On October 9th, 2015 USAID’s Microlinks platform, in association with The MasterCard Foundation and Save the Children, hosted a discussion and webinar titled, “Pathways to Development: Evidence from YouthSave.” The purpose of the event was to bring together researchers and practitioners to share their experiences and insight gained on youth savings, spurred by the completion of the 5-year YouthSave project.
YouthSave, "A Report of the YouthSave Consortium: YouthSave 2010-2015," (Oct 2015): pg 8.
The YouthSave Project
The YouthSave consortium project was led by Save the Children in partnership with the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis (CSD), New America (NA), the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and supported by The MasterCard Foundation which set out to answer the question:
“If provided an opportunity to save via formal financial services, will youth participate, save, and accumulate assets?” (1)
Beginning in 2010, YouthSave worked in four developing countries, targeting youth between the ages of 12-18 from primarily low-income households to seek an answer. A summation of their results can be found in the YouthSave Research Report.
MEDA Works With Youth
At MEDA, the Youth Economic Opportunities (YEO) team has investigated the question and relevancy of youth savings in multiple forms; collaborating with the SEEP Network to develop toolkits and case studies to promote youth savings, and spearheading youth entrepreneurship projects in Jordan and Nigeria, to name a few. Through research and collaborative learning, some commonalities of youths’ experience with savings has emerged:
- Youth do save, and it does impact their livelihoods (2)
- Stages of the youth’s life cycle impacts the propensity and ability to save (for example, YouthSave participants in Colombia and Nepal had more money in their savings accounts at a younger age) (3)
- Marketing to, and delivering financial services to youth needs to be tailored to fit their needs; not replicating the tastes and preferences of adults (4)
- Non-financial services need to be youth-friendly and accessible to accompany and drive the uptake and usage of financial services (i.e. financial literacy programs that help youth make informed choices about micro-loans) (4)
- The regulations that create barriers for youth to open and utilize savings accounts at formal and informal institutions require creativity from practitioners and financial service providers to find alternative methods of engagement. For example, age requirements and parental approval for accessing financial services may need to be altered to encourage savings, depending on the contextual situation of the country (5)
This list represents only a portion of the knowledge Youth in Development practitioners have acquired and honed over time through research, program design, implementation and reflection.
The YouthSave Webinar
That being said, there is always room to learn and share diverse experiences with each other. During the YouthSave Webinar, a panel of practitioners unrelated to the YouthSave program shared their knowledge and experiences with implementing financial inclusion projects at their respective organizations. Notably, the panelists highlighted aspects of gender and marginalization that have impacted their work with financial inclusion.
For example, in Ghana, much of YouthSave’s work involved accessing youth at school to teach and inform them about savings, while connecting them with financial institutions. Kelly Hallman of the Population Council pointed out that in many developing countries, girls are not often found at school, especially in rural areas. Therefore, it is necessary to target them at their places of activity, such as: markets, transport hubs, places of worship and water collection areas.
Furthermore, Kelly Hallman noted that many young people in Southern Africa have lost one or both parent. This has implications for the role that families play in accessing financial services due to co-signature and/or permission requirements that exist in many countries. Additionally, many vulnerable youth, especially girls, lack access to formal identification documents which greatly restricts their access to financial services.
Lastly, panelists encouraged YouthSave practitioners to consider the business case for youth financial services. They elaborated on the need to utilize a customer-centric approach when interacting with financial service providers. Panelists noted that it is important to understand the psycho-social dynamics that influence youth to save, and that banks can leverage this information to design products and services that best retain clients sustainably by keeping the end-user in mind. For example, Frank DeGiovanni from the Ford Foundation explained that through their work to increase the number of savings accounts for young people in the United States, children from low-income families with lesser educated mothers had a greater response to opening accounts, accompanied by reduced maternal depressive symptoms for low-income women. (6) He also talked about the Ford Foundation’s work in South Africa, where students who were involved in their programs and opened up a bank account were two times more likely to enter college, university or be working, than those who did not in the control study. (7) These examples go to show that while cultural norms and behaviours are difficult to measure, they play an important part in influencing the motivations and aspirations of young people. If financial institutions could better understand the psycho-social dynamics that influence or hinder the utilization of their services for young people, they may be better able to design and market goods and services that will appeal to youth.
The panelists sparked a stimulating discussion about inclusive financial services by sharing their diverse experiences while working with youth. As youth-centred programs continue to gain popularity in the international development arena, what then are the policy implications for governments, financial institutions, donors and program beneficiaries? What role do organizations like MEDA play in influencing change at the macro and micro level?
What we do know is this: youth savings matter and they do impact livelihoods. As we continue to work and collaborate with young people, practitioners need to remain creative, attentive and adaptive when delivering sustainable, market-driven projects to continually harness and support the empowerment of young people, globally.
- Centre for Social Development. “Youth Savings Patterns and Performance in Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, and Nepal YouthSave Research Report 2015.” (2015).
- Youth Economic Opportunities. “Overview.” (2015).
- Save the Children. “YouthSave Report Offers New Insights into How and Why Young People in Developing Countries Save Money.” (2015)
- The SEEP Network. “SEEP Practitioner Learning Program: Effective Marketing for Scaling Up.” (2011).
- The SEEP Network and The MasterCard Foundation. “Youth and Financial Services Working Group: The Role of Parents and Families in Youth Financial Inclusion.” (2015).
- Center for Social Development. “Testing Universal College Savings Accounts at Birth: Early Research from SEED for Oklahoma Kids.” (2014).
- The Ford Foundation. “Southern Africa.” (2015).