Low-cost initiatives that won’t break the company bank include: creating a culture of financial consciousness and inclusion, providing mentor-based skills development programs and offering workers access to a variety of financial management tools and learning opportunities. Here are some real-life businesses that are doing this.
Creating a culture of financial inclusion. The finance and banking industries have come to recognize that low financial literacy is a problem confined not exclusively to the poor—that even employees of financial institutions need to increase their financial capabilities and awareness.
In the wake of the recent financial crisis, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) took action to focus on improving financial education and literacy. The NYSE developed the “Financial Fitness Tool Kit” to share with member companies, because many employees are often ill-equipped to make basic financial decisions. In fact, several companies have tied “financial fitness” to their company’s health and wellness programs. Increasingly, business leaders are recognizing that financial fitness is a strategic asset that will bolster their bottom lines because it’s good for the entire economy.
Establishing mentoring programs. Mentoring the youth and tapping into their natural entrepreneurial spirits is key to rebuilding America’s economy. Jim Clifton, CEO of the Gallup Organization, often talks about this link and how it can contribute to U.S. and global economies’ growth. Clifton explained that the great American dream today has shifted, particularly among the youth. He advised business leaders and employers that young people are looking for more from their jobs. They need to be inspired by an important mission or purpose, not simply a salary.
The Gallup organization has made a 100-year commitment to identify and empower the next generation of business builders, and plans to quadruple the number of role models to whom these young men and women have access. “American youth,” defined as 30 million+ people currently between 8-18 years old—represent the up-and-coming economic energy that our country will depend upon if it is to win in the global economic battle.
Offering youth internships. Operation HOPE, the nonprofit private banker for the working poor, is working to get businesses to offer paid internships directly after high school graduation for every teen who receives passing grades. This will give all young people a shot at economic opportunity. Providing internships helps solve several problems, including a reduction of the average $37,440 that each school dropout costs the nation each year.
[Note: Chief Executive works with a similar organization called REACH Prep, a 20-year-old organization that prepares motivated and talented underserved minority students for admission into independent schools in Connecticut and New York.]
Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are ripe for such programs. A 2013 Gallup Student Poll showed that low-income youth from households earning less than $36,000 a year are more likely than their wealthier peers to develop problem-solving skills, and have a higher propensity toward entrepreneurship than their counterparts from households earning $90,000 or more a year.
There has been much made of corporate citizenship in the past few years. Businesses that focus on helping individuals rise up out of poverty and financial illiteracy will be helping America reclaim its position as a powerful and human economic leader.