Financial Education for Girls – successes and learnings from Credit Suisse, Aflatoun International and Plan International

by Kim Croucher, WAM UK Steering Committee – with contribution from Eva Halper (Credit Suisse), Aukje te Kaat (Aflatoun International) and Clare Daly (Plan International)

On 13th September, WAM were hosted by Credit Suisse’s Global Education Initiative to hear about their programme providing financial education to girls as a means to their future economic empowerment. Credit Suisse is supporting Aflatoun International and Plan International who, working in partnership, have designed and are implementing financial education and life skills programmes in Brazil, China, India and Rwanda. The evening was a really interesting insight into their findings in developing financial education for girls and their varying experiences in different country contexts.

201607-IND-45-scrPhoto: Plan International UK

Why Girl’s Financial Education?

Eva Halper, Head of Credit Suisse’s Global Education Initiative, explained that the bank carried out research which revealed that although many financial institutions were focusing on financial literacy, and many NGO programmes were addressing the gender issue in education, no-one appeared to be focusing on financial education specifically for girls. This therefore was the impetus behind the decision to address financial education for girls. The programme subsequently launched in 2014 and aims to improve the financial education and life skills of approximately 100,000 adolescent girls and encourage them to transition through secondary school. A research project (thought leadership) based on the programme, is a parallel component of the partnership and was the focus of this event.

Many young people aged 14–25 in developing countries are already economically active but without a basic education in the key tenets of finance. This is a barrier to them being able to fully reap the benefits of their own economic activity, and puts them at risk of making decisions that could lead to a lifetime of debt and continued poverty into adulthood. Girls in developing countries often face steep obstacles to access education, not least financial education. Empowering girls means enabling them to manage their own savings and spending and allowing them to take a more informed view of their future options and endeavours – which can transform lives.

 The Most Successful Programmes Deliver Financial Education Alongside other Social Skills Training

Before embarking on programme design, the team produced a policy brief – a systematic review of girls’ economic empowerment programs to determine which interventions are most effective.

Aukje te Kaat from Aflatoun International spoke about the work that went into this and that the team had found limited literature available on the impact of financial education in children in general and in particular research that contained a gender lens. In the end, the team looked at 12 studies where the objectives had been economic empowerment of adolescent girls and crucially included a financial education component.

One of the key findings was that to be truly effective, financial education should not be implemented by itself but rather it should be combined with other interventions, whether this be microfinance, access to savings, vocational education, social education/life skills or sexual and reproductive health education. Evaluations of financial education programmes implemented together with social components – e.g. rights education, life skills education, confidence building – were the most successful.

This finding was in-keeping with Aflatoun’s own approach which is to always incorporate social skills building alongside more tangible skills training in order to transform behaviour (something hard skills alone cannot necessarily achieve). Aukje talked about helping the girls gain self-awareness of their own goals and where they stand in their community, which enables them to plan for the future and make better decisions.

Programme Design Needs to Acknowledge the Importance of the Girls’ Wider Communities and Influences

The team was able to create a global Theory of Change for economic empowerment interventions for adolescent girls, which suggests that holistic thinking in programme design, as well as creating or maintaining enabling environments, is key to ensuring successful outcomes. For example, social norms around the role of girls within a household or community can impact the community’s view about girls’ financial education. The education level of parents has been found to be hugely important: it helps with community buy-in, but if a parent cannot grasp the importance of what their daughter has learnt, they will not support her and she will struggle to implement her new skills and plans.

Another barrier can be related to how easy it is to set up a small enterprise (which is what the young people in this programme are encouraged to do). If there are no financial institutions or financial products it will be difficult for girls to implement their skills in practice.

Findings from Country Programmes –

BRAZIL – Tackling topics such as gender-based violence

  • 25 junior secondary schools (ages 11-14)
  • Pernambuco, Maranhão and Piauí states in northeast Brazil
  • 3-year target: 3,250 girls; 6,500 children

In Brazil, the programme team noticed that it was important that the girl’s father understood the aims of the programme and was fully on-board with these, in order for it to be a successful experience for the girl – perhaps a sign of the gender dynamics in society there.

