Financial literacy and peace

I grew up in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. As a young child, I saw images of poverty that would take your breath away. Unlike the majority of the people in Bangladesh, my family was well off — at least initially. My father inherited a significant amount of money from my grandparents, and, as a result, we were spared from financial hardship. But my father struggled when it came to managing money, and, in what seems now like the blink of an eye, we lost the money and joined my fellow countrymen in desperate circumstances. It was a difficult time for my family, and many of my attitudes about economic justice were shaped by that time.

My story can serve as a prologue to my belief that financial literacy — the personal understanding of how money and credit impacts our lives — is one of the driving forces on the path to economic justice.

I took charge of my life and learned firsthand of the empowering nature of financial literacy. Coupled with a strong dose of self discipline and entrepreneurship, I started my own businesses in my native land. Before I knew it, began to dream of higher education in the United States.

Many people are confounded by poverty and blame poor people for their own predicament. There is a tendency to paint poor people with a pretty broad brush.

To those of us who have studied the question, we fully understand that the roots of poverty are numerous and complex. Yes, individual responsibility is part of the equation. So is governmental policy. But at the root of it all is the systemic lack of financial literacy among many people of the world.  I personally benefited from understanding how money works, how credit can be used responsibly. Most of all I now understand how empowering these insights can be.

In our country, we’ve seen an unprecedented rise of predatory lenders: payday lenders, check cashing outlets, fringe bankers, auto title joints and sub-prime lenders.  There are more predatory lenders in our country than there are Starbucks, and their constituency is often the poor among us: the single mothers, low-income wage earners, immigrants and military families. I’ve personally worked with a woman who started out needing a $75 loan and ended up owing $11,000 to a series of predatory lenders. Where is the justice in that?

We will not have true economic justice until we have empowered people through financial literacy, thus allowing them to dream the dream of all people — to eat well, to educate their children, to afford healthy shelter, to work or own a business, to participate actively in society.

This is why as a credit union veteran I have taken an active stance against economic injustice.  Credit unions have strengthened their efforts to promote wide-scale financial literacy initiatives.

How can you envision true peace without economic justice? And how can you have economic justice without financial literacy? In point of fact, you can’t.


Shazia Manus is the President/CEO of Greater Iowa Credit Union, a $250 million-dollar credit union. Manus holds a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from Iowa State University; most recently, she graduated from Credit Union Executive Society’s CEO Institute and received the prestigious designation of Certified Chief Executive (CCE).