By John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman, and CEO, Operation HOPE, Inc.
Some of the most profound words spoken on financial inclusion are attributable to Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He says: To live in a system of free enterprise yet not understand the rules of free enterprise, must be the very definition of slavery.
In truth, many of our underserved communities across the country are in bondage—restrained by a lack of financial know-how and economic opportunity; stifled by predatory lending and low credit scores. Modern slavery in underserved communities, including communities right here in metro Atlanta, looks something like this: a check casher, next to a payday lender, next to a rent-to-own store, next to a liquor store. These establishments prey on 500-credit score customers, of all races.
Poverty and despair are not immutable conditions, however, these social ills will continue to engulf our society if inequality in access to financial knowledge and economic prospects persist. Poverty is not financial at base, it is half low self-esteem, lack of confidence, limited belief in oneself, and poor role modeling. If you hang around 9 broke people, you’ll be the tenth. Conversely, hang around 9 tech innovators and you’ll be the tenth. There are many bright, talented young people who were simply never taught the “language of money”; essentially missing the memo on how the economy works and how they must operate in it. These young people don’t understand that the economy is built on small business, by entrepreneurs—regular individuals just like them—who make small companies big.
Engaging youth early with financial literacy and entrepreneurship training and mentoring is critical to empowering the nation’s next wave of business builders who will ignite and sustain long-term economic energy in our communities. Findings from the 2015 Gallup-HOPE Index,
an annual benchmarking survey developed by Operation HOPE, Inc. and Gallup, Inc. that measures the economic energy of American youth (grades 5 -12) reveals: students aspire to be entrepreneurial—four in 10 students (42 %) plan to start their own business; lower-income students are more entrepreneurial but have fewer resources—47 % of students residing in households with annual income of $36,000 or less said they plan to start a business; and current financial literacy education is lacking—only about half of students polled (52%) said they learn about money and banking at school.
Lack of financial literacy is a major cause of generational poverty. Understanding how to effectively handle money, credit, debt, and risk are crucial to economic survival and sustainability. A community empowered with financial dignity asks better questions, demands better products and services, is more aspirational, and is better positioned. An empowered community is a community filled with economic opportunity.
Real financial inclusion looks like individuals vested with financial knowledge; self-sufficient with the fundamentals to build their own businesses, raise their credit scores, buy homes, or simply make better decisions with the money they have. A truly inclusive economy needs all the players on the field—including those traditionally left to wait it out indefinitely on the sidelines: women, low- and moderate-income communities, young people, minorities, etc. Building an economy that works for everyone ensures that the right conversations are taking place, and more importantly, the right resources—training, empowerment and development—are being deployed to create economically stabilized communities.
Here in Atlanta, more than anywhere else, we have the collective responsibility to build on the second part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s integration dream—the integration of the dollar, under the banner of “Silver Rights”—rights to financial literacy, access to capital, and equity of opportunity, for all.
About Financial Inclusion
Operation HOPE, Inc., powers the broadest financial inclusion network in the country. Through strategic partnerships with organizations like SunTrust, Wells Fargo, Hyatt Hotels, and Coca-Cola, the nonprofit is making free enterprise accessible to all by equipping youth and adults with the financial training and tools to realize their aspirations and ensure their financial wellbeing. Through its core programs, Operation HOPE has provided financial dignity and economic empowerment to over 2.6 million individuals worldwide, and $2 billion in economic activity for the disenfranchised—turning check cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners, and minimum wage workers into living wage consumers. Project 5117 is the organization’s multi-year four-pronged approach to combating economic inequality that aims to improve financial literacy, increase business role models and business internships for youth, and stabilize the American dream by boosting credit scores. The Atlanta Uplift 2020 initiative will escalate the organization’s services throughout the city to strengthen low- and middle-income families.
Volunteer with HOPE Corps: http://www.operationhope.org/hopecorps
Learn more about membership levels: https://www.operationhope.org/becomeapartner