Defining Financial Literacy in a New Economic Age

Financial education is the baseline, pioneered for underserved and mainstream America. For these young people, the issues were not emotional or self-esteem based, but fundamentals-based.
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Financial literacy has evolved over time, and thankfully, the broader space still is. That said, as I begin to outline the fundamental building block pieces surrounding this critically important space, it is also helpful to appreciate the insightful quote from the LinkedIn founder, who said, "If you are not slightly embarrassed by your 1.0 software release, then you released too late."

It is better to do something good, today, than to wait for whatever you view or feel to be 'perfect' sometime later. Action is paramount in today's day and age.

Ph.D.'s are good, and Ph.Do's are even better. The answer is not one or the other, but both.

Financial education is the baseline, pioneered for underserved America through then President Lincoln's creation of the Freedman's Bank, which was chartered to "teach freed slaves about money and how free enterprise worked," and for mainstream America, about 100 years ago in the agrarian age by organizations such as Junior Achievement (JA). JA was created approximately 100 years ago to help young people in rural America prepare themselves to run and operate the family farm. For these young people, the issues were not emotional or self-esteem based, but fundamentals-based.

Today, particularly in inner-city and underserved America, issues around money and the economy are mixed up and interrelated with emotions, self-esteem, identity, even core issues of human dignity. Thus, my founding of Operation HOPE more than 20 years ago to address this need, focused on the 100 million Americans who make $50,000 or less, who define themselves as the working poor, the underserved and today, even the struggling middle class. People, families, small businesses and communities, that have "too much month at the end of their money."

Financial literacy represents the basic and essential tools of and in the financial education toolkit.

Financial capability represents the potential and the absolute awareness of what is possible (your options and opportunities), once you have financial education and financial literacy in your life.

Financial inclusion represents the vision and promise of America, to include all of us in the future promise and opportunity of America.

Financial empowerment is what you do with the financial capability you have now discovered in your life.

Financial dignity is the goal of all financial empowerment efforts, no different than how the civil rights movement was really a campaign for respect and dignity, more so than something strictly about the right to vote.

Everyone wants dignity. And today the mission of HOPE is 'silver rights,'or making the free enterprise system work for the least of these God's children, and why we believe that the new definition of freedom today is self-determination.

"More people don't have a bank account or are underbanked today (approximately 40 million) than those who didn't have the right to vote in 1962 (approximately 26 million)."

I am honored to have founded the organization, HOPE, which stood at the center of then President's Bush decision to make financial literacy the official policy of the U.S. federal government in 2008, thereafter serving as vice chairman on the first ever U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy. Equally important to me, I served as chairman of the Subcommittee on the Underserved. Charles Schwab served as chairman of this first Council, and I served him as vice chairman. I was also honored to have an Operation HOPE success story stand with President Bush as he announced the U.S. Financial Literacy & Education Commission (FLEC).

Seeing the challenge from another yet equally important perspective, President Obama pioneered the new space of 'financial capability,' and in 2010, signed an executive order establishing the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability. I was honored to serve President Obama on his critically important Council, which has scored important policy achievements I might add, and probably my most important contribution there was my chairmanship of the Subcommittee on the Underserved and Community Empowerment. Businessman John Rogers chaired this Council with discipline and distinction, keeping everyone focused on the challenges of our youth.

President Obama has recently announced a new Council focused on youth and young adults, and this new chapter will have even greater and more far reaching impact. I applaud President Obama, his senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, and the President's deputies including Racquel Russell in the White House, and Cyrus Amir-Mokri, Don Graves and Melissa Koide at U.S. Treasury for helping to maintain policy focus here at the highest levels of our government.

Post global economic crisis, we have an entire generation of young people who are on the cusp of some of the most important decisions of their lifetime, and it is our responsibility to give them the tools that they need to become the new individual and community assets of economic energy that America needs now, to rediscover her greatest -- and to create a new generation of jobs for all.

Okay, let's go...

Onward and with HOPE.

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