In all four country programmes financial education is delivered by teachers in schools, but there are also after-school clubs. In Brazil, the training has shifted from being purely teacher-led to a peer-led model. Girls’ clubs have been set up where girls learn about life skills and topics such as gender-based violence. Girls’ clubs have been a great success and the girls really appreciate this as a safe space.

Interestingly, boys in schools in Brazil reported feeling left-out. This prompted a discussion with the audience about the need to bring boys into the programme, but also crucially into conversations on gender parity, particularly gender-based violence. The team agreed and recognised that boys would benefit from financial education but the remit of the programme was to look at the impact on girls’ financial education and so at this stage there are no plans to widen the scope.

CHINA – Creating positive future aspirations and confidence-building

  • 26 middle schools and one vocational school (ages 12-17)
  • 18 townships in Guangnan County, China
  • 75% left-behind and 61% ethnic minority children
  • 3-year target: 11,541 girls; 26,800 children

In China, the programme is implemented in rural areas where there are a high number of ‘left-behind’ children of migrant workers who are often looked after by grandparents or in boarding school. The programme has the full support of the regional education authorities and is delivered in schools via weekly financial education classes.

Apart from financial education skills, the programme provides elements of career guidance and counseling. The aim is to foster more optimistic ideas amongst the girls about their future opportunities – where many may see their paths destined to be the same as their parents. However, prospects for migrant workers are bleak and quality of life poor. The programme attempts to encourage the girls to look at alternative ways to engage in economic activity – potentially localized entrepreneurial activity – which would help to prevent these rural areas from becoming deserted. Financial and life skills also help safe-guard the girls’ rights since as migrant workers they typically find they have limited protection or safety nets when they move to cities to work.

The programme team found that confidence building was key to help girls become more aware of their opportunities, choices and dreams. Given the culture in China of high expectations for academic performance, there is less emphasis on life skills and emotional wellbeing. The programme team reported some encouraging examples where girls enjoyed an increased sense of confidence and well-being as part of the programme’s work.

INDIA – Community perceptions are key but the programme is creating role models

  • Ages 7-18 in Government schools and educational camps
  • Bikaner district, Rajasthan
  • 3-year target: 82,300 girls; 154,570 children

In India, the programme has been integrated into the national teacher training system and the national curriculum. It therefore benefits from a significant level of government support

The main finding in India was that community perceptions can be a huge barrier to the girls using the skills they acquire in a real-life context. Even if a girl’s parents approve of her taking part in the programme, this did not mean they were then comfortable with her using the skills to engage in economic activity outside the home or direct community. This is due to how a women’s role in society is viewed: a girl engaging in home-based entrepreneurial activity (e.g. sewing or knitting from home) is acceptable, but to travel to another village or region to work in a commercial organisation, is not. However, role models – prior beneficiaries of the programme – have been effective as advocates in trying to reverse these perceptions.

RWANDA – Encouraging developments in integrated girls & boys after-school clubs

  • Students aged 12 -15 years
  • Bugesera and Nyaruguru districts
  • 3-year target: 3,200 girls; 4,200 children

In Rwanda, the programme leveraged one of Plan International Rwanda’s existing programmatic expertise: Boys4Change clubs that explore themes of masculinity and leadership and the role of girls and boys in society. The formal teaching component – financial education for girls – is delivered in schools, but the after-school clubs have become integrated whereby both boys and girls take part. They also engage in income-generating activities (such as keeping and rearing of animals like goats and chickens).

The programme team in Rwanda has seen really great developments whereby boys have become much more understanding of the pressures on girls to carry-out domestic/house work which often results in the girls having limited time to study or become entrepreneurial. In some cases, boys have offered to share the burden of tasks normally done by girls to give their female peers more time to achieve their goals. This raised the question of why a similar model of integrated clubs and/or boys’ education in gender equality and male leadership in this context is not more widely pursued in the other country programmes. The programme leaders are considering this for future phases.

In Rwanda, efforts are made to engage with parents to ensure they are aware of the topics the students are being exposed to. The students launch campaigns to which parents are always invited and there is a lot of dialogue with them. The result is that parents and teachers have started their own savings clubs in many cases.

