How do we equip the next generation with financial literacy?

When the stock market crashed in 2008 with the subprime mortgage crisis, America’s ugly truths arose to the surface and with it, devastating damages and loss of homes for hundreds of thousands of families. Philanthropist Joyce B. Cowin recalled the crisis, “So many, many of them had worked their whole lives, lost the house, lost their money, but more than that, they lost their credit […] I just was infuriated with that.”[1]

Heather Donohue / Instagram @teacherscollege

The crisis propelled Ms. Cowin to envision a program that educates and equips the masses with financial literacy. What better way to scale impact than to train educators who can impart their knowledge to generations of students, classrooms and schools? Under Professor Anand Marri’s leadership, 2018 Teachers College Cowin Financial Literacy Summer Institute[2] is the latest cohort in this program series. The powerful vision, translated into an action-oriented program, inspired the education team at Center for Sustainable Development to participate.

What was most memorable about the program was the thoughtful design aimed at meaningfully engaging participants, reflected in the sessions discussing money and consumption not from numbers perspective, rather, from a perspective of understanding human behavior and relationships with money. The program also fostered extensive conversations among teachers on the case study method that reflect life’s various circumstances, populations, complexities as experienced by various—yet all relatable—segments of the population.

CSD is hopeful for the outcomes that can result from introducing financial literacy to our work in sustainable development. When introduced to our secondary school scholarship program graduates who are in the first steps of saving for continued education, to enterprising young women aiming to start their own business, and to our women artisans hoping to expand their trade to a broader market—the understanding of financial literacy can translate not only to individuals’ growth but also can be used as a tool to help them empower themselves and educate others in their communities.

Heather Donohue / Instagram @teacherscollege

CSD is currently adapting the resources and information from the Institute to context appropriate content. Some language modifications are done for level-appropriate reading and comprehension of texts and illustrating financial concepts with simple stories and simplified case studies. The curated materials are planned to pilot in the Fall of 2018.



[1] From Melanie Grayce West’s  The Wall Street Journal piece, “A Philanthropist’s ‘Anti-Snooker Campaign’: Joyce Berger Cowin funds a financial-literacy program at Teachers College with $1million.

[2] An initiative of Teachers College, Columbia University in partnership with theFederal Reserve Bank of New York and Working in Support of Education (w!se), sponsored by Joyce B. Cowin, Trustee, Teachers College.



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