Decreasing Inequality Means Increasing Access and Opportunity

Imagine an elementary school curriculum that didn’t include reading or math. Imagine if we didn’t teach children how to spell, show them how to tell time, or help them learn how a calendar works. These are more than just lessons kids study in school. They’re essential life skills.

We launched our financial literacy program, Earn Your Future® in 2012 because we believe that financial education also teaches fundamental life skills. Teachers think so, too.  An overwhelming number told us they knew it was important for their students to develop financial capabilities, but didn’t feel comfortable teaching financial topics. These last five years—and engagement with more than 3.5 million students and educators across the country—have reinforced my appreciation for financial literacy as a basic life skill and deepened my understanding of the importance for every child in every community to have opportunities to develop financial capabilities.

Financial literacy is essential for everyone. And it’s not the only critical life skill kids today need in ways they may not have in the past. Technology skills, too, have become fundamental to our daily lives and to nearly every workplace. The ability to use and interface with all kinds of technologies is impacting everything from the way we commute to work to what we do when we’re there. Jobs in almost every industry are expected to require familiarity with, or skill in, understanding, manipulating or interpreting technological tools and data on some level. And, because technology is changing so fast, developing a sense of confidence and excitement about continuing to learn and adapt is going to be key to success. Every child in every community needs—and deserves—opportunities to develop technology skills.

To build on Earn Your Future®’s momentum, expand its scope, and intensify our efforts in communities where the program is needed most, PwC launched Access Your Potential™ a $320 million, five-year commitment focused on closing the education, opportunity, and skills gaps. Our goal is to reach more than 10 million students in underserved communities with programs, mentoring, and access to resources that can enable students to develop financial capability and technology skills. AYP will empower 100,000 educators with training and tools to help them guide their students in making sound financial decisions and in choosing the right educational and career paths. We’re creating an expanded financial literacy and technology skills curricula and program of coaching and career advising designed to support the development of real-life skills and foster enthusiasm for lifelong learning.

Our laser sharp focus on underserved communities for Access Your Potential™ is purposeful and necessary. Inequality—disparities in wealth and in access to opportunity—is the most significant challenge facing our society today. In fact, the gap between rich and poor is greater in the United States than in any other developed nation. Creating an equitable society must be a priority. Access Your Potential™ is one of the ways—just one of many—that we can begin to address this formidable challenge.

“Society” is, perhaps, an impersonal word. But, what for me is deeply personal are the students, families, and educators my PwC colleagues and I have met on the journey of evolving the Earn Your Future® program. Third-graders in the Bronx weighing the pros and cons of buying a new video game or saving for something they might need in the future. High school students in Chicago who thought their student loans would be forgiven when they graduated from college. Teachers who told us they invited parents to take an active role in talking with their kids about using credit cards responsibly, and the parents who became engaged with their children, for the first time, in discussions about saving and investing. There were elementary schoolers in the Bay Area who visited their PwC mentors’ offices for a first-ever trip to a “grown up” office building and asked “How do I get to work here?” and teens in a Manhattan summer “financial boot camp” volunteering with us to teach basic financial concepts to younger kids.

We will revisit some of these sites and regions with Access Your Potential™, but many others, as well,—urban and rural—with the understanding that potential and access are inextricably linked and with the commitment to decreasing inequality. For us at PwC, helping young people learn these essential life skills is a responsibility, a privilege, and a passion. We know that over the next five years as we evolve Access Your Potential™ we will learn as much from, and be as impacted by, the students and educators we meet along the journey, as they will from us.

Shannon Schuyler Chief Corporate Responsibility and Purpose Officer, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)

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