Expand Your Horizons: Financial Literacy Changes Lives

By Kathleen Crow, Managing Director at The McLean Group and 2017 Women Who Count National Conference Speaker

As I sit at my home office looking out the window, I enjoy seeing the green foliage and bask in the warm sunshine. Summer is my favorite season. I love the warm weather and the slight downtick in energy. Traffic congestion is lighter and the busy season is a month away. My projects begin in September, not during the summer. Joyous moments!

Quiet times like these help me to reflect on my blessings. I’m grateful for my faith, my husband and kids, my career, and the joy that comes with living in a country where I am free to pursue my dreams. I appreciate these things now more than ever because I’ve been to places where this isn’t necessarily the case and opportunities are limited or nonexistent. Wherever I go and regardless of the surroundings, I find that we all want the same thing. We want the opportunity to take care of ourselves and provide for our families. And we want our children to have a good life, perhaps better than what we had, and that begins with a good education.

My travels have taken me to some of the poorest countries in the world, like Burundi, where I witnessed people living in the direst of circumstances. Many were struggling to survive without any way to provide for their families, yet I also saw some who were living noticeably changed lives filled with hope and promise.

Why the difference? There is not a simple reason for the contrast, but one key is financial literacy.  In poverty stricken countries, it’s about teaching basic numeracy skills and how to count money with real benefits like not getting cheated at the market and being able to read the dosage on your child’s medicine.  It’s also about micro savings programs. The benefits of micro savings programs are many, but the two most powerful I witnessed are the dignity that is felt by participants when they have skills to take care of themselves and their families, and the sense of community that is fostered within these groups. Amazing things happen when a community of people look after and care for one another.

I witnessed this through my involvement with Five Talents, a non-profit that implements micro savings programs serving the poorest countries in the world…  places where the average person eats once a day and most children don’t go to school because their parents can’t afford uniforms and books.  I was drawn to the organization because 1) its programs ensure participants receive literacy and numeracy skills as well as entrepreneurial training, and, 2) because Five Talents helps the most vulnerable, primarily women who are susceptible to abuse, abandonment, and sometimes left solely to provide for their children.

But you don’t have to go to Burundi to find people in dire need of the assistance financial literacy can provide. Here in the United States, a land rich with opportunity, we have all seen people burdened with crushing debt, struggling to save for their child’s education or provide for an ailing parent, or determining if they will ever be able to retire after decades in the workplace.  Again, financial literacy is key to a more promising financial future, but in the United States it might mean being educated about implementing budgets and debt reduction strategy or annuitizing a retirement plan.

While financial literacy will clearly mean different things to different people, there is no doubting the importance of financial literacy in achieving some measure of financial security for anyone.  Just as organizations like Five Talents do around the world, as financial professionals, we are in a unique position to help people change their lives and to achieve financial peace for themselves and their families.  Whether we are using our financial literacy skills and abilities to work with our clients or in volunteering with local financial aid programs or international organizations like Five Talents, we experience the simple and profound joy that comes from helping one another.

I know that my experiences with Five Talents have changed and blessed me more than they changed the people I was “helping.” True, the poverty was breathtakingly sad.  But the human spirit is strong and the desire to make better lives for our loved ones and our self has no borders.  There were many life lessons I took away from these experiences and I look forward to sharing some of them with you at the national conference in October.

Micro savings programs are all about women and finance and community. I so look forward to our community gathering in October of women in finance and accounting!

2017-08-09T16:09:43+00:00 August 9th, 2017|The Foundation of AFWA|