Financial literacy is a civil rights issue, said John Bryant, chief executive officer of the NGO Operation Hope, at the launch of Sanlam’s multimillion-rand corporate social investment foundation on Wednesday.
For the new Sanlam Foundation, such literacy is central to tackling poverty in South Africa. Equipping the youth to manage not only their finances but also their health and their environment lies at the heart of the foundation’s mission.
“If you don’t understand the universal language of money and you don’t have a bank account, you’re an economic slave,” Bryant said.
The Sanlam Foundation’s partners include Bryant’s Operation Hope — a volunteer-based organisation in the United States — and the WWF (World Wide Fund) Sanlam Living Waters campaign, an initiative to protect South Africa’s water.
The Regency Foundation, a development agency that liaises between the United Nations and business, and the KwaZulu-Natal department of education are also partners in the foundation.
27 000 people reached so far
Bryant told the Mail & Guardian his US social-investment banking organisation provides the poor with basic financial education on topics such as cheques and savings, credit, investment, as well as entrepreneurship advice.
Operation Hope launched its six-week financial literacy programme, offered in one-hour weekly sessions, in 2007, Bryant said. Since then it has reached about 27 000 people between the ages of eight and 24 in the Western Cape and Gauteng.
Homeless for a time as a teenager himself, Bryant spoke about the importance of financial literacy: “The number one cause of divorce and domestic abuse is money. My parents got divorced over money.
“The number one reason why kids drop out of college is money, not because they’re not smart. When they drop out it’s not a ‘black person problem’ or a ‘white person problem’. It’s a problem for a competitive economy [because] these young people are no longer part of the human capital.”
For the South African programme, his NGO added an entrepreneurship component — one that it has now adopted for the US and other countries.
Entrepreneurship needs to be formalised
“A young person might not be able to go to college but maybe he can start a small business,” Bryant said. “You see it everywhere — people selling airtime and fruit on the side of the road — we need to formalise this.”
“Let’s be crazy,” he told guests at Wednesday’s launch. “Can you imagine this country having 10-million taxpayers as opposed to about eight million [at present]?”
“Let’s be wild and imagine 15-million taxpayers. It will change this country. If you don’t have financial literacy then you can’t understand your family’s balance sheet and you’re going to have too much month [left] at the end of your money.”
Together with the Regency Foundation, the Sanlam Foundation also unveiled on Wednesday the “HIV & Me” programme, which will be rolled out to 20 KwaZulu-Natal schools. In the project, teachers and community members attend training workshops and then deliver the programme to grade eight and nine pupils.
Lulu Letlape, executive head of group corporate affairs at Sanlam Group, told the M&G the HIV & Me programme helps schools develop and run their own policies on the pandemic. The programme is being piloted in KwaZulu-Natal before being expanded to the rest of the country.
How to say ‘no’
“It’s an empowerment programme for schoolchildren. They are taught how to protect themselves from the scourge of HIV — how to say ‘no’.”
A former English teacher at a Durban school in the Eighties, Letlape said the Regency Foundation is “in touch with the community”.
“Teachers and community members conduct the programme. They go back to children’s families. You can’t just influence a child at school. You need to influence his home environment too,” she said.
Visibly drawing attention to its Living Waters campaign, Sanlam decorated the tables at its sit-down dinner on Wednesday with hessian tablecloths and organic orchids. Guests received hessian gift bags and paper sachets of vegetable seeds for home gardens.
“Our country’s water is not going to be there anymore if we don’t act now,” Letlape said. “Living Waters conducts various interventions throughout the year at schools and in communities teaching people respect for the environment and water resources.”