Building America's Economic Future by Empowering Girls in Financial Literacy

As the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, an organization committed to providing girls with a sense of financial literacy for over a century, I was proud to serve as a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. From ensuring our economic prosperity to underwriting America's long term financial future, instilling financial independence, competency, and confidence in our youth is one of the best long term investments we can make. After a year and a half of hard work, the council has released its final report, detailing how our society can come together to build a solid foundation of financially literate young Americans.

Not surprisingly, everything comes down to starting young. Like learning a language, children who are exposed to the basics of numbers, counting, and fundamental arithmetic in their pre-kindergarten years show a tendency to grow into adults with better credit scores, more savings, and better investment skills. Lessons absorbed when a child is young, and reinforced throughout the formative elementary and high school years, are the ones that tend to stick the best. To start, that means providing our teachers with the tools and resources necessary to adequately teach our students to be financially competent.

Primary and secondary education are vital, but on their own, the lessons learned in a formal academic setting can fade over time. One of the report's key components was to call attention to the imperative to "encourage financial service companies, local businesses, nonprofit providers, foundations and other professionals to foster partnerships with schools to strengthen learning opportunities and provide mentors and role models for children." From parents to family friends, peers, nonprofit organizations and big banks, everyone has an important role to play in reinforcing the financial skills children learn, and turning those skills into financial values that will affect the decisions they make throughout their lives.

At Girl Scouts, we have been helping girls grow into financially literate young women for over a century. Our financial literacy program is anchored by our iconic cookie sale, which, in addition to being a delicious treat for consumers, teaches girl's important skills like goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics. Last year, we took our cookie program online for the first time through Digital Cookie - an enhancement to the program that is also helping girls learn important 21st century skills like online money management, ecommerce, and using digital dashboards.

The cookie program is an important tool in our financial literacy arsenal, but it's not the only one. In keeping with the recommendations of the President's Advisory Committee, we also regularly partner with financial institutions and organizations who work with us to help reinforce and sustain the financial skills girls learn in school and through Girl Scouts. To name just one example, last year we partnered with Toyota Financial Services, whose "Driving My Financial Future" initiative is helping to empower 26,000 underserved girls across the country to become financially savvy leaders.

Through Girl Scouting, girls receive an academic boost, participating in a program that compliments their classroom learning in an interactive and fun way. What my colleagues and I on the President's Advisory Council have found is that acquiring and maintain financial skills requires a lifelong commitment from our society. Doing that means ensuring that we are taking full advantage of the resources at our disposal - from formal education to financial institutions to nonprofits -- to help young people gain and sustain knowledge about money in a way that is intuitive and engaging. Girl Scout and other youth serving nonprofits, public utilities, and private entities need to continue partnering to develop programs that ensure America's long-term financial and economic prospects remain bright, by empowering our youth to grow into financially literate adults, and leaders of our world.

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