Junior Achievement (JA) Africa, headquartered in Accra, Ghana, is the regional operating Center for JA Worldwide in sub-Saharan Africa. Elizabeth Bintliff, our shero of the month, serves as the CEO. Established in 2011, the vision of JA Africa is to inspire and prepare young people in Africa to succeed in a global economy. Our Executive Director Jessica Foumena interviewed Elizabeth Elango Bintliff in an attempt to showcase women who make a difference and to inspire many to do the same. Read below the exclusive interview of Elizabeth Elango Bintliff, the CEO of Junior Achievement (JA) Africa for Women & Africa International.
Briefly speaking, who is Elizabeth Elango Bintliff?
I'm originally from Cameroon. I lived in Cameroon through my high school education. Then I moved to the U.S. where I got my Bachelors in International Relations in Kennesaw State University and my master's degree in African studies from Yale University. I believe my passion for Africa probably grew when I moved away from Africa. Maintaining a connection to Africa was very important for me. After university, I worked for several organizations. I did a Fulbright program in Zanzibar, where I studied Swahili. For 15 years, I worked for Heifer International in different roles. When I left I was the Vice-President for the African programs. In that position, I was constantly on the plane in Africa. I’ve been to more than half of Africa, which has been a rewarding and remarkable experience for me. I quit my job last year with no plan because I had this burning need to be back in Africa. So, my current job is the CEO of JA Africa and living in Ghana is a huge thrill. I think I am where I’m meant to be.
You desire to coach the African youth. What did you choose this specific group?
It came from a very personal place. Having been a young African once the needs of youth in Africa resonated with me. In my travels, I observed that there is a great deal of ambition among youth in Africa and I wanted to be a part of tapping into those ambitions, into their goals and dreams. We talk a lot about youth being the future in Africa. Because we keep talking about the future, we tend to dismiss the problems of the present; so we defer the attention needed to be given to the youth. I want to be part of the movement that gives voices and opportunities to the African youth such as the access to technologies, which is a game changer for development today. I believe the youth need to be front and center in the development of the African continent.
Which main challenges do the African youth face in terms of financial literacy?
There are many challenges. First, learning where opportunities are. The educational system hasn't necessarily caught up with our modern days. In the past, our parents knew what kinds of job they may have upon graduation. Today, this is not the case anymore. There are not enough jobs to absorb the number of students who enter the work force every year, which is about 70 million young people globally. So young people have to think about entrepreneurship and ways to create jobs. Secondly, the youth are not educated about money. They still carry this legacy of money being a relational thing as I mentioned earlier. Much of the rest of the world uses e-commerce but Africa hasn't yet fully built the muscle for that. Young people are still seeing only markets in their immediate vicinity, thought there are opportunities beyond. Overall, there are cultural and structural obstacles we need to overcome in Africa.
What about young women in particular?
For young women, I think there is still a cultural aspect. There [In Africa] persists the expectation that young women go from depending on their fathers to their husbands. We need to empower young women that they can have their own financial independence. Otherwise, they are more likely to compromise their standards. Financial dependency fosters some societal vices such as early marriage or teenage pregnancy.
Which steps will you suggest to young women who aspire to develop their financial literacy?
The relationship between fathers and daughters is very strong. We need to reexamine is and use it. It is a powerful lever for change. Fathers are very influential in the decisions of their daughters. I also think that this is an area we need to explore. The truth is that parents still greatly influence young adults during their decision-making. There is also work that needs to be done in separating unhealthy traditions. In Africa, some unhealthy traditions are upheld by older women.
This is why we need to look at the eco-system in which young women are immersed: their parents, their communities Culture doesn't change overnight but change does happen. Young women need to know they have voices. If we educated them, if we give them options, if we give them opportunities, if they feel they have the power of choice they will make better decisions. Young women need to understand that they can grow up to be women who depend on themselves, who can sustain themselves.
What do you hope to achieve through JA Africa?
I hope our programs will grow, become more impactful. I think JA is very unique.I think our programs speak directly to the needs of young Africans. I want us to create a movement where we will gather a critical mass in a way that policymakers can acknowledge and include financial literacy and entrepreneurship as part of school curriculums. Let's step away from the approach to education where students just absorb what they learn. We don't know the jobs of the future but soft skills such as leadership will always be needed. We need to measure expectations with reality for our youth.
Copyright © 2017 Jessica Foumena, All rights reserved.
We are looking for sheroes, precisely professionals, preferably women who are making a positive difference in the life of women and youth, preferably those living on the African continent. If you're interested to be featured, please let know here. / Nous recherchons des professionnels, de préférence des femmes qui ont un impact positif dans la vie des femmes et des jeunes, de préférence ceux vivant sur le continent africain . Si vous êtes intéressé(e)s à être introduit(e), s'il vous plaît merci de nous le faire savoir ici.