Mahalo – On yesterday, February 15th, 2005, I spoke before a key group of assembled leaders — from the private sector, government and community in Hawaii (representing what we at Operation HOPE term the three leg stool of HOPE), specifically Honolulu. This invitation, to speak on the crisis in America around financial literacy (Downloadjohn_bryant_remarks_before_hawaii_le.mp3), or better still, the state of financial "illiteracy," came from my friends at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and in follow up to a speech I gave in November, 2004, for Senator Akaka of Hawaii and the Hawaii Council on Economic Education.
I would like to extend a very special "thank you" to my friend and shero, and the host of the important meeting, Joy Hoffman, vice president for public information and community affairs for the Federal Reserve, and co-chair of the Operation HOPE regional board in Northern California, along with her incredible team (thanks Craig Nolte, Jack Richards and the others)! Finally, I cannot say thank you in Hawaii without acknowledging the leadership and vision of one Kelly Walsh, senior vice president for the Bank of Hawaii, and, like Joy, a long time supporter of the Operation HOPE movement. I would also like to thank Hawaii Banking Commissioner Griffin for his commitment of support, and for "showing up" to today’s event.
Hawaii has an interesting history…
Around the 3rd or 4th century Polynesians from 2,000 miles away first made their way to Hawai and called the Hawaiian islands home. 500 years later explorers from Tahiti and surrounding islands also came to Hawaii. Home to an Hawaiian monarchy in the early 1800’s, the monarchy survived until 1893. Hawaii, made up of its 8 big islands, became a territory of the U.S. in 1900, and our 50th state in August, 1959.
Today Hawaii is comprised of more than 1.2 million residents, up from 200,000 residents a century ago, and is home to a majority of minorities. In fact, there is no one ethnic majority in Hawaii, and fully a third of the population is of mixed race. And while ethnic diversity has mostly been a blessing for Hawaii, some language and cultural issues have made financial literacy an additional challenge for the island state. I often say with regard to the sad state of financial illiteracy in our nation, "when mainstream America has a headache, minority America has pneumonia," but we are all sick! This would certainly be the case for the beautiful state of Hawaii.
Whereas financial literacy educated statistics are not at all promising on the mainland (Download speech_outline_10_the_srm_and_power_of_financial_literacy_education.doc), the geographic isolation of Hawaii seems to have further exacerbated the problem, with Hawaiian youth scoring a 54% rate of basic financial literacy understanding in a 2004 study.
But I was pleased to see — with this trip, speech and meetings with key leaders — was that there seems to be a realization of the legitimate need, and the sense of urgency around "doing something" around this issue in Hawaii. Furthermore, I sensed on this trip a real commitment by local leaders to move the agenda.
As an action item, a founding exploratory Operation HOPE advisory board for Hawaii was commissioned following the meeting, and the Federal Reserve and I have been promised follow up by those in attendance. Likewise, I have given the people of Hawaii my commitment that should they make the commitment real, rally the local support from government leaders and the financial community, inclusive of area banks, credit unions, insurance companies and financial service firms, I and Operation HOPE will stand with them sometime THIS year, as we launch or first proposed Banking on Our Future financial literacy program office in and for Hawaii! Keep you posted.
Onward, With HOPE