Friday, September 13, 2013

The Challenges of Economic Empowerment

I'm working with two groups to try and recruit more women to enroll in economic empowerment workshops at the local YWCA. The focus group is compromised of the women who use the YWCA's services. As I stated in the past, I teach a Tuesday class at the YWCA, and the feedback has been encouraging but enrollment has been disappointing. 

The lack of participation is surprising, since the women who do attend have remarked they benefit from the classes. There were testimonials of how the topics covered so far have been useful in these women's professional and personal lives. They are pleased enough with the weekly sessions to recommend them to friends. A teen who accompanies her mother to the courses has even shared some of my presentation slides with her finance teacher. The exposure is critical, but still enrollment is not where it should be. 

Searching through the Internet one day, I came across the Wise$Up organization, which partners with several groups to dispense economic empowerment tutorials to the public. It works with the US Labor Department by offering material that community leadersand private organizations can use to teach women how to become financially independent. There is site set up by the Labor Department that is maintained for only women. One can find more than enough info on the site, and it is presented in simple English that spares visitors the agony of trying to understand all that financial jargon. Wise$Up has developed a curriculum made up of eight chapters of financial lessons, worksheets and discussions. A pre- and post- screening assessment is required to monitor the curriculum's influence on participants. The goal is to determine just how beneficial the program has been within three months after the classes have concluded. It was the first time I had come across a program that screens women's progress after completion. In a sense, it holds women accountable because it expects them to use what they learned. 

My plan is to encourage women to participate by offering incentives. Local retailers will be contacted and asked to donate a service or good to help get these women on board. Certificates will also be provided and the local YWCA will offer its own rewards. All for the sake of
getting women to care more about their finances. 

Will it work? To some extent, yes. Humans are innately motivated by incentives, which is why businesses eagerly offer them. Even businesses love incentives because they help expose their products. Add to that the ever subtle pressure of knowing you will be tested by way of a screening and receive a certificate to document on a resume. In some respects, there are still challenges to consider. Many women who decline opportunities to manage their own finances cope with debilitating insecurity issues. Feelings of inadequacy, shame and fear stops them from enjoying the luxury of financial independence. Somewhere down the line, they were made to believe they weren't intelligent enough to care for themselves or a bad money experience has frightened them. Maybe they're too busy to commit their time and energy to a program or they just don't see the benefit of one. 

It's unfortunate to have to work so hard to convince women they deserve to learn and become financially independent, but the effort is worth it. If one woman can benefit from this curriculum, that would be one less victim of economic or financial abuse. It would also be an additional woman who will someday pass the lessons on to her daughter and create a ripple effect of future financially literate women. 

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