P1030291Photo: Plan International UK

Delivery Through Schools Helps to Ensure the Programmes’ Long-Term Sustainability

There was a good deal of discussion with the audience during the evening – one important question was around sustainability. Credit Suisse cannot support the continuation of the programme indefinitely nor its replication to other regions/countries. Eva made the point that this is why the decision was made to deliver the content in a school setting. Schools provide a structure for delivery where attendance and participation is ensured (at least more so than in community projects). By training teachers in the system, this helps sustainability even after programme partners have left (although there is a question over continued and refresher teacher training, which can be a challenge to deliver). A question was raised as to why there was no focus on girls outside of the formal school system. The same answer applied as well as programme delivery capacity.

M&E Statistics Show Encouraging Impact from Programmes So Far

Monitoring and evaluation are also more easily achieved within the formal school system, which helps to collect and deliver data. Both Aflatoun International and Plan International conduct M&E – although their focus has been the monitoring of girls only as that is the current target group. Some key and encouraging statistics include an 18.2% increase in girls’ financial education and life skills (FELS) knowledge globally, with India showing the largest increase at 43.1%. In addition, there has been a 31.5% increase in fathers who ‘strongly agree’ it is important for girls to learn about money and financial skills globally.

However, it was also recognized that the impact of work such as financial and life skills training (aimed at future economic empowerment) can only be expected to come to full fruition much later in the girl’s life and by that time many other variables will have also influenced outcomes – so measurement of outcomes and evaluation is not easy in this area.

201607-IND-42-scrPhoto: Plan International UK

Future Plans

The next phase will see the addition of a new partner to the programme, Room to Read in Tanzania and Sri Lanka. Any further research will need to incorporate experiences from these contexts also. And this will be examined together with the many questions that the current research has thrown up. For example, how these programmes influence girls and boys differently. In specific country contexts different questions are being asked. For example in India, programme leaders want to look at which social norms act as the largest barrier to a girls’ acquisition of life and financial skills; whereas in Rwanda, the question arising is how the work on gender norms with girls and boys impacts on girls economic empowerment.

We understand that the project will be announcing results of its second phase of research in the next few years – we wait with interest to learn more about this when it is published and we may invite Credit Suisse, Aflatoun International and Plan International to return and tell us more of their fascinating findings then.

On Principles for Responsible Investment

Q &A with UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment

In conversation with Emilie Goodall, Head of Environmental and Social Themed Investment, UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI)


sig_growth PRI

Growth in PRI signatories and related AUM. Source: PRI

Thanks for speaking to us Emilie, but first things first, we hear the term a lot, but what does “Responsible Investment” mean?

Thanks for the opportunity and the questions! Responsible investment is an approach to investment that explicitly acknowledges the relevance to the investor of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. Responsible investors recognise that the generation of long-term sustainable returns is dependent on stable, well-functioning and well governed social, environmental and economic systems. We have a handy two page summary for those who want to know more.

That sounds great – so what is the PRI and how does it work?

The PRI Initiative is an international network of investors working together to put the six Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) into practice. The goal is to understand the implications of sustainability for investors and support signatories to incorporate these issues into their investment decision making and ownership practices. There are now nearly 1200 asset owners, investment managers and service providers signed up from around the world, managing over US$ 30 trillion. The PRI Initiative helps investors to learn about and collaborate on the financial and investment implications of environmental, social and corporate governance issues.

Could you give us an example of how the PRI has led to more responsible investment?

Let me give you a couple! In terms of tackling specific problems in the investment chain, the PRI runs a collaborative engagement platform called the Clearinghouse. It provides signatories with a private forum where they can pool resources and share information when engaging with companies and policy makers on ESG issues. Collaboration carries extra weight and can be less resource intensive than if investors engaged alone. One recent engagement brought together 21 investors concerned with poor public disclosure of anti-corruption risk management among 21 companies. After three years of engagement, sixteen companies have improved their performance against a set of indicators provided by Transparency International, with ten companies improving their score by four-fold and the leading company improving its score by six-fold.

Looking at impact from a more systemic level, the PRI is accompanied by a reporting framework which all signatories are required to complete (and publish) annually, in a bid to increase transparency and accountability. The PRI assesses individual signatories’ results and benchmarks performance against that of their peers, to aid learning. In 2011, PRI analysed the results of the reporting framework over the past five years to see what had changed – see PRI’s Report on Progress.

