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Special issue proposes a path to economic progress in Africa

Bringing together evidence from a diverse network of researchers and practitioners in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the March special issue of Global Social Welfare highlights the Center for Social Development’s focus on improving economic well-being for marginalized populations on the continent.

The issue, “Financial Capability and Assets for Socioeconomic Development,” was developed through the Financial Capability and Asset Building in Africa initiative (FCAB Africa) and edited by CSD Faculty Directors David Ansong, Moses Okumu and Isaac Koomson. Its content – 10 articles in all – results from a multinational collaboration and mentoring program that includes African academic researchers, social work and human-service practitioners, financial service providers, and regulators.

The growing network shares the goal of increasing financial capability and economic stability throughout the continent via enhanced financial access, inclusion and literacy for all populations, particularly the most vulnerable.

David Ansong is an associate professor and Wallace Kuralt Early Career Distinguished Scholar, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Moses Okumu is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Isaac Koomson is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Business and Economics of Health at the University of Queensland.

David Ansong
Moses Okumu
Isaac Koomson

Ansong points out that working towards financial capability in Africa is not a standalone goal: “If people are economically stable and secure, other national goals can be met.” FCAB Africa has intentionally aligned its work with Agenda Africa 2063, the African Union’s plan for promoting social and economic development, as well as several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“Financial capability is a viable pathway to further aspirations that have already been identified,” Ansong said. “We are here to create the space and mechanism to bring existing strengths on the continent together to advance a national vision. That’s what this special issue is trying to do.”

Inside the Issue

In the introduction, the editors state that interventions over the past several decades have helped to reduce poverty in the region, but the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and growing economic instability now threaten that progress. As a result, the number of people living in extreme poverty could increase for the first time in 20 years, according to an analysis by the United Nations.

“Scalable and innovative financial capability programs and policies that could mitigate SSA’s persistent financial hardship and economic vulnerabilities are limited,” write Ansong, Okumu and Koomson.

The issue’s articles attempt to fill knowledge gaps and build a foundational path for progress toward improved financial literacy (knowledge and skills) in concert with access, opportunity and inclusion for all. Researchers also explore the level of consumer trust in financial institutions and infrastructure amid the threat of cybercrimes and fraud.

A study by Koomson, Ansong, Okumu, and CSD Research Assistant Solomon Achulo explores the effects of financial literacy on poverty and the specific ways these effects are conveyed, with particular attention to differences that may occur due to the gender and location of subjects. The researchers state that only 38% of Kenyans, 34% of Ugandans, and 40% of Tanzanians are financially literate.

Using secondary data, they find that endogeneity-corrected results suggest that an increase in financial literacy is associated with a 6.9% decrease in poverty. They note that those who are financially savvy may seek opportunities for entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, which may improve their economic status.

Policymakers, educational institutions, and other development programs should implement financial capability and entrepreneurship programs to capitalize on these findings, the researchers say.

Three articles focus on the value of incorporating financial capability content into social work curriculum and the training of other human-service professionals to offer “frontline” financial guidance and education to vulnerable individuals, families and communities. Both financial organizations and social service professionals can offer outlets for increased instruction and oversight.

Euphracia Owuor, Karla Shockley McCarthy and CSD Faculty Associate Njeri Kagotho were motivated by research that “indicates that social work practitioners often lack the preparation, knowledge, skills, and attitudes to tackle clients’ increasingly complex financial problems.” They offer a review of the gaps in finance-related social work curriculum at Kenyan technical and vocational training institutes.

The researchers identify three curricular goals, learning outcomes, and measurable competencies. With these, they suggest, social work students can foster their personal financial well-being and assist their clients with financial decisions. Owuor is dean of academics and research at Nairobi Women’s Hospital College, McCarthy is a social work doctoral candidate at The Ohio State University, and Kagotho is an associate professor at The Ohio State University.

An analysis of Ghana’s National Financial Inclusion and Development Strategy was conducted by Charles Ofori-Acquah, Christine Avortri, Alexander Preko and Ansong. Ofori-Acquah is CEO of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, Ghana; Avortri is a chartered banker and lecturer with the Chartered Institute of Bankers, Ghana; Preko is a senior researcher and lecturer at the University of Professional Studies, Ghana. They find that increased digitization has occurred within Ghana’s financial sector, boosting access to and usage of tools like mobile money accounts and lending services.

