Youth Cannot Be Ignored

January 13, 2014

Two out of three people in the MENA region are under 30 years old. And youth in MENA, especially women and girls, are more financially excluded than youth in other parts of the world (according to the Global Findex).

Youth clearly cannot be ignored.

And they were not ignored at Women’s World Banking’s recent Building Women-Focused Finance: The Global-Local Experience conference in Amman, Jordan (November 20-21, 2013).

On the first day of the conference, under the topic “Global Innovations to Promote Financial Inclusion”, youth was the focus of one of the three breakout panels. I was fortunate to represent Women’s World Banking and our youth savings work alongside some amazing panelists.

Moderated by Nicki Post, Senior Project Manager at MEDA, the panel addressed different best practices in serving youth, specifically around product development, business and financial education, and technological innovations for youth.

I provided an overview of the business case for youth savings and key components of youth savings program development. When I asked the audience: “What do you think is the most important component in youth savings program design?,” the response was overwhelmingly “Financial education”, beating out “Product Features” and “Marketing”.

That feedback provided a nice segue to what Lydiah Kiburu, Head of Communications at Equity Bank in Kenya, had to say about how the bank has recognized its role in providing business and financial education as an important element in youth banking. Equity Bank sees the opportunities in providing financial services for youth—a segment it considers distinct and with its own needs and aspirations. But without sufficient employment opportunities in the country, youth need entrepreneurship and financial training along with financial services.

In her introduction, Nicki from MEDA discussed how their YouthInvest project has also been providing business, life skills, and financial literacy training to youth to complement its youth-friendly loan products in Egypt and Morocco.

Jamie Zimmerman, Director of the Global Assets Project at the New America Foundation, shared highlights of her recent publication: Beyond the Buzz: The Allure and Challenge of Using Mobile Phones to Increase Youth Financial Inclusion</i rel=”nofollow”>. There is a lot of buzz about the promise of mobile money, branchless banking, SMS, or other technological tools for youth financial inclusion. However, certain obstacles may be ‘killing the buzz’ until addressed – obstacles such as account ownership or access, KYC-ID requirements, SIM or mobile ownership, data privacy, and the cost of phones. See her publication for more recommendations in overcoming these obstacles.

On the upside, Justin Sykes, Director of Microenterprise at Silatech, showed how Silatech has been successfully using technology to reach youth through exciting innovations such as:

Youth cannot be ignored, and all of us on the panel showed how we are actively working on ways to effectively reach youth. The right product features, relevant financial education and the most appropriate and accessible delivery channels at scale will ensure the difficult-to-ignore and burgeoning youth population around the world is more financially included.