Last week, April 3-4, was the first Child and Youth Finance International (CYFI) summit in Amsterdam, entitled “Reshaping the Future of Finance.” Two young Opportunity Malawi clients were sent to the summit to represent Malawi as special guests, participating in youth panel discussions. One is Grey Katsilizeni, 23, from the rural Lilongwe area of Nambuma. He’s involved in buying and selling of crop produce. The other is Agnes Kwelete, a 17-year-old girl from Mulanje who attends Chisitu Community Day Secondary School. According to Opportunity Malawi’s CEO David Smith, the two young clients were selected by the bank to represent Malawi as a way of honoring the youth who are doing business with Opportunity in that country. He said that the criteria used to select youth clients are that they be from a rural area, that they have a deposit turnover of 20,000 Malawian Kwachas (around US $121) per month, and that they are regular savers.
The CYFI summit brought together 346 participants from 83 countries, including senior-level policymakers, experts from the public, private and civil society sectors, as well as 70 youth from 40 countries, who all shared innovations, ideas and commitments on the topics of financial inclusion and childfinance education for children and youth. At the summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon affirmed, “I strongly support helping young people gain greater financial literacy as well as better access to services that will lead the way to employment, entrepreneurship and investing opportunities.”
The CYFI summit is part of Child & Youth Finance International’s ChildFinance movement, which is dedicated to making sure that every child in the world have a savings account when they graduate from primary school and that they have the financial knowledge and skills to be able to operate it, because when children and youth own and operate a savings account they’re able to gain firsthand experience and build necessary financial skills early in life. As a movement, the CYFI is dedicated to working collaboratively to reach 100 million children and youth in 100 countries by 2015. According to a statement on childfinanceinternational.org, ”The Millennium Development Goals have been successful in raising school enrollment rates to 90%. We can build on this success by introducing childfinance education into formal school systems to reach the largest number of children.” There was also an announcement at CYFI that childfinance will be included in the indicators of the upcoming G20 summit in June.
Opportunity International‘s vice president of International Business Development, Makonen Getu, participated in CYFI as a speaker and panelist in a pre-summit workshop, “Key Components of a National Child and Youth Finance Strategy: The Experience of Malawi,” related to Opportunity Malawi’s YouthStart project managed by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). Participants on the panel with Getu included Maria Perdomo, UNCDF YouthStart Manager (panel moderator); Tim Nourse, CEO/President of Making Cents International; and Kidney Chipango, Reserve Bank of Malawi. Opportunity Malawi’s YouthStart Project Manager, Mwawi Nkhonjera, also attended the summit along with the visiting Malawian youths Agnes and Grey.
The main goal of Opportunity’s YouthStart program is to reach 200,000 youths with innovative financial services by 2014. To achieve this goal, YouthStart will provide substantial funding and training in youth microfinance to up to 12 financial service providers (FSPs). To disseminate lessons learned from the program and to promote youth-financial inclusive sectors throughout the world, YouthStart will publish 12 papers that will highlight lessons learned from the FSPs it supports and the financial environments where they work.
As part of this program, Opportunity is launching three products specifically targeted to youth (a savings, group loan and individual loan product). These products launched in January 2012 for a six-month pilot at seven bank branches at Opportunity Malawi. Accompanying the product launch, Opportunity Malawi developed a financial education training series targeted to youth that they are implementing through various youth servicing organizations (YSOs) across the country that already work with youth.
We were so pleased to be able to participate in CYFI this year, to contribute to the learnings and strategizing around the important issue of bringing childfinance to more young people around the world, and for two of our outstanding young Malawian clients to attend. In many ways, Makonen Getu reflected, Opportunity is ahead of the game: We’ve initiated child and youth finance initiatives in Uganda, Ghana, Colombia, and Malawi, and an entrepreneurial school for agriculture and eco-tourism in Nicaragua. But to strengthen and enhance our work in this field, Getu says, we need to continue to closely study, listen and respond to the concerns and voices of youth; to survey Opportunity programs in other countries in relation to youth; to gain valuable learnings from our pilot projects; and to formulate a comprehensive and well-defined child and youth finance policy to guide and implement our commitment as an organization to youth finance; and network with Foundations, multi-lateral and bi-lateral agencies committed to child and youth finance.