Leveraging Partnerships for Financial Capability: A Conversation with Juma Ventures

This blog is from a discussion between Prosperity Now and David Miller, National Savings Program Manager at Juma Ventures. Juma Ventures is one of the national organizations participating in the Youth Financial Capability Fund. 

Youth workforce development programs, coupled with financial capability services, create pathways to financial success for young people. That’s why Prosperity Now partners with national youth workforce development programs to provide them technical assistance, actionable tools, and resources to national youth workforce development organizations. We use a deliberate planning and design process to embed financial capability services—including financial education, access to safe and affordable accounts and savings opportunities—into their existing youth workforce programming. Local sites across seven states began piloting the delivery of these services in early 2018.

To gain more insight on the role of partnerships for youth workforce programs, we spoke with David Miller, National Savings Program Manager at Juma Ventures, one of five national youth workforce development organizations engaged in the Youth Financial Capability Fund (YFCF). The YFCF is part of the Citi Foundation’s global Pathways to Progress initiative to prepare urban youth for today’s competitive job market by connecting them to jobs, internships, business training and leadership development opportunities. This initiative is the Citi Foundation’s largest philanthropic commitment to date and aims to impact the lives of 500,000 young people in cities around the world by 2020.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Prosperity Now: Tell us about Juma Ventures and your youth workforce programs.

David Miller: Juma Ventures, based in San Francisco, is a nonprofit social enterprise with eight sites around the country. We have worked for the past 25 years to start youth from underserved communities on pathways to successful careers. We achieve this through two programs:

The first is our Pathways Initiative. This is a two-year college access program for youth who are the first in their families to go to college. We connect youth to employment at stadiums and provide them with academic support, career counseling and financial literacy training. We also support youth as they transition into college.

The second is Youth Connect. This is a six-month program for opportunity youth—ages 16 to 24—who have been disconnected from school or work for six months, and who have often been exposed to the foster care and/or criminal justice systems. The program offers young people employment to earn income, gain experience and learn professional skills. We also connect youth to education and career pathways to set them on a successful trajectory after completing Juma’s program. Since participants often don’t have the time or resources to step back from daily responsibilities and plan for the future, we assign to them career coaches who teach them financial literacy and give them space to think about their future. We are planning to roll the Youth Connect Program out at all our sites.

Prosperity Now: What are Juma’s goals for the Youth Financial Capability Fund?

David Miller: We’re grateful to be a part of the YFCF for lots of reasons. The youth we are serving through the Youth Connect Program are disconnected and have specific experiences and difficult challenges. For instance, many of our participants have been in foster care or have experience in the criminal justice system. These are a lot of burdens for youth to carry, and we wanted additional support to help our youth navigate them. We were excited to join the YFCF to learn from other organizations serving opportunity youth and how they have adapted services to meet their young people’s needs.

Through this opportunity, we have also been able to share our lessons providing financial capability services for 25 years with organizations that are about to implement them for the first time. I haven’t seen opportunities for organizations to have such open conversations with each other outside the YFCF.

Prosperity Now: Why are partnerships critical to the Juma model?

David Miller: When a problem arises, and you know there must be something out there you could offer but don’t know what that is, it breaks your heart. We’re constantly learning so that when a specific need arises, we go to other organizations with different specializations to see what resources are available for the need we are trying to address.

If an organization is already providing a service effectively and has built trust and relationships, there is no reason we should go and offer that same service. Our interest is not to accrue as many services as possible at Juma but to serve our youth well. We know our strengths: 1) We employ youth directly and connect them to good jobs; 2) We have good case managers to help young people build career plans and pursue financial goals; 3) We know the background of each young person in our program.

However, there are a whole suite of additional services, such as housing and counseling, that we don’t offer but our young people need. Therefore, all Juma sites have partners they can refer young people to for additional services. Ultimately, we want to provide an ecosystem that will collectively provide youth with what they need to transition to adulthood and achieve economic stability.

We also partner with financial institutions to provide financial literacy to our young people. Although we could easily provide financial education ourselves (and at some sites we do), we work with financial institutions to make our participants comfortable asking them questions. We want our youth to develop the skills to advocate for themselves and make good financial choices that meet their needs. When young people interact with volunteers who come in to teach financial literacy classes, it builds their confidence to walk into a financial institution, which we know is a huge challenge and a source of discomfort for many of them.

We don’t work with just any financial institution—we carefully vet and really get to know our financial institution partners and their staff. Some financial institutions, due to a long history of discriminatory practices, have not earned the respect and trust of our youth and our communities. But, we highlight those that are responsible. Working with financial institutions helps not just our youth, but our community, bridge sectors.

Prosperity Now: What process do you use to pursue partnerships?

David Miller: We’re always looking to learn from organizations in the cities where we are based. When we find an organization that is suitable, we go through a vetting process.

We start with a call or meeting with them to learn who they are, share who we are and discuss the needs and goals of our young people. We also assess if their mission matches where their energies are. For instance, an organization may have messaging on their website and marketing materials about certain values, but when you sit and chat with them you really understand their ethos and priorities.

After the initial call or meeting, we discuss what kinds of activities we want to work on together. If we are interested in a referral process, we discuss their constraints and program requirements so we can be aware of exactly how our young people will connect to their services. If we are interested in a partnership, we discuss common goals. For instance, if we are working with a financial institution on a financial literacy class, we discuss how they will talk about credit without promoting their specific product offerings.

Prosperity Now: How do you ensure that the partner’s product or service is appropriately tailored for young people?

David Miller: I think Bank On standards and MyPath national standards are a great place to start. Be familiar with those before you speak with financial institutions. Also, do some market research on what’s available. We’ve learned that product features can change over time for a number of reasons, so it’s good to check regularly with your financial institution partners to make sure you are recommending safe and affordable products that best meet the needs of the young people you are serving. You’re the gatekeeper to your young people and have their best interest at heart. You should feel empowered to find the best services for them.

Prosperity Now: What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in establishing or maintaining partnerships?

David Miller: Partnership-building is a continuous challenge. It’s difficult to find new partners that are compatible with your values, mission and expectations; and are logistically available. For financial institutions partnerships, it’s important to remember that there are additional incentives, besides good will, such as Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) credits, that will make a financial institution want to provide financial literacy.

It’s important to ascertain the motivations of the partner in a way that protects youth while being courteous. Don’t just assume that a partner will have bad or good motivations—actively vet them. Be wise, ask the right questions. Maintaining partnerships also takes constant monitoring. Even if you have established partnerships, staff may leave or the organization may change its business model.

Prosperity Now: What recommendations do you have for practitioners that are interested in integrating partnerships for their programs?

David Miller: Go for it—learn from both for- and nonprofit organizations in your area. Even if you think you have a program that’s perfect, there are a lot of clever people out in the world doing great work. Remember that you have a responsibility to continue providing the best services to your clients, whomever they may be, and that they deserve the same quality services that high-income folks can just pay for. Partnerships are a great way to maximize your impact.