Jeroo Billimoria (Mumbai, 1965) has changed the lives of millions of children across the world. By founding Child and Youth Finance International (CYFI) she recently launched her ninth social organisation aimed at helping childeren and youth. Her goal: providing 100 million children and youngsters access to low cost financial education and products in 100 countries by 2015.
Why is financial inclusion and access for children and youth so important?
‘Throughout the world money is part of everyday life. The reality is that children in developing countries often work, but they cannot open a bank account and manage their financial affairs. Yet a healthy, social financial system starts with educating the young and including them in the system. Therefore all children, also more affluent youth, should be made financially aware. The payoff of our movement is therefore “reshaping the future of finance”.
Teaching children self-respect and positive financial behaviour makes them less vulnerable to destitution in a world where half the population lives below the poverty line. So why is it that 90 percent of children and youth have no access to basic financial services? All children should have a saving account which they know how to operate by the time they leave primary school. Saving gives them the ability to choose, it is about aspirations. Furthermore, research shows that financial education keeps children in school longer. Altogether, financial empowerment contributes to a child’s and a country’s development.’
Reaching 100 million children in 100 countries by 2015, is that an achievable goal?
‘Of course it is ambitious. Still, I like to put a stick in the ground somewhere and work towards my goal. We are not reinventing the wheel but rather building on what is already happening. Over the past two years we have done a lot of groundwork before our official kick-off event in Amsterdam, which we held in early April. Over a thousand stakeholders were consulted to help shape our strategy. We are very inclusive and like to involve anyone who has the potential to play a role in achieving our goal. We acknowledge them and listen to them. Although the main story has not changed, our strategy road map went through 65 versions. By next year we should have identified all 100 countries we would like to get involved with. We are now officially inviting people to become CYFI members.’
Where did you actually start?
‘Firstly, it is not primarily about networking. It is about having a sound strategy with clear, concrete deliverables and road maps. We did use our existing network, but additionally we made quite a few cold calls to governments and companies. Financial authorities and regulators need to anchor the system. We often spoke to them through a simple Skype call, giving us the opportunity to profile what we were doing. Our movement developed at a meeting in June 2010, as a result of what organisations promoting financial education and access encountered in practice. They outlined that children need policies and systems that give them choices and rights, empower them to invest in their future through sound financial decision making.’
What has been the concrete result of all your groundwork?
‘It lead up to a first meeting in April 2012 with 346 participants from 83 countries, as well as 70 youth participants from 40 countries. We got in all the key players: children, government representatives, financial services providers, multilaterals, NGO’s, academics, private foundations and other communities of practice. We made a plan through to 2015, carefully divided into year, month and week plans. We were lucky to receive a lot of pro bono legal and organisational counseling from corporations like McKinsey and Deloitte. Our plans are both technically and legally watertight. We determined four key products: an educational framework, a manual for governments to implement financial education and inclusion, a manual to certify existing child friendly products and a baseline study to identify research gaps.’
What in your opinion is the biggest gap?
‘The fact that people do not see the link between financial education and livelihood. We have to make it tangible. It is interesting how everyone seems to think that financial education in itself is enough to reshape financial systems. But I disagree. Our movement focuses on financial access. I often explain this to children by telling them: “I can give you a wonderful recipe book. But without a stove to cook on, it will be useless to you.” ’
And what is going to happen next?
‘We have been calling stakeholders to see what they are actually doing to get things rolling. Good intentions are wonderful, but we need action. At our first annual meeting in Amsterdam, participants reached a common vision on the implementation of the CYFI Movement at a regional or even national level. They made declarations of commitment to CYFI, with joint efforts to carry out Child and Youth Finance Days or Weeks. All regions committed themselves to holding regional meetings in the third and fourth quarters of 2012. Here stakeholders can continue to share innovations, expertise and actions. Child and youth finance will be included in the indicators of the G20 for financial inclusion. The UN Secretary General officially expressed his support to our Movement. Unicef has partnered with Aflatoun /.Child Savings International – also founded by Jeroo Billimoria – and with CYFI to promote curricula that facilitate learning social responsibility and financial competence. The UN Capital Development Fund has developed YouthStart, in partnership with the Mastercard foundation. This initiative increases access to financial services for low-income youth in sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on savings and financial education. There are many more examples as people take on the issue more and more every day.’
What were the highlights of the first CYFI summit?
‘In addition to the above, the direct interaction between young and adult participants was very important. Youngsters had the opportunity to present their own recommendations to policy makers. They recommended creating awareness of youth finance through events, media and an international Child and Youth Finance Day, to provide financial education, to encourage youth-led enterprises, to create child friendly banks, to realise more equitable trade between developing and developed countries and support mobile and internet based banking. Entrepreneurial children can help whole nations to move forward by setting up businesses and improving financial systems.’
Are there any shining examples of banks or countries that provide financial access and education to children and youth?
‘There are indeed. Bank al-Maghrib from Morocco organised a Child Finance Week and Day, where trainers and speakers taught finance to 33,000 primary and secondary school children throughout the country. The National Bank of Serbia developed nationwide educational programmes for school children. They plan to initiate and certify a compulsory financial education subject in schools. And XacBank from Mongolia have put innovative, child friendly products on the market, such as their children’s savings account, introduced in 2002. Our next summit will take place in Istanbul, in April 2013. I cannot wait to see what will be achieved by then.’
With CYFI you have launched your ninth social organisation. What is your personal motivation to keep taking on new challenges?
‘My parents instilled me with a strong sense of moral responsibility. For generations my family have been members of the Parsi community, a very small, monotheistic religious group. The Parsi have three core values: good thoughts, good words and good deeds. My parents and grandparents were philanthropists. I was raised with the idea that if you have food in your stomach and a roof over your head, you help others. And with hundreds of millions of young people living under the line of poverty, there is still a lot of work to be done.’