SEEP Conference 2016: For Youth, Access to Financial Services Doesn’t Always Amount to Continued Use

September 27, 2016

Establishing long-term behavior change and habits in youth—especially when it comes to finance—is tricky business. On the third and final day of this year’s SEEP Expanding Market Frontiers conference, enterprise development experts from Making Cents International, Population Council, and Plan International discussed their experiences tackling exactly this challenge in their work. For years, those in the microenterprise development sector have created financial literacy and more general microfinance schemes to engage groups in saving and banking programs. But things aren’t that simple when it comes to behavior change. The more experts learn and assess impacts of financial inclusion strategies, the more they realize that perhaps existing programs are just not doing enough to ensure access to financial services always translates to continued use. Without financial education and training to complement access to financial services, lasting impacts are not likely to be seen.

Making Cents International’s Anne Greteman shared her utilization of Positive Youth Development (PYD), a strategy that serves as a lens through which program designers can view youth agency in activities. In the Liberia Agriculture, Upgrading Nutrition, and Child Health (LAUNCH) program, Greteman highlighted how her team aimed to build a range of skills youth can use to strengthen their agro-entrepreneurship capacities. For example, the PYD approach sees youth as assets, not liabilities. It also takes a holistic look at all the ways youth can continuously participate in the design, implementation, and post-evaluation of a given project. The key is to make them the main stakeholders.

Plan International’s John Schiller and Population Council’s Paul Hewett also maintained the importance of PYD in their respective programming. Handing groups of young men and women bank accounts without understanding the full context around their decision-making processes is naïve and simply poor planning. Schiller’s work across 51 countries with Plan’s Savings Groups points to the significance of reaching youth for programming through their existing social networks, and recognizing engagement would increase if they identify a value in the services offered them. Hewett similarly addressed some insights from Population Council’s Adolescent Girls Empowerment Program, a program implemented to protect girls from early marriage and its associated health risks while arming them with useful financial/money management skills. For the implementation to have effect, Hewett’s research team is testing the impacts of health vouchers, mentoring relationships and savings accounts. The team hopes to identify which of these combination of resources contributes the most to sustained escapes from poverty.

Presenters along with participants of the SEEP session agreed there is real importance tied to not only financial education, but also institutional arrangements which surround youth, like safe space groups and individual coaching relationships, to establish long-lasting behavior change in those who believe in the benefits of financial literacy programs.