Debt is so widespread in Israel that it’s the norm—eighty percent of Israelis are in overdraft and ten percent of the population is in personal bankruptcy. Low-income youth are particularly susceptible to getting into debt and staying there, for a variety of reasons, including their environment, expectations, consumer culture, the easy accessibility of loans and overdrafts, and a lack of financial literacy.
Chaim BePlus seeks to change this pattern of poverty through financial education, and has developed a model that has had impressive results. The organization offers small-group, five-week courses to low-income youth, taught by a peer mentor.
The organization’s classes are offered in approximately fifty locations throughout Israel, in Jewish (religious and non-religious), Arab, and Bedouin populations. To date, over thirteen thousand young people have participated in Chaim BePlus’s financial literacy courses. The organization plans to offer one hundred five-week classes in the 2018–19 academic year.
Targum Shlishi’s Support
Targum Shlishi is supporting three of these courses during this academic year, to three different low-income populations: youth-at-risk at the Bet Hagai Youth Village, south of Hevron; students at a high school in the periphery, Amit “HaOfek” in Or Akiva; and Arab students from Amal Technological School in Taibe.
Need for the Program
“Chaim BePlus is delivering an incredible service to these young people and their families, working off the premise that meaningful change can begin with our youth. Chaim BePlus is working to break the cycle of poverty by providing basic financial education to young people. This is quite a revolutionary idea in Israel,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi.
“Grassroots social impact organizations are necessary to provide life skills education, which is not provided by the Ministry of Education. Chaim BePlus’s approach and execution has been extremely thoughtful and strategic, which has led to striking results.”
Chaim BePlus provides courses in financial literacy to young people between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two, focusing on low-income populations and youth-at-risk. Positive financial behaviors in this age group promote self-sufficiency and help bridge economic and social gaps.
One aspect of Chaim BePlus’s innovative approach is to use peer mentors. These young people are college students who serve as role models for the high school students taking the classes. The mentors, both Jewish and Arab, are highly trained and work closely with the students. Class groups are deliberately kept small, at ten to fifteen students per class. The mentors teach in the classroom and interact through online platforms between classes, motivating and guiding the students to implement basic components of healthy financial behaviors. This connection with a non-judgmental mentor who is only a few years older is a key to the organization’s success.
Topics included in the five-week classes encompass: creating a budget, smart consumerism, reading bank and credit card statements, rights in the workplace, understanding a salary slip, and saving for the future. The sessions are intended to be fun and to engage students through multiple learning techniques, such as discussion, videos, contests, apps, and games. Each participant is assigned ten tasks to complete over the five weeks that relate directly to their financial well-being. For example, students learn to download their bank apps to their phone and to check their balance regularly.
Making a Difference
Chaim BePlus has found that youth from low-income populations are often raised in a lifestyle of debt and are not conditioned to understand that there is a way out of the cycle of poverty. By teaching financial literacy, Chaim BePlus encourages these students to take control of their financial lives. In terms of results, a 2017 survey by an external evaluator found that over ninety percent of the program’s graduates are careful not to go into overdraft and seventy-eight percent reported that they obtained tools that helped them manage money wisely.
When asked about immediate financial actions that students took as a result of the course, answers included: “I opened a savings plan,” “I started writing down what I spend money on, and how much I earn,” and “I went after my boss to get the travel expenses coming to me, which he had not paid.”
About Chaim BePlus
The organization was founded in 2006 by Mindy Ajzner, who had volunteered as a debt counselor for the Paamonim organization in the early 2000s. “I learned quickly that nearly all of the problems the families were experiencing were preventable, and were a result of lack of financial literacy,” Ajzner says. “I also learned that it takes an enormous amount of time, effort, and expense to get a family out of debt. And probably most significantly, I learned that these financial problems create huge stresses in the family. The stress levels affect health, harmony in the marriage and family, and the ability to provide a happy home environment for children.” Ajzner decided to found an organization dedicated to getting to the root causes of poverty, and to focus on prevention by providing young people with financial education. The result is Chaim BePlus. For more information, visit its website.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website. Follow Aryeh Rubin, Targum Shlishi’s director, on Twitter.