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Moneythink: Giving a Handup (Not a Handout) With Financial Literacy Skills

The American discourse around support for social services often devolves into a polarizing political battle for, or against, government handouts. In her 2012 speech at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama asked us to transcend this polarity: “You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” To make socioeconomic opportunity and a chance at the American Dream something every person can achieve, we must start thinking in terms of “hand-ups” rather than “hand-outs.”

This is not a new idea. We’ve known that teaching a proverbial man or woman to fish drives more lasting change than donating a fish and leaving. New academic insights enhance our lens on human behavior, but we’ve known about the power of incentives, peer-influence, and student-centered learning for quite some time. Ben Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.”

That the ideas of “hand-ups,” teaching one to fish, and “involving [the student]” lack novelty does not reduce their relevance; in fact, at a time when “innovation” permeates the public lexicon so deeply, it might be these classic pillars of impact that we need to look to most. At least that’s how we feel at Moneythink, where we’ve combined basic ideas such as money management, entrepreneurship coaching, and college mentoring into a scalable program that changes the lives of inner-city high school students.

When the economy collapsed in 2008, my college friends and I asked what we could do to help the surrounding community of south Chicago, which had suffered severely from predatory lending and rampant foreclosures. As students at the University of Chicago, we found that our peers, many of whom were aspiring investment bankers, could speak about money as if it were second nature. Understanding that mentoring programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and near-peer teaching programs such as Peer Health Exchange had seen success with the college volunteer model, we decided to start Moneythink.

Motivated by the worsening state of the economy, college volunteers nationwide founded Moneythink chapters on their campuses and in their communities, viewing the service opportunity as a constructive alternative to traditional activism. Within months, the impact that Moneythink was making on high school students became evident, with dozens of students launching businesses, opening savings accounts, and receiving scholarships. One student was even able to use the budgeting skills he learned to help his mother keep the heat on in the cold Chicago winter.

Last February, Moneythink realized the power of its community, winning a GOOD Maker competition. Then, last March, President Obama recognized Moneythink as a Champion of Change, an organization “winning the future” for the next generation of Americans. We were so honored at the chance to share our mission on a national stage at the White House. Then and there, we proclaimed that Moneythink is on a mission to “make financial capability a social norm in the United States by 2030.” In the last year, we’ve made major strides toward that vision, with support from Blackstone Charitable Foundation, a partnership with Teach for America, and most recently being named Echoing Green semi-finalists.

So, if last year was the White House, then this year is Wall Street. As a winner of the Chicago Innovation Awards, Moneythink rang the NASDAQ closing bell at 3:57pm EST on Monday, February 25. For us Moneythinkers, ringing the NASDAQ bell is a rallying cry for opportunity, a reminder that we all must always remember where we came from, and that “reaching back and giving others the chances that helped us succeed” is not an option—it’s a responsibility. At a time when deadlock freezes dialogue about “hand-outs,” Moneythink constructively disrupts the status quo: “hand-up” after “hand-up.”

Here’s how to take action now: if you’re a college student, join or start your campus Moneythink chapter; if you’re a high school administrator, bring Moneythink to your school; if you’re in a position to donate, a single click can change a life. Ignite the future. Join the movement.

We’re challenging the GOOD community to commit our time to service. Go here to pledge 1 percent of your time—that’s 20 hours—to being part of the solution this year.

image courtesy of Moneythink

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