Last week I had the honor of speaking before a group of Citi executives and Citi bankers from the Mid-Atlantic region to thank them for volunteering as HOPE Corps members, part of our global partnership with Citi, to encourage them to do more and to invite others to join them, and to review the vital and increasing importance of our work in the context of the global economic crisis that we all find ourselves in now.
As I told those in attendance, and as I am telling CEOs around the world when we speak, "the next thing that Americans here and citizens around the world want to know, just after our financial houses stop burning, is how do we insure that a mess like this never happens again."
I am proud to say that Citi recognized the importance of financial literacy long ago, with a $200 million, long-term commitment made about 3 years back. Now, we all need to do more, and many more companies need to follow Citi’s lead here, integrating financial literacy into the whole of how they do business, encouraging their employees to give back, seeing financial literacy as an investment in their own business future and that of their customers, and taking the entire enterprise much more seriously. We simply cannot have a $14 trillion economy (down a little in recent reports) where 70% of the economy is on the back of the consumer (the U.S. economy), and not value as a priceless asset, financial literacy.
Citi and the Citi Foundation are and have been major investors in HOPE’s award winning Banking on Our Future program, partnering with Citi in 10 markets throughout the U.S. and Citi in South Africa. Our partnership began with a modest $25,000 investment and less than 10 volunteers, focused in Harlem, New York, where HOPE was honored to launch our work in a classroom with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his Clinton Foundation.
Since that time we have significantly increased our work together, with close to 1,000 Citi employees having served as HOPE Corps members, and the company having invested approximately $2 million in our work to date (not including the value of employee time). We are also proud to have Citi executives David Simon on our national board, and my friend Natalie Abatemarco on our NE board, amongst others. Even during these turbulent times, Citi has maintained its commitment to financial literacy, and our work. Late in November, 2008, I have agreed to give a keynote speech for a Citi-FT (Financial Times) Financial Education Summit, a global financial literacy conference of leaders from around the world, in China. There I will provide the U.S. perspective on the current global clallenges, and my vision for the solution as well.
We hope to do even more together in months and years to come. Our work, and mutual commitment, is necessary now more than ever.
Onward with HOPE
John Hope Bryant
Chairman, founder and CEO, Operation HOPE, and vice chairman, U.S. President’s Council on Financial Literacy (and chairman, Council Committee on the Under-Served)