To pick out just a couple of examples, having a responsible investment policy (one of the first steps for responsible investors) had become a norm among PRI signatories. Two thirds of investment managers had such a policy in 2007, and in 2011 it was up to 94%. Integration of ESG factors into investment criteria was up to US$ 10.7trillion from US$ 3.6trillion in 2009. Clearly, there’s still some way to go, but this presents a good start! Attribution is always difficult, but in a recent survey conducted by MSCI ESG Research, survey participants identified the top driver for ESG adoption as the PRI (25%), closely followed by asset owners (24%), NGOs (15%) and corporate institutions (11%).

The focus of the PRI seems to be around the signatories, how do investees and say, the general public, benefit?

Although the Principles are designed to enhance the delivery of long-term returns to clients and beneficiaries, their implementation puts greater attention on ESG issues throughout the investment chain. The theory of change is that corporate management will take more interest in these additional drivers of risk and reward if encouraged by investors to adopt a more systematic approach to managing ESG issues, and that these drivers will come to define corporate profitability in the medium and longer term. In this way, the Principles for Responsible Investment should contribute to improved corporate performance on environmental, social and governance issues, better aligning investors with the broader objectives of society.

You recently launched a report on another set of principles – the PIIF (Principles for Investors in Inclusive Finance), what’s that?

The PIIF, housed within the PRI Initiative, were launched in 2011 by a small group of investors. These seven Principles are designed for investors providing finance, either direct or indirect, to retail institutions (e.g. companies, banks or microfinance institutions) that provides financial services (credit, savings, insurance, mortgages, remittances, payments) to clients who have traditionally been excluded from such services. These could be consumers, microenterprises or SMEs, in emerging or developed markets. As of June 2013, 51 investors had signed the PIIF, between them managing two thirds of the estimated US$14 bn of foreign capital investment in inclusive finance.

As with the PRI, the PIIF is accompanied by a reporting framework. This was piloted for the first time last year. The summary results are available in the PIIF Signatories’ Report on Progress, which enables investors to see the progress being made, by indicating examples of emerging good practice as well as areas for improvement.

It’s been two years since PIIF was launched – what has been learnt so far?

The PIIF brings together a wide range of investors, from non-profits to boutique investment managers to corporate pension funds. Interpretation and implementation of the Principles therefore varies, so a number of investors have helpfully shared case studies and action plans with one another. In some areas of the Principles, like ‘balanced returns’, we are still in the process of defining what this means. In October we’ll be holding a joint roundtable with the Council for Microfinance Equity Funds (CMEF) in London on this topic.

In your view then, what are the key trends to look out for in responsible inclusive finance?

There is a push for financial inclusion to be included in some form in the post-Millennium Development Goals, so I anticipate continuing scrutiny of the role financial inclusion can play in delivering development objectives. That will likely require a greater commitment to not just social performance measurement but also outcomes measurement, in SME finance as well as in microfinance. Not all investors see it as their role to capture such information; greater disclosure will bring the additional benefit of making these differing approaches more visible.

About Emilie

E Goodall

Emilie Goodall joined PRI in July 2011 as Project Manager for the Principles for Investors in Inclusive Finance (PIIF). She became Head of Environmental and Social Themed Investing at the PRI in 2012, and is currently PRI’s Acting Head of Implementation Support. Previously, she was Senior Investment Manager at CAF Venturesome, a social investment fund. There she managed debt and equity-like investments in nonprofits, and was engaged in research and policy work promoting the growth of the UK impact investing market. She holds an MA in Philosophy and French from the University of Oxford and qualifications in Financial Management and Development Management.

Small Farmers, Big Opportunity

How can we feed the growing  world? By empowering one small scale farmer at a time.

by Lisa Wong, WAM UK Communications and Blogger.

Bean Farmer in Sri Lanka. Image courtesy of UN WomenWatch.

Bean Farmer in Sri Lanka. Image courtesy of UN WomenWatch.

The global population, having ballooned over the last century, is likely to reach 7.5 billion people within the next decade. How are we to feed everyone?

