Sylvia Juuko  29 September 2010


Kampala — LAST week, entrepreneur and philanthropist John Hope Bryant suggested that financial literacy should be considered the new civil rights issue in the aftermath of the global economic crisis.

As a proponent of personal finance management, it was interesting to consider empowering people with this life-long skill as their basic right.

During a breakfast meeting that marked the climax of the financial literacy week organised by Investor's Club, Bryant noted that while the quest for democracy dominated the 20th century, understanding money is the freedom sought after during this century.

"If you do not understand the language of money today and if you do not have a bank account today, you are nothing more of an economic slave," stresses Bryant, founder and CEO of US financial literacy and empowerment nonprofit Operation HOPE.

Understanding the language of money, according to him, entails understanding financial education as well as attaining skills that allow individuals to operate in a free enterprise.

With these skills, individuals can then be availed financial capabilities to access financial products and are afforded economic empowerment that allows them to act on opportunities in their life.

As it is, the ability to access the mainstream financial system with dignity, avoidance of financial predators and the ability to pursue your aspirational dreams without illegitimate barriers of opportunity is the kind of freedom we seek today, according to Bryant.

We should know the importance of financial literacy in fighting poverty and empowering Ugandans. However, the challenge remains taking it to the next level.

Nevertheless, this should be a combined effort at national and community and individual level to execute behavioural change regarding how people think about and manage their money.

There are suggestions of involving top leadership and legislators to ensure that provision of financial literacy is backed by legislation.

While it is important to advocate for laws that put financial literacy at the heart of policy to improve scores of lives, we can start with what can be implemented right away given the lengthy legislation process.

The methods to do this are many and varied and cannot be exhausted here.

However, focusing on children will be future leaders is one option. Financial literacy should be taught not only from home but also in lower primary schools to inculcate the culture of prudent money management.

Another initiative that works is launching a campaign for mentors and role models in different communities.

Quoting Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling book, The Tipping Point, Byrant says research has shown that at 5% role models, every community stabilises.

A good number of people aspire to be entrepreneurs because they have a model entrepreneur. Successful people need to volunteer their time and give talks in schools and the community about how they have made it. We should make heroes out of individuals who have genuinely and legally become successful.

Most importantly, assess how you can become part of the change as well as avoid the entitlement mentality of expecting government or the company you work for or somebody else to make this decision for you regarding improving your financial health.

The trick is not to wait for a financial literacy week to focus on your money matters but consistently set aside time to acquire financial knowledge. This is the best investment you can ever make.

Once you are on top of your personal finances through financial knowledge, you can then be able to avoid scams and spot opportunities to improve your well being. If you are yet to work on how to multiply income streams, you work towards figuring out what you are passionate about and work towards developing that idea into a money making venture.

Like Byrant said, if you are afraid of taking a risk, the only risk you are facing is doing nothing. But he acknowledges that this 'movement' is more difficult because money is emotional and elusive.

Indeed, understanding the language of money and spreading financial literacy cannot be done overnight. But each of us can start somewhere.


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