What Do Youth Have to Say? How Young Voices Drive Financial Inclusion

MasterCard Foundation

Originally posted on the MasterCard Foundation Blog.

Gatete is an 18-year-old man from the market town of Naivasha, Kenya. Gatete attends school far from home and lives with his cousins who act as his guardians because his parents are very poor. His uncle pays his school fees. Gatete is in the fourth level of high school and hopes to attend university after completing his secondary education.

Over the course of the interview for qualitative research in YouthSave, he mentioned the word “future” 12 times.  His desire for savings was clearly linked with the perception that it would prepare him for an uncertain future:  “Saving is really something that a person cannot do without, you can have money today but you’re not certain about the future, so if you save [even] a little money—this money will be able to help you in future, maybe in the time of need.”

Why is Gatete’s story so important to our Foundation? One of the far-reaching effects of poverty is the exclusion of poor people from articulating their abilities, interests and perspectives to decision-makers at all levels. Programming, research and evaluation efforts should be inclusive and give voice to all perspectives, including those typically excluded.

On this International Youth Day, it’s a good time to highlight how young people have participated in projects through our partnerships with Freedom from HungerPlan CanadaYouthSaveand YouthStart.

Voices of youth in market research

YouthSave market research with nearly 2,500 young people and parents in Colombia, Ghana, Kenya and Nepal confirmed that youth are financially active and they do save. Young people said they want safe places to save money. They also want access to savings, products and services that are easy to understand and give them some privacy in using their savings account. Insights from the market research were used in product development and testing.

Eighteen Financial Service Providers in the YouthStart selection process conducted market research with hundreds of young people to understand why they save, what sources they have for saving and their motivations. These young people said they save for emergencies, to help with future education plans and basic needs. They get money from parents and family, and older young people also get some money from part-time or special work assignments. Cash flows are very seasonal for young people and also reflect their life cycle stages.

Voices of youth in program and practice

As youth financial products were piloted and rolled out by financial service providers, many programs continued to engage with young people through focus groups, follow-up and monitoring. As products were tested, youth gave input into product pilots, and banks and financial service providers made modifications to enhance the product, marketing and outreach. Participating banksin the YouthSave project reflected on what they learned from the product development process and the potential of customer loyalty with youth savers.

In YouthSave, product pilots were designed to answer key questions about product uptake, account usage and youth customer satisfaction. YouthSave accounts were intended to actively engage youth themselves in the process of saving so they required not only a different product design, but different marketing and delivery channels than the banks had used in the past. Piloting would provide an opportunity to see whether all these elements met youths’ needs and whether young customers could effectively access and use the accounts — information that market research alone cannot confirm.

YouthStart partners also conducted selected monitoring and follow up of youth customers to understand their motivations and account experience. Twenty-one year old Patient shared how he started to save as a young teenager with Umutanguha Finance Ltd. in Rwanda with the encouragement of his mother. He then invested his savings into a small business that is expanding, and hopes to grow with a loan in the future. Sixteen year old Regina in Ghana shared her experience of working and saving with HFC Bank Ghana so that she could resume her education in secondary school.

Voices of youth in research and evaluation

Research and evaluation activities used a variety of methods that intentionally elevated the voices of young people.

The Plan Canada publication Most Significant Change Stories: Voices of Youth describes the process by which Plan engaged young people in the collection and selection of stories for the publication. Over 450 stories were submitted; they also included unexpected and unwelcome changes as a result of project participation.

Aissatou Seck of Senegal told about the positive changes she experienced from participating in the project: “I am a girl with a disability. After my high school studies, I came back to the village, and now I make a living by styling hair at my home. I decided to become a member of a savings and credit group in my neighbourhood. When the management committee was set up, the group appointed me to the position of Secretary. Everybody respects me and nobody has ever made fun of me for having a disability. Our Youth Savings and Loan Association (YSLA) has enabled me to help my mother, who is a widow. Before joining the group, I never used to leave the house. I never saw anybody, but now I meet my group every week.”

As part of the YouthSave research, the Center for Social Development examined the experiences of youth in four countries to understand commonalities in savings behavior and to address the question of how context affects youth experiences in saving. Qualitative interviews of 24 youth, their parents and community or school stakeholders were conducted. Four areas of commonality emerged: motivations to save, the effects of saving, factors that facilitate saving, and challenges to saving that youth overcame.

Freedom from HungerPlan Canada and YouthStart all conducted Financial Diaries research to gain better understanding of young people, how they manage money, the challenges they face, and their behavior, knowledge and attitudes about money. We learned that youth have rich and complex financial lives, multiple sources of income, and they use multiple types of financial instruments. Young people who participated in financial education and had access to accounts saved more than those who did not have access. They had more confidence, more resilience to shocks and a more optimistic outlook on the future than those who did not participate in the programs.

The MasterCard Foundation has released its Research, Evaluation and Learning Policy. A core principle of the policy is to listen deeply and to elevate the voices of beneficiaries and clients that programs target. In youth financial services, youth voices have been central in market research, in programs and practice and in research and evaluation. Our hope is that this is a beginning and that the voices of young people continue to be heard in future dissemination of knowledge, program and policy design and in influencing the world that also belongs to them.

Ruth Dueck-Mbeba is Senior Program Manager, Financial Inclusion at The MasterCard Foundation