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At Conference, Leaders Call for Financial Capability and Asset Building Curriculum in All Schools of Social Work

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens America’s already deep income and wealth divides, how can financial capability be increased for vulnerable families? What role can social workers play?

To take up these questions, more than 100 scholars and practitioners gathered virtually on February 25 for “Theory, Evidence, Education, and Practice in FCAB,” Part 2 of the convening “Financial Capability and Asset Building: Achievements, Challenges, and Next Steps.”

Judy Postmus

“Social workers bring a unique lens through which to participate in the national dialogue around financial capability,” said Judy Postmus, Dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work, in her introductory remarks.

“Today, you will learn how social workers are making a difference in the country and across the globe … This conference brings to light our commitment and ethical mandate as social workers to racial, social and economic justice for vulnerable and marginalized populations in our communities,” said Postmus.

Mae Watson Grote

In her opening plenary presentation “The Future of Financial Security: Tech, Equity, and the Role of Nonprofits,” Mae Watson Grote, founder and CEO of Change Machine, said “The unparalleled multilayer crisis we find ourselves in today has only pulled the curtain back on deep-rooted structural inequities.” She added, “In response, we must employ every solution at our disposal—especially tech—to uproot them.”

Discussing systemic racism in the tax code, Grote said, “White supremacy invites mistakes and then proceeds to personalize and penalize those mistakes.” View the entire presentation below for her insights on how technology can help to close the racial and gender wealth gaps.

Following Grote’s presentation, CSD’s Lissa Johnson moderated the plenary discussion. Discussants included Christy Finsel, executive director of the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition; Margaret Libby, found and CEO of MyPath; and Cathie Mahon, president and CEO of Inclusiv.

A common theme of the discussion was the barriers vulnerable communities face toward reaching financial capability given the severe racial inequities baked into the system. “44.5% of American Indian/Alaska Natives are unbanked or underbanked,” Finsel said of the need to connect this population to safe and affordable accounts. An ongoing structural challenge is the extent to which technology can serve everyone when internet is universally accessible.

Watch their entire discussion below.

Robust discussion regarding the future of directions of Financial Capability and Asset Building (FCAB) research followed. The three concurrent panels included topics such as the role of social work in FCAB, FCAB program evaluations and interventions and family finances.

Jin Huang

Following the research panels, David Rothwell moderated a discussion with Jin Huang and David Ansong about the direction of international FCAB. Huang, who recently delivered the first nationwide financial capability training in China, discussed the rapidly growing field in Asia. “We have a variety of asset-building policies and programs for different populations … in Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore,” Huang said. “In promoting FCAB in Asia, we borrowed a strategy that was originally developed at CSD: initiate FCAB in social work education first, and then expand FCAB into the social work practice field.”

David Ansong

Citing longstanding CSD research projects in Africa that emphasize financial services reform, such as YouthSave and AssetsAfrica, Ansong discussed the emphasis of FCAB Africa, which “focuses more on training,” before describing the project’s long-term vision of training professionals and developing financial management programs. View their presentations here. 

The Dean’s panel followed, moderated by president and CEO of the Council for Social Work Education Darla Spence Coffey, and a lively conversation among the Brown School’s own Mary McKay, Martell Teasley from the University of Utah College of Social Work and Jenny Jones from Clark Atlanta School of Social Work.

Jenny Jones

The discussion yielded major endorsements of the FCAB curriculum from all three leaders of the field. “Yes, I’m sold on this curriculum,” Jones said. “I think it should be in every school of social work.”

Martell Teasley

“This [the Brown School] is where FCAB started, and supporting CSD’s work in … bringing FCAB to every school of social work … that’s a position I feel very fortunate to be in,” McKay said. “What’s really, really important about this curriculum is that it’s social work practice at its best.”

“We place a lot of emphasis on diversity and inclusion, and we should be placing just as much emphasis on FCAB … which is fundamental to social work,” Teasley said. Watch their complete discussion below.

The final presentations of the day took place during the Funder’s panel. Meg Woodside of The Woodside Foundation, moderated the panel of Jill Jones, managing director of research at the National Endowment for Financial Education; Padmini Parthasarathy, senior program officer at Walter and Elise Haas Foundation; and Sarah Bainton Kahn, vice president of corporate responsibility and philanthropy at JP Morgan Chase. The panel is viewable here:

“Financial Capability and Asset Building: Achievements, Challenges, and Next Steps” was hosted by the Center for Social Development and the Financial Social Work Initiative at the University of Maryland School of Social Work at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Support for this conference comes from the primary sponsor, National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), which supports the advancement of research and education in financial capability, as well as from the Woodside Foundation and the Grand Challenges for Social Work.

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