Large multinational food companies have been thinking about securing their food supply for some time and have put a lot of energy and advancement in improving the productivity of their usual suppliers: big plantations and farms. But as these corporations look ahead to a swelling consumer base from a growing global middle class coupled with increasingly fragile food stock as climate change threatens crops, they are forced to focus beyond large farms and co-ops to make sure that their food supply grows apace with demand.

Increasingly, they are considering ways to include small scale farmers into their supply chains – those previously excluded from the global food industry and often some of the poorest and most marginalized. A recent report, Catalyzing Smallholder Agricultural Finance, by the development consultancy, Dalberg, found that this sector is no small fry: there are an estimated 450 million small holder farmers in the world – that’s more than the US and Japanese populations combined. With this new focus, it might finally be the big time for the small farmer.

By 2018,  Dalberg, predicts that food consumption worldwide is expected to increase by nearly 30% compared to 2005. Our eating habits aren’t also just preoccupied with the amount of food available; many of us, especially in developed countries, expect a stable food supply and prices. We’re accustomed to having strawberries all year round for roughly the same cost, not to mention coffee – perhaps our most popular global addiction? If we don’t work harder at improving global food production, the stability of our food system is under threat. Factors such as climate change, population growth, and an expanding global middle class — as many emerging countries are getting richer — are placing increasing strains on the world’s food supply.

Those with a sweet tooth might be horrified to learn that if cocoa consumption continues to grow at its current pace, then we’re on track to see a large cocoa deficit of one million tonne by 2020 if we don’t expand our production. A secure and sustainable crop is no longer a luxury for a business, instead smart companies are waking up to the significant food challenge ahead and realize it is a core business threat. Five of the top international chocolate manufacturers — Kraft, Mars, Nestlé, Ferrero and Hershey’s — have made public commitments to sustainable cocoa. Unilever, a major innovator and business leader in sustainable supply chains, has pledged to sustainably source 100% of its tea by 2015 — and their tea production amounts to 12% of the world’s black tea supply. This change in corporate direction  for sustainable and inclusive production can have huge implications for our global development.

With so many demands upon food production, and large farms operating at near maximum capacity, the spotlight is now cast upon the small farmer. The small scale farmer is usually defined as having less than two hectares in land and often plighted with a high vulnerability to weather due to old farming technology and outmoded practices resulting in low yields and low quality crops. Adding to their troubles, small scale farmers often lack market access as they work in remote areas, therefore forced to rely on middle men to collect their goods to take to market giving them little control or awareness over how much they can sell their crops for, keeping them mired in poverty and unable to develop their business.  Microfinance — the practice of providing financial services, such as savings and small loans, to those excluded from the formal financial system — could have a  major role to play in unlocking the potential of these marginalized small scale farmers. With an appropriate loan designed for the  farmer’s needs, such as working with harvesting seasonality, small scale farmers can upgrade their tools, buy more resilient seeds, and generally have access to capital to help improve their crop.

Dalberg estimates that small holder farmers require $US450 billion of agricultural-based lending. Unfortunately, Dalberg also estimates that only about $US350 million has been lent to small scale farmers thus far, mostly through social lenders such as Root Capital, Oikocredit, and Triodos. Although both numbers are directional estimates, it paints a stark picture and shows an incredible market gap, that if invested into and managed sustainably can not only secure our global food chains, but improve the livelihoods of 450 million farmers and their families worldwide.

To find out how aid and grant donors, investors, technical assistance providers, and multinational corporations can work together to engineer financing to make our global food supply chains more inclusive and improve the lives of farmers, I strongly recommend Dalberg’s report. Better yet, join the lively debate between businesses, NGOs and governments on the Business Fights Poverty discussion forum on affordable finance for small farmers, started by Citi Microfinance’s Business Director and WAM UK co-founder, Safiye Ozuygun.

By engaging large corporations into responsible inclusive business practices and designing financial products to support small scale farmers, we can not only address the impending cocoa deficit by 2020, but we can also unlock a significant force to improving the livelihoods for some of the most challenged in our world by placing corporate responsibility at the heart of business.

To find out more about inclusive business and microfinance, follow @lisavwong on Twitter.
This post first appeared on the International Museum of Women blog, Her Blueprint, on 18th February, 2013