Why financial literacy is a powerful tool for the UN's SDGs

Factors such as a weak global economy, the impact of the climate crisis and lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have impeded progress towards these goals

A well-designed financial literacy initiative has the ability to address the SDG of quality education. Getty Images
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With the Cop28 climate conference beginning in Dubai on Thursday, the UN's sustainable development goals (SDGs) have become a global focus.

The 17 interlinked objectives are designed to chart a course for a more resilient, peaceful and inclusive future.

Adopted by all 193 UN member states in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda, this comprehensive plan is humanity’s clearest blueprint for its highest aspirations.

Promises in peril

The current status of these SDGs, however, is less than promising.

Only 15 per cent of the SDGs are on track to be achieved by 2030, according to the 2023 SDG Report.

Nearly half, or 48 per cent, show moderate or severe deviation from the desired trajectory, while more than one third, or 37 per cent, have experienced no progress or have regressed below the 2015 baseline.

Factors such as a weak global economy, the impact of the climate crisis and lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have impeded progress towards these goals.

To reverse this trend and fulfil these promises, our actions must align with the scope of these challenges.

Unlocking potential

In a world where financial decisions reverberate through every aspect of our lives, the transformative power of financial literacy cannot be overstated.

A scalable initiative that empowers people with the financial literacy skills they need to make better financial decisions has the potential to address five SDGs.

SDGs 3, 4, 5, 10 and 17 form the nexus of positive change and it’s through the lens of financial literacy that we can truly unlock their potential.

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

The impact of financial stress on health – both physical and mental – is well-known and documented.

Financial stress has been linked to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

Numerous studies have established a direct correlation between financial stress and adverse physical health outcomes, ranging from cardiovascular issues to gastrointestinal problems.

The physiological response to financial stress, characterised by elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol, can contribute to inflammation, weakened immune function and disruptions in sleep patterns.

Financial literacy enables individuals to manage their money better and make better financial decisions. It helps them avoid major financial mistakes and feel more secure and confident about their future.

This, in turn, leads to decreased financial stress and better physical and mental health outcomes, thus directly addressing SDG 3.

Goal 4: Quality education

Quality education continues to be an elusive goal for many, with a lack of effective learning outcomes, scholarships and qualified teachers rating high on the problem scale.

A well-designed financial literacy initiative has the ability to address this SDG head on, particularly if it focuses on a number of key aspects.

This should be taught by qualified teachers who are trained to deliver high-impact programmes and offered free of charge to students by securing sponsorships with banks and other corporate institutions.

Goal 5: Gender equality

Despite significant strides, gender disparities persist globally, particularly in economic empowerment.

A financial literacy initiative plays an important role in dismantling barriers to gender equality.

By providing women with financial knowledge and skills, we empower them to make independent financial decisions, navigate economic systems and participate fully in economic activities.

Financially literate women are better positioned to break free from economic dependence and challenge gender stereotypes.

Moreover, financial literacy programmes can address the unique financial challenges that women face, such as the gender pay gap and access to financial services.

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities

The rise in economic inequalities poses a significant challenge to global development.

The perpetuation of economic inequality often results in a cycle where certain groups face systemic barriers to wealth accumulation, hindering their ability to break free from the constraints of poverty.

Financial literacy emerges as a powerful tool for reducing inequalities by providing individuals from all backgrounds with the knowledge and skills to navigate financial systems.

Financially literate individuals can make informed decisions about budgeting, investing and managing debt, contributing to improved financial well-being.

Financial literacy is particularly impactful in marginalised communities, where it can serve as a means of empowerment, breaking cycles of poverty and fostering economic resilience.

By promoting financial education as a tool for social and economic inclusion, SDG 10 can be advanced, leading to a more equitable global society.

Goal 17: Partnership for goals

Increasing co-operation is seen as vital to achieving each of the 17 SDGs.

A financial literacy initiative that’s pinned on the collaborative efforts of various stakeholders like educational institutions, financial institutions, government bodies and other corporate entities perfectly aligns with the spirit of SDG 17.

It leverages the expertise and resources of various stakeholders and increases the sustainability of the initiative.

Marilyn Pinto is the founder of KFI Global

Updated: November 24, 2023, 6:02 PM