3 Ways Business Leaders Can Help Create Financially Empowered Communities

Community and leadersWhen individuals feel a sense of hope–because they are given an opportunity to be an active part of our free enterprise system, make and save money, and take care of themselves and their family’s needs–it is good for their communities as well.

There are many ways leaders can contribute to the financial empowerment of people in their community without spending a lot of money. These low-cost initiatives include creating a culture of financial consciousness and inclusion, providing mentor-based skills development programs, and offering workers access to a variety of financial management tools and learning opportunities. Here are some real-life businesses that are doing this.

Create a culture of financial inclusion
The finance and banking industries have come to recognize that low financial literacy is a problem confined not exclusively to the poor–that even employees of financial institutions need to increase their financial capabilities and awareness.

In the wake of the recent financial crisis, the New York Stock Exchange has taken action to focus on improving financial education and literacy. The NYSE developed the Financial Fitness Tool Kit to share with member companies, because many employees are often ill-equipped to make basic financial decisions. In fact, several companies have tied “financial fitness” to their company’s health and wellness programs. Increasingly, business leaders are recognizing that financial fitness is a strategic asset that will bolster their bottom lines because it’s good for the entire economy.?

Establish mentoring programs
Mentoring the youth and tapping into their natural entrepreneurial spirits is key to rebuilding America’s economy. Jim Clifton, CEO of the Gallup Organization, often talks about this link and how it can contribute to U.S. and global economies growth. Clifton explained that the great American dream today has shifted, particularly among the youth. He advised business leaders and employers that young people are looking for more from their jobs. They need to be inspired by an important mission or purpose, not simply a salary.

The Gallup organization has made a 100-year commitment to identify and empower the youth who will be our nation’s next generation of business builders, and plans to quadruple the number of role models these young men and women have access to. Jim Clifton predicts $140 trillion in untapped global GDP between now and 2040. American youth–30 million people 8-18 years old–represent the up-and-coming economic energy our country will depend upon if it is to win in the global economic battle.

Offer youth internships
The nonprofit private banker for the working poor, Operation HOPE, is working to get businesses to offer paid internships directly after high school graduation for every teen who receives passing grades. This will give all young people a shot at economic opportunity. Providing internships helps solve several problems, including a reduction of the average $37,440 that each youth dropout costs the nation each year.

Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are ripe for such programs. A 2013 Gallup Student Poll showed that low-income youth from households earning less than $36,000 a year are more likely than their wealthier peers to develop problem-solving skills, and have a higher propensity toward entrepreneurship than their counterparts from households earning $90,000 or more a year.

There has been much made of corporate citizenship in the past few years. Businesses that focus on helping individuals rise up out of poverty and financial illiteracy will be helping America reclaim its position as a powerful and human economic leader.

* John Hope Bryant currently serves on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, and also served under George W. Bush as Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Underserved and Community Empowerment. He is founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE, a nonprofit banker for the working poor, underserved, and struggling middle class, which provides financial literacy for youth, financial capability for communities, and financial dignity for all. His bestselling book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class (Berrett-Koehler, 2014), is endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, with a foreword by civil rights leader Andrew Young.