The researchers uncover, however, a lack of understanding about who is being excluded by this evolution. They also find that issues like high rates of financial illiteracy, the presence of fraud and cybercrime, and a lack of confidence in the legal system still hinder economic progress.

Two additional articles uncover the benefits of increased financial inclusion for more vulnerable populations in SSA: women and those with disabilities.

A study by Aweke Tadesse and CSD Faculty Director Jin Huang points to mental health benefits for women in Mozambique who participated in a village savings and loan group (VSLG). These groups are becoming a common financial capability approach in SSA, but there is limited knowledge about how inclusion in such a group affects mental health.

The researchers found a reduction in depressive symptoms among participants versus a control group, but they suggest that more research is needed to explore implementing effective interventions. Tadesse is a doctoral student at Saint Louis University; Huang is a professor at Saint Louis University and research professor at the Brown School at Washington University. He is a leader in much of CSD’s work on FCAB, particularly the center’s engagements in Asia.

Another study by faculty in the Department of Social Work at the University of Ghana focuses on people with disabilities (PWD), who are over-represented among the poorest populations in developing countries like Ghana. Facing limited employment and education opportunities, PWD stand to benefit from financial education and knowledge, state Senior Lecturer Augustina Naami, Senior Lecturer Abigail Adubea Mills and Lecturer Eunice Abbey.

They make a case that social workers can play critical roles on a micro level with disabled clients, but also on a macro level, by helping to advocate within the financial sector for materials and programs that are accessible to all.

Creating Evidence with Context

This special issue features contributions initially presented within the financial capability track at the 2021 International Consortium for Social Development conference. The FCAB Africa initiative subsequently worked with contributors to develop the papers.

“There is a great deal of evidence for financial capability, but in this case, we know it has to be not just about Africa, but by Africans,” Ansong said. “With FCAB Africa, we want to ensure that those who understand the context are at the center of driving the evidence. We want to achieve meaningful progress that is well-tailored to that context.”

The Center for Social Development at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis has been a leader in financial capability and asset building research and policy since 2006, continually expanding its work and influence around the globe. Launched in 2021, CSD’s FCAB Africa initiative is led by Ansong, Okumu, and Koomson. Read more about the FCAB Africa initiative.

Articles in the Special Issue of Global Social Welfare

Financial Capability in Africa: Innovation Through Evidence, Practice, and Policy
David Ansong, Moses Okumu, and Isaac Koomson

Taking Stock of Policies, Regulations, and Initiatives That Leverage Technology to Build Trust: Lessons from Ghana’s Financial Sector
Charles Ofori-Acquah, Christine Avortri, and Alexander Preko

Analysis of Ghana’s National Financial Inclusion and Development Strategy: Lessons Learned
Charles Ofori-Acquah, Christine Avortri, Alexander Preko, and David Ansong

Financial Capability and Asset Building (FCAB) for Persons with Disabilities in Ghana: the Role of Social Workers
Augustina Naami, Abigail Adubea Mills, and Eunice Abbey

Financial Capability and Asset Building Training in Ghana Through Project-Based Learning
Kingsley Saa-Touh Mort, Alhassan Sulemana, and Richard Baffo Kodom

Women’s Participation in a Savings Group and Depression: a Community-Based Financial Capability Intervention in Mozambique
Aweke Tadesse and Jin Huang

Delivering Financial Capability and Asset Building Curriculum: Strengthening the Competencies of Social Work Faculty
Mavis Dako-Gyeke, Kwamina Abekah-Carter, Vyda Mamley Hervie, and Doris Akyere Boateng

Financial Capability and Asset Building Curriculum for Social Work Students in the Kenyan Technical and Vocational Training Education System
Euphracia Owuor, Karla Shockley McCarthy, and Njeri Kagotho

Welfare Effects of Financial Inclusion Services in Ghana: A Comparative Analysis of Mobile Money and Other Financial Services
Richmond Atta-Ankomah and Charles Yaw Okyere

Effect of Financial Literacy on Poverty Reduction Across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda
Isaac Koomson, David Ansong, Moses Okumu, and Solomon Achulo