Rani Deshpande, a project director for Save the Children, visited the Yale School of Management on February 26, 2013, to share early findings of YouthSave, a project designed to leverage savings accounts to improve development outcomes for low-income youth in Colombia, Ghana, Kenya and Nepal. The Program on Non-Profit Organizations (PONPO), a collaboration between the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and the Yale School of Management’s Program on Social Enterprise, hosted the talk.
Save the Children leads a consortium of partners in organizing the YouthSave Initiative. Those partners include the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, the New America Foundation, and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP). The MasterCard Foundation supports the program as well.
Deshpande described YouthSave as a pilot project to test whether youth savings accounts can serve as a sustainable intervention to improve development outcomes including asset levels, mental health functioning, educational achievement, and sexual attitudes and behaviors. She noted the timeliness of programs which might improve youth outcomes, given the “youth bulge” where currently one-third of the global population is under age 19.
Deshpande described the goal of YouthSave as affecting change in youth populations with minimal public subsidy by “leveraging field-level innovation, rigorous research and documentation, and using stakeholder engagement and dissemination.” In particular, she noted that the use of a randomized evaluation design framework in Ghana will help provide comprehensive and rigorous findings on the health, educational, psychological, and financial impacts of youth savings accounts. Providing about 18,000 accounts and engaging 16,000 youth in financial training, YouthSave also plans to disseminate knowledge gained from the research to those in a position to support expanded access to savings, such as policy makers.
While much of the research and evaluation is ongoing, Deshpande was able to preview early indicators of YouthSave’s impact on the low-income youth enrolled in the program. Children in YouthSave “handled money on a routine basis” but their “savings were overwhelmingly informal and short-term,” Deshpande reflected. She noted that it was promising that there were “very few withdrawals compared to deposits,” as that is a sign that participants were comfortable utilizing YouthSave accounts to save for future needs. Deshpande expressed optimism that the accounts were structured in a way that had the potential to reach a diverse set of youth, observing that “accountholders were almost exclusively in-school youth” and diverse in terms of both gender and socio-economic status.
Finally, Deshpande said that Save the Children is drawing key lessons from the implementation of YouthSave, like how to best develop partnerships with banks in order to offer low-balance youth-targeted accounts in developing markets. “Piloting is critical,” she noted, and went on to observe that “bank staff commitment to the accounts – including at the branch level, not just headquarters” – is key to allowing banks to tailor their typically highly-structured processes to succeed in a youth savings account framework. These lessons, as well as the initial success of the YouthSave initiative, suggest that groups like Save the Children are still finding new ways to make a difference in the lives of thousands of children.