Can we learn financial resiliency from our peers?

Studying an innovative financial empowerment program that includes building advocacy skills

madeleine-bondy.jpgby Madeleine Bondy, MPH practicum student at The Upstream Lab

Many Canadians find it difficult to make ends meet with about half of us living from pay cheque to pay cheque. Although financial planning experts abound, services are often unavailable to those with low incomes. There are limited resources for average Canadians to learn how to advocate for themselves or to navigate their way through complex financial systems. Financial precariousness and income insecurity have serious implications for both individual and population health.

The Upstream Lab, at St. Michael’s Hospital’s Centre for Urban Health Solutions has studied the use of an online financial benefits tool and the impact of trained health promoters focused on income security. These services have resulted in several success stories around financial advocacy. One such story includes a patient in crisis with no income and mounting expenses, whose spouse had a heart attack and could no longer work. The income security health promoters helped the patient to advocate for themselves and complete an application to the Workers Safety and Insurance Board. This application resulted in 85% of their spouses’ salary as well as support from a PSW.

Now, The Upstream Lab is collaborating with Strive, a social enterprise focused on increasing financial resiliency for individuals and improved economic systems in our society, to study a pilot program to help Canadians build these same financial advocacy skills among peers.

Starting this week participants will attend a free pilot workshop series over 10 weeks on topics related to financial literacy (e.g. how to understand a credit report or build personal savings), capacity building (e.g. setting and meeting goals) and financial advocacy (e.g. how to access government benefits and avoid predatory lending).

The program focuses on three groups of people who face difference challenges: young people entering the workforce, people in precarious work situation, and older adults considering retirement but unsure whether they have enough savings.

The goal of the program is to build personal financial empowerment using a peer-to-peer engagement model in which participants share their own stories including both successes and challenges. Ultimately, each person must map out their own strategy for money management and financial advocacy. “There is no silver bullet and different people maneuver in different ways. Often the answers to challenges are found in everyday experience,” says Strive founder Monica Da Ponte.

The program is expected to help people develop a personalized plan to manage their money. Participants will provide feedback to the research team about which elements of the program are most helpful to them.

“We are hoping to see that this program reduces peoples stress, improves their quality of life and increases their knowledge and skills about finances so that folks are able to gain financial advocacy skills and, ultimately, improve their health.” says Dr. Andrew Pinto, director of The Upstream Lab.

If this approach works, Strive hopes to engage hospitals, universities and other organizations to offer this service for their patients, students and employees. In the future, individuals who have participated in the program could become peer facilitators, building ongoing peer groups that act as support for continued individual advancement.

Project funded by a seed grant from the Institute for Global Health, Equity and Innovation at Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.

Published by Andrew Pinto

Dr. Andrew Pinto is the founder and director of The Upstream Lab. He is a Public Health and Preventive Medicine specialist and family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital. Dr. Pinto completed his residency at the University of Toronto and his Master’s in Health Policy, Planning and Financing at the London School of Economics and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as a Commonwealth Scholar. Currently, he is a Scientist in the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital and an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto.

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