Finding a Formula for Youth Economic Empowerment

Plan International
Plan International’s Banking on Change program shows how providing girls and young women with savings skills doesn't just produce financial rewards.
 
“We were just using the money anywhere,” says Cleopatra, a 20 year-old young woman from the Central Province of Zambia, describing the challenge she once faced managing her family’s finances.
 
I met Cleopatra during a field visit to Zambia and learned her inspiring story. She is the second of 5 children, forced to drop out of high school due to money problems. She married, gave birth to a daughter and worked with her husband on the family farm growing maize, tomatoes and onions. 
 
She started a small roadside grocery to produce extra income, but had to stop due to problems selling her goods on credit. She and her husband found it hard to save, budget wisely, accumulate wealth and use their resources to create a better life for their daughter.
 
YOUTH SAVE TOGETHER
 
Her life took a turn for the better when a youth business mentor, trained under a Plan International program, convinced her to join a youth savings group and receive training in poultry production and enterprise management. 
 
She started saving regularly, leveraged her savings to obtain a series of small loans and used her accumulated funds to gradually start a broiler business. Enterprise training helped her identify markets at local boarding schools and to plan her cash flow to purchase feed and replacement chicks. 
 
She now knows how to spend and save at the same time to generate income and increase her wealth. She has also become a youth village agent, encouraging other young women and men to join savings groups and receive training.
 
BANKING ON CHANGE
 
Cleopatra’s story has been repeated tens of thousands of times across 7 countries thanks to Plan International’s Banking on Change project funded by Barclays Bank and implemented together with CARE International. 
 
Using youth savings groups as the entry point to help young people develop a savings habit, learn to manage money and build social capital, the project helps them take their first steps towards self-employment through an innovative curriculum called Enterprise your Life (EYL). 
 
The innovative aspect of EYL is that it is based on helping young people deal with situations they are likely to confront in their economic lives by developing life skills in areas like planning, negotiating, finding opportunities and assessing risk. These complement more concrete business management skills and the kinds of technical skills learned by people like Cleopatra.
 
NOT JUST FINANCIAL REWARDS
 
Plan International, through Banking on Change, was able to apply this formula to 132,000 youth of whom 79,000 were adolescent girls and young women. Together they were able to create 60,000 small businesses, representing for many their first attempts to generate income. In so doing, many exhibited new-found life skills and began seeing changes in areas like gender equality within households that contribute to a greater sense of empowerment beyond just finance.
 
So Cleopatra’s experience in Zambia of the life-changing impact of savings groups and training is not an isolated one.