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Creating financially strong communities is a leadership obligation

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Leadership is not just about making businesses profitable, says John Hope Bryant, author of the bestselling book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class (Berrett-Koehler, 2014) and endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, with a foreword by civil rights leader Andrew Young.

“As a part of their community, business leaders have the ability and an obligation to help their communities thrive,” says Bryant, who currently serves on President Obama's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, and also served under George W. Bush. He is founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE, a nonprofit banker for the working poor.

“When community members feel a sense of hope, because they have an opportunity to participate fully in our free enterprise system, build savings, and care for themselves and their family, it's good for everyone,” says Bryant.

Leaders can contribute to the financial empowerment of their community with low-cost initiatives, he adds. These include establishing mentor-based skills development programs, providing employees with financial management tools and learning opportunities, and fostering a youth culture of financial consciousness and inclusion.

Here are some real-life businesses that are taking a leadership role by financially empowering their workers and communities, according to Bryant.

Mentoring Youth
Mentoring young people and helping them develop their natural entrepreneurial spirits is key to revitalizing local communities. The CEO of the Gallup Organization, Jim Clifton, is a leader in this area. He believes the American dream today has changed, particularly among our youth. Young people, he says, are looking for inspiration and a purpose from their jobs--not simply a salary.

The Gallup organization has made a 100-year commitment to identify and empower the youth who will be our nation's next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs, and plans to quadruple the number of mentors these young men and women have access to. Clifton predicts $140 trillion in untapped global GDP between now and 2040. He says American youth--30 million people 8-18 years old--represent the economic energy our country will need if it is to lead the global economic marketplace.

Creating Financial Inclusion
The finance and banking industries have come to recognize that low financial literacy is a problem confined not exclusively to the poor--that even employees of financial institutions need to increase their financial capabilities and awareness.

The New York Stock Exchange is leading the way in the area of improving financial education and literacy. The NYSE developed the Financial Fitness Tool Kit to share with member companies, because many employees are ill-equipped to make basic financial decisions. In fact, several companies have tied "financial fitness" to their company's health and wellness programs. Increasingly, business leaders are recognizing that financial fitness is a strategic asset that will boost their bottom lines because it's good for the entire economy.

Offering Youth Internships
Operation HOPE, the nonprofit private banker for the working poor, is working to get businesses to offer paid internships directly after high school graduation for every teen who receives passing grades. This will give all young people a shot at economic opportunity. Providing internships helps solve several problems, including a reduction of the average $37,440 that each youth dropout costs the nation each year.

Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are ripe for such programs. A 2013 Gallup Student Poll showed that low-income youth from households earning less than $36,000 a year are more likely than their wealthier peers to develop problem-solving skills, and have a higher propensity toward entrepreneurship than their counterparts from households earning $90,000 or more a year.

Business leaders who focus on helping individuals in their company and community rise up out of poverty and financial illiteracy will be helping America reclaim its position as a powerful economic leader.

More About John Hope Bryant
John Hope Bryant (johnhopebryant.com) currently serves on President Obama's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, and also served under George W. Bush. He is founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE, a nonprofit banker for the working poor. His bestselling book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class (Berrett-Koehler, 2014), is endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, with a foreword by civil rights leader Andrew Young.

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