September 09, 2010
Olga Morawczynski is Project Manager for Grameen Foundation's financial literacy project in Uganda.
When I started the financial literacy project at the Grameen Foundation in Uganda, I was faced with some very fundamental questions—what exactly is financial literacy? And do the poor really need it, or even want it? Aside from my own questions, I also faced some reservations from colleagues in the field. Many were very frank in their opinions. There is no need for financial literacy, they told me. What the industry needs is appropriate financial products. The learning bit will take care of itself.
I have spent the last months travelling around Uganda and speaking with individuals who depend on a wide variety of livelihoods, from fishing to trading and farming. And I have made some extremely interesting discoveries. Amongst the people I spoke to, there was a clear demand for financial information. Many of my informants did not have a lot of money, and their inflows of cash were extremely irregular. But they had many questions on how to manage it better. A significant portion wanted advice on savings and budgeting. As one farmer explained, “when you have so little, you have to become an expert at managing it. If not, it will disappear from your hands before you even had the time to count it”.
But what makes one an expert at managing their cash? “When times are good, you put cash away”, the farmer explained. “So when the cash is not flowing, you have something saved”. I asked what happens if you don’t have something little saved. The farmer pointed to a small herd of his cows. “You sell one of them”, he said. So maybe that brings us a little bit closer in our understanding of what financial literacy is and what it should do. That is, helping people to plan accordingly so they are prepared for the periods of cash deficits. And when you are an expert, you get to keep your cows.