Working with Schools to Improve Youth Financial Capability: Tips from the Field

article | April 06, 2012

    Rani Deshpande

When considering how to reach kids with financial capability programming, schools – an aggregation point for hundreds, sometimes thousands of young people – seem like an obvious place to start. However, as YouthSave’s programs in Colombia and Nepal have learned, determining how to successfully work with schools to deliver financial capability programming requires almost as much thought and iteration as designing the intervention itself.

This may be a particular challenge for YouthSave because our approach to financial capability includes not only information to change knowledge and attitudes (through workshops and other mechanisms), but also tools to influence behavior – youth savings accounts–offered by a commercial bank partner. But we suspect that some of what we have learned is applicable to the delivery of any kind of third-party programming within schools. Below, we’ve highlighted a few lessons gleaned from the past several months of piloting financial capability programming through schools in Colombia and Nepal:

  1. Think local In most countries, schools are locally managed, and working with them requires fairly detailed local understanding. School schedules, for example, may change across regions or systems, not to mention external factors that can suddenly alter local conditions. Therefore, decisions about how and when to schedule program delivery in specific schools are probably best left to the most suitable local partner, be it a local NGO or branch manager at a bank. “These individuals are also often in the best position to cultivate relationships with local school officials,” says Jaya Burathoki, YouthSave’s project manager in Nepal, “or they may already have them, which makes it that much easier to work with schools.”

  2. Go deep and get buy When working with schools, it is not enough to obtain the support or permission of one or two top school officials; program implementers also need to make sure a critical mass of adults related to the school is in support of the intervention. For example, explaining the program to teachers and parents, e.g. through the school’s parent association, is an essential next step. This not only makes it more likely that the partnership with the school will last, but also helps spread the word about the program.

This type of approach becomes even more important for the sort of financial capability programming that YouthSave is implementing, because of our partnerships with local commercial banks. The idea of an NGO and a bank working together to offer an account is often met with confusion, if not suspicion, especially in countries where banks may not benefit from widespread public trust. In addition, offering opportunities for youth to open a savings account on school premises may be seen as a direct marketing tactic, particularly if there is only one bank involved. But there are several things implementers can do to counter these fears.

  1. Clearly articulate the public good of the program. During orientations, project staff must be able to convincingly articulate the potential benefits of financial capability for both young people and their communities. This approach underlines that the financial capability program is not a sales vehicle, but rather a way to expose youth to the tools and information needed to develop and adopt positive financial habits. In fact, we have found that combining the offer of youth savings accounts with financial literacy education is critical to overcoming possible concerns and doubts about the program.

  2. Ensure curriculum content focuses on financial literacy rather than a particular financial product. YouthSave’s Colombia Project Manager, Alejandra Montes, offers this tip: “Curricula should not only emphasize the benefits of savings, but also cover a range of different ways to save, as well as their advantages and disadvantages.” In YouthSave’s case, these include – but are not limited to – the youth savings account offered by our partner banks. In Colombia, for example, we are teaching participants how to ask the appropriate questions so that they can identify and select the right financial product. In fact, staff from our partner bank will actually be helping students practice these skills and questions in some of the financial capability workshops.

  3. Understand what banks can bring to the partnership. This raises an important point about how banks can best position themselves to work successfully with schools. Because private sector entities are often assumed to be motivated solely by commercial concerns, banks that wish to work with schools must make a concerted effort to counter this perception. In YouthSave’s experience, schools may not completely understand the costs banks incur to deliver youth savings products (many of which do not yield a profit in the short-term). However, schools often do appreciate the time that bank staff take to speak with their students, especially in marginalized areas. Banks are likely to be better served by focusing this time more on the benefits of saving versus the benefits of a particular product, which in turn will help create a productive partnership with the schools.

Schools can be an incredibly strategic partner in efforts to raise youth financial capability, by providing an avenue for youth to access not only information but also potentially tools that encourage good personal financial management. But the processes and priorities that often characterize schools are very different than those of commercial institutions more commonly involved in financial inclusion. These particularities must be fully taken into account in order to maximize the potential of school partnerships for financial capability.


  • Photo of Rani Deshpande

    Rani Deshpande