consortium members, based on their experiences running Girls’ Clubs, and comprising as well the best practices of experts in youth development and life skills education at Population Council, USAID, FHI 360, and Save the Children. This resource, entitled, Strong Girls Make Strong Women: A Practical Handbook to Creating and Leading a Girls’ Club, opens with a Start-Up Guide that details key questions to consider when forming your own Girls’ Club and continues into a 16-chapter curriculum on topics ranging from self-esteem and leadership, to financial literacy, to sexual and reproductive health, to human rights. Starting in early 2019, educators and other practitioners working with girls will be welcome to download directly from our website (www.womenstrong.org) the entire Handbook, or whichever chapters are most pertinent to the girls with whom they work, free of charge.
The second resource presented at our panel was the book Financial Nutrition for Young Women: How (and Why) to Teach Girls About Money, written by Melissa Donohue, founder of Financial Nutrition, a nonprofit dedicated to educating girls and women on financial literacy. Melissa explained how girls, even in developed countries such as the U.S., are not taught important financial skills such as a how to balance a budget, calculate interest rates, and negotiate for a salary they deserve. These skills are vital for girls to thrive economically, and Financial Nutrition includes detailed guidance on how to equip girls with these skills.
A story we shared at the Summit from our India consortium member, DHAN Foundation, best demonstrated how Girls’ Clubs can empower girls economically. Santhiya is an 11th-grade student and a member of Johnsi Rani Adolescent Girls Group, organized by DHAN Foundation, in Madurai, India. Eighteen months ago, DHAN Foundation launched a Savings Program in its Girls’ Clubs that taught girls about how to manage money, save, and open their own bank accounts. Santhiya opened a bank account and started saving her allowance and pocket money. Over time, she saved Rs.3000 ($46 USD). With her savings, plus a little support from her parents, she paid her school fees, of Rs. 1500 ($23 USD) and purchased a bicycle. She used to take an auto-share to school, which cost her Rs.20 ($0.27 USD) per day. But now that she uses her bicycle, she can put aside that money for her education and her future savings.
WomenStrong International has seen how life skills education, and safe spaces for girls, lay the foundation for girls’ economic empowerment. The GYEO Summit was a powerful gathering of advocates and experts in the youth financial empowerment space with whom to share our resources and lesson learned. Opportunities, like the GYEO Summit, to share best practices, tools and resources, and proven approaches are vital to supporting the financial and social wellbeing of young people everywhere. Thank you to Making Cents International, for organizing such an essential and rich convening! We cannot wait for next year, to continue sharing and learning with those committed to girls’ and young people’s financial empowerment!