In our fast-changing world, education is critical to help young people navigate challenges and contribute to society. Yet an essential subject is often left out: financial literacy. Two-thirds of U.S. states do not require financial education in schools. Financial education isn’t common in homes, either — 70 percent of parents are reluctant to discuss finance with their children.
The lack of financial literacy not only impacts a young person’s ability to handle important matters like loans, budgeting, and debt — it also excludes young people from engaging with the economic systems that shape their communities and lives.
Young people are stepping up to change that. We hear from the five grand prize winners of Prudential Emerging Visionaries, a youth impact program conducted in partnership with Ashoka, about how they’re working with peers to address economic inequality and promote financial literacy across the U.S., from North Carolina to California. Here’s what we learned.
Start with youth
As a member of the Youth Economic Initiative (YEI), Faaris Zuberi understood that financial literacy skills are a must for budding entrepreneurs — and for everyone. Studies show that those who lack financial literacy skills are significantly more likely to be targets of predatory lending and fraud and are more likely to experience low credit scores and even bankruptcy.
In an effort to change this reality, Faaris joined with peers in his state of Maryland and around the world to start up a new initiative: the Financial Literacy Introduction Program, which offers financial literacy education to student members of YEI — the largest coalition of economics clubs worldwide (with over 3,000 members). The 16-module interactive program covers important topics like credit, taxes, investing and retirement so that 7th-12th grade students are empowered to make financial decisions now and in the future.
Meanwhile, in Indiana, Isaac Hertenstein was setting out to solve the financial literacy gap in his rural community. Compared to high school students, younger students are often overlooked in financial education, even though our money mindsets are already forming at an early age. So, when Isaac decided to do something about the economic inequalities in his area, he headed for the local elementary and middle schools.
Through “Students Teaching Finance,” Isaac partners with community and school leaders and trains high school students to teach their younger peers financial literacy via stories and games. The goal: Help young people make confident, informed decisions for their financial futures. And, through an open-source curriculum on the program website, young people across the country can collaborate to adapt and build on the content themselves.
Living in a small, primarily agricultural community, Isaac explains “I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up in a middle-class family, but see these disparities between the haves and have-nots.” He continues, “My mom is a first-grade teacher in the local elementary schools. She sees students all the time that struggle financially and are unable to afford most of the basic aspects of life that a lot of us take for granted. Seeing these stark disparities really [drove] me to create change.”
Black women are underrepresented in the business world, facing routine discrimination, as well as disparities in business education, resources, and networks. Rachel Holmes wanted to change that — and she knew that connections would be key.
“70% of Black women are currently in the process of starting a new business, and only 3% of Black women are currently running mature businesses. Across every Fortune 500 CEO, there have only been three Black woman,” she explains. “Black girls can often struggle to find the encouragement, resources and support from their community to pursue high-level business careers. I wanted to combat these issues.”
Along with hands-on workshops, Rachel’s California-based initiative, Black Girls Mean Business, allows young Black women in California to develop a network of business professionals — valuable connections as they pursue their own education and future careers. She matches mentors with a student looking to start a career in the same field. They chat about strengths and weaknesses, career plans and much more, helping young women feel supported as they take the next step.
In North Carolina 15-year-old Sahana Mantha and her sister, Shreya, are also harnessing the power of connection. The sisters are helping to build communities of support among mothers experiencing homelessness, along with a team of “coaches” — primarily businesswomen — who can provide guidance and trauma-informed support on the journey to financial wellbeing and independence.
“Today, [Foundation for Girls] is playing its part to combat systemic issues impacting homeless single mothers to become financially savvy, digitally capable, career confident, and socially connected,” Sahana says.
Over the past 6 years, their organization FFG has impacted over 2,500 unhoused mothers and their children.
Tackling the financial gender gap
When Ella Gupta attended her school’s first Investment Club meeting, she was shocked to find no other girls in the room. She started researching and found that only 12% of girls report feeling very confident making financial decisions, and most experience financial injustice at a young age.
“I think by teaching girls financial literacy skills [they see that] they have the power to control their financial resources and therefore the power to control their lives,” she explains.
By starting the Initiative for Financial Literacy Exploration, Ella provides free workshops, lectures and resources, creating a safe space for young women to learn about money management in her home state of North Carolina. And she didn’t stop there. Ella launched an online petition to advocate for guaranteed access to a semester-long personal finance course for high school students in all 50 states, with the goal of collecting 10,000 signatures and creating a youth-led movement.
For Ella, the impact starts with students. “Students can bring these conversations home to their parents,” she says. Ella also recently started a financial literacy book club for mothers and daughters, believing that “the intergenerational impact is critical.”
Her advice for other changemakers heading down a similar path? “Consider the audience you’re trying to target and take a holistic approach,” Ella says. “Financial education is more than just learning what an index fund or credit score is- it’s about empowerment and helping those you reach discover new possibilities. When developing your programming, put yourself in the shoes of those you are trying to reach to make your initiative relevant, impactful, and engaging.”
Join the movement
Are you a young person passionate about bridging the financial education gap or tackling other challenges in your community? Head over here to discover more stories and stay tuned to learn how you can participate in the 2023 Prudential Emerging Visionaries program.