During a visit to the Maryland CASH Campaign office Thursday morning, a delegation from Belarus was asked: What comes to mind when you hear the word “money?”
“Freedom,” said one.
“Bills,” said another, in Russian.
As part of a three-week trip to the United States, 10 officials in the banking, education, insurance and nonprofit sectors of the former Soviet nation met with the Maryland CASH Campaign to learn about how the organization teaches Marylanders to be financially responsible.
The delegation came to Baltimore through the United States Agency for International Development, which connects foreign groups with U.S. agencies. That group partnered with World Learning, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that facilitates education, development and exchange programs, which then reached out to the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore.
The center has been taking the Belarusian team around the state as part of its Community Connections program. The delegation has been staying with host families in and around Baltimore and traveling with two interpreters provided by the center.
The Community Connections program works with groups from former Soviet nations, such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Uzbekistan. The center has hosted programs on a range of topics including education, corruption, and agriculture.
“Our main goal is to make it a mutually beneficial experience,” said Leslie Rankin, assistant manager at the World Trade Center Institute.
Enter Maryland CASH (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope) Campaign, created in 2005 to promote financial security among Maryland families by focusing on what motivates their spending. Working under the Job Opportunities Task Force, a local nonprofit, the campaign prepared nearly 20,000 tax returns for Maryland residents this past season, resulting in more than $32 million in refunds.
Thursday was the first time the campaign hosted a foreign delegation.
“I think they really understood and seemed engaged in our view of money,” said Robin McKinney, the campaign’s director.
“You can tell we have a similar goal of helping people build financial security,” added Sue Rogan, the campaign’s director of financial education. The educational component of the program is called Maryland CASH Academy.
Similar spending habits
Rogan led a card game the academy uses to make clients more aware of their spending habits and priorities. She used a deck of cards that characterize certain spending habits as “spontaneous” or “carefree,” among other adjectives. Players then responded by saying whether they practiced that habit often, sometimes, or never.
One card asked whether the players ever ask loved ones for money; some delegation members raised their hands and said “sometimes,” a word that often came up during the game.
Another card asked if any of the players buy things they never use, such as a dress hanging in their closet with the tag still on it. Many of the women in the group laughed and raised their hands.
“I’m particularly interested in the entire setup and how they use the games and surveys to get people’s opinions,” said Olga Kouptchinova through an interpreter.
Kouptchinova is an assistant to the chairman of a nonprofit that oversees Belarus’ banks. She said the country uses a game based on soccer to teach financial education.
One common problem she has seen between the U.S. and Belarus is lack of financial literacy among the elderly.
In Belarus, financial literacy is geared more toward young people, in hopes that they will pass that knowledge on to the elders in their families, Kouptchinova said.
Views on debt
Natalia Bazanova, a program coordinator for the Minsk State Children and Youth Community Center, said she is using the trip to understand everything there is to know about financial literacy and organizations that deal with the issue.
In Belarus, Bazanova helps teenagers work around the country’s laws that make it difficult for young people to work. For example, 16-year-olds can work up to six hours a day but businesses have to pay them for the full eight hours, Bazanova said, discouraging businesses from hiring teenagers looking for part-time work.
In response to the word-association exercise held at the beginning of the meeting, the Belarusians wanted to know what Americans associated with money and debt, noting that while they associated debt with problems and poverty, Americans seem to be comfortable with it.
Americans tend to think debt is bad unless it’s a mortgage or student loans, McKinney replied. The CASH Campaign teaches clients the difference between debt and credit and the importance of using credit responsibly, she said.
McKinney said she’s interested in getting the group’s opinion on Maryland’s financial education programs.
“They just took three weeks to talk to everybody in financial education in Maryland,” she said. “I’d be interested in their perspective after talking to everyone here.”
The group’s itinerary is a mix of both cultural and educational experiences. Earlier this week, the group went to the State House in Annapolis and is visiting New York City this weekend.