The Innovator Interview blog series is a platform for program managers to share successes, challenges and key lessons learned from operating their programs with other members of the Center for Education Innovations (CEI) community.
This week we caught up with with Aukje te Kaat, Research Manager for Aflatoun International. We asked her to tell us about the new research coming out of Aflatoun International surrounding financial education for adolescent girls, the importantance of context in designing curricula, and what it takes to make lasting progress on women's empowerment.
Thank you so much for joining us! Your latest research sheds light on economic empowerment efforts for adolescent girls. First things first - Why are adolescent girls such a key group?
Aflatoun: Thanks a lot for this opportunity! Yes, adolescent girls are one of the world’s most economically vulnerable groups. They are more vulnerable than adult women, or boys the same age. Compared to boys, they have more limited access to education, health services and other resources that typically lead to economic advancement. Many of them struggle with discrimination and violence. As adolescence is such a vital period for preparing for adult roles, this is an important time to provide girls with essential experiences and life skills. This does not mean that we ignore boys; boys and girls are in the programs together, as we think it’s very important to raise awareness with both boys and girls together about the process of girl economic empowerment.
In your webinar discussion, you showed that girls’ empowerment programs were most robust when they contained both social and financial components. What kinds of interventions were combined? Did some make a bigger impact than others?
Aflatoun: That’s right. What our research revealed is that the most effective girl economic empowerment programs combine financial education with other components. This can be micro finance opportunities, vocational education, or access to savings accounts. However, it seems that most of the programs combine financial education with social education like life skills, interpersonal networking, peer relationships, communication, and personal development. Often reproductive health education is included as well, for example to teach girls about HIV/AIDS prevention, family planning and family size. Combining financial education with health and social education was found to be the most successful combination for girls’ economic empowerment.
In-country research took you to Brazil, China, India and Rwanda. What did you learn by looking at these different contexts?
Aflatoun: We know that understanding the context is crucial to being effective. But we wanted to dig deeper in the 4 countries where we are implementing the Credit Suisse Financial Education for Girls program together with Plan International. So we asked what - besides access to quality education - are the contextual factors that need to be understood and addressed in financial education and life skills programs, and how, in order to be effective in empowering girls economically.
We’ve done research in each of the countries and learned a lot. Let me give an example from India. In India we looked at which community perceptions are the biggest obstacles to girls’ acquisition of Financial Education and Life Skills, and how can they be addressed to enhance girl economic empowerment. Preliminary results showed that the community is generally positive about the program – and increasingly positive about girls being taught about money and girl economic empowerment. However, when we drilled down with further questions, we found that the attitudes of the communities were superficially progressive: learning about how to be more economically empowered is one thing, but a girl actually using these skills, translating them into everyday life, is accepted to a much lesser extent.
Much of what you’ve documented is quite heartening, but so much work remains. Looking ahead, what do you think is the biggest obstacle facing economic empowerment for young girls?
Aflatoun: There are many. One of the things is that challenging traditional gender roles takes time. As the example from India clearly shows, some parents thought that girls should acquire life skills and financial skills, but not so they can become economically empowered but rather so they can take better care of their families. A constant investment in the girls and the communities will be needed to overcome these challenges.
Another obstacle is reaching all the girls. Our aim for this program is to target approximately 100,000 girls. But of course our future plans are bigger: we want all children, boys and girls, to receive a good education and we believe this should include life skills and financial education. Not all children are in the formal school system – especially adolescent girls who often drop out of school when they transition into adulthood. Reaching these vulnerable girls is difficult and it requires an extra effort to first of all keep them in school, and second of all, to provide them with the necessary skills when they’re not in school.
How will this new research inform your future work, and the work of Aflatoun International?
Aflatoun: The research is important because it shows us the barriers and challenges to effective program implementation. Each context is different, and we’ve learned that challenges are different everywhere. Aflatoun International is currently developing a curriculum that specifically focuses on gender by combining life skills education and financial education with gender topics. It will be a curriculum that is easy to use. This is important if we want to reach remote areas and young people that are out of school. Yet, each implementing partner will have to carefully select the themes that are contextually relevant and culturally appropriate, as our research clearly shows that this is crucial.
For more information on this work and future webinars, please reach out to Cross-Sectoral Skills CoP and Gender and Positive Youth Development CoP Champions, Radhika Mitter (firstname.lastname@example.org), Daniel Plaut (email@example.com), Chelsea Ricker (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Chisina Kapungu (email@example.com).
Aukje te Kaat serves as Research Manager for Aflatoun international. She has Master degrees in Sociology and Development Studies, and previous work experience with Ghent University in Belgium, UNHCR in Malawi, and several NGOs in Kenya and Tanzania. Together with research institutions, implementing partners and evaluators worldwide she hopes to contribute to knowledge around life skills education and financial education worldwide.
Photo Credits: Aflatoun International ; PLAN International