Financial Freedom for Families (F4) is a financial literacy programme within the biblical stewardship range of CMS-Africa training interventions. CMS-Africa developed the F4 programme as a response to its observed uniqueness of the African context and how it affects management of personal and household finances.
One of the unique aspects that CMS-Africa identified was that most heads of African households were of agrarian extraction and were at most two or three generations into a cash economy and were hence still learning its rules of engagement. Second was the proliferation of merchants of the “prosperity gospel” that take advantage of the desperate and gullible African audiences struggling to eke out a living while hoping for a miracle pill that will break their endless cycles of poverty. A third unique aspect that CMS-Africa identified was the absence of contextual, structured, experiential and pragmatic financial literacy training that is founded on biblical principles. The last aspect I will mention is the expanded view of what a family is and that tends to include one’s parents and their siblings, one’s own siblings (in some cases cousins) and one’s own children as well as the children of one’s siblings. Needless to say, this expanded view of the family unit exerts tremendous pressure and obligation on the average economically engaged African individual because of the lack of welfare states that provide social safety nets. Other pertinent concerns include low literacy (including financial literacy) levels, scarcity of resources that condemn most households to a hand-to-mouth existence and corruption.
CMS-Africa designed F4 to equip heads of African households to manage their financial resources appropriately to the glory of God and to employ prudent practices that would enable them to experience sufficiency, sustainability and financial freedom that would hopefully impact four generations – that is, their parents’ generation, their generation, their children’s generation and their grandchildren’s generation.
The F4 course seeks to challenge fundamental beliefs of scarcity by asserting that what one has is enough if prayerfully stewarded rightly using prudent financial principles and disciplines. Participants are invited to take on a six-part experiential learning journey that tackles the following areas:
- The stewardship mandate and F4 course housekeeping aspects. The session helps participants appreciate what will be required of them during the course and are required to commit to a strict accountability arrangement of attendance, competency tasks and discipline checks. Having appreciated the implications of the course requirements, the participants have an option to either agree and demonstrate their willingness to abide by entering a written commitment or to withdraw from the course right at the start. Once commitment is ascertained, course materials are provided, baseline survey tools are administered, reading assignments issued and penalties for deviant behaviour (often in monetary form) agreed upon.
- The ownership principle. In this session, the participants learn that it is God who is the ultimate owner of all things, that they are but stewards who are required to be faithful in their management of his resources and that they will give an account to him of how they conduct themselves. The session also explores other perceived “owners” of the resources that we have and the implications of ascribing ownership to entities other than God.
- The third session delves into the principles of work, rest, planning (budgeting), saving by building of an emergency fund, investment and generosity. While emphasising that work is the primary way that God provides for his people, the reminder to temper our work with rest is underscored by drawing insights from Scripture and contemporary knowledge on the importance of rest. Participants also gain indepth understanding and guidelines on how to budget and build up their emergency funds for use in times of financial upheavals. The last part of this session affirms the wisdom of building an investment portfolio and challenges participants to start small with the little or much that they have.
- The fourth session covers debt and diagnosing financial crisis. Common questions that feature during these sessions such as “What makes individuals end up in debt?”, “How do I get out of debt?” and “Is there good debt and bad debt?” are addressed as participants are guided through development of personal debt repayment plans. The other aspect of the session deals with financial crisis and equips participants to reflect whether they are dealing with self-inflicted financial crisis due to lack of requisite skills to manage personal/household finances, whether it is a testing by God or whether it is a temptation that they are battling, among other factors that may precipitate a financial crisis.
- The fifth session looks into the role of relationships in wealth creation and the stewardship process. Key relationships that are highlighted include the steward’s relationship with God, spouse, children and business partners. Discordant relationships are also flagged during the session. These discordant relationships often appear in the form of a financially responsible spouse coupled with one who is not and whose reckless behaviour is detrimental to the household’s well-being, or a spouse (often male) that is intimidated by the other’s superior earning capability to the point of dysfunction in the home.
- The last session wraps up the learning experiences with recapitulation of the lessons learned and undertaking of the end-line survey.
In order for the learning experience to be transformational, there are a number of elements that CMS-Africa has incorporated into F4 to enrich the learner’s experience and ensure knowledge, skill and attitude change is achieved during the course.
The first is the spacing of the sessions. Ordinarily, CMS-Africa trainings are done in seminar or workshop formats spread over two to five continuous days. However, F4 sessions are done in monthly intervals to allow for participants to internalise lessons learned and apply them. This means that the course runs for a period of six months, during which time we hope that the results of the participant efforts will have started bearing evident fruit – that is, they will see progress in building of emergency funds (savings), reduction of debt burdens, significant savings in day-to-day expenditure, habit formation that reinforces financial discipline and prudence such as expenditure tracking, etc. This extended learning period also increases the likelihood of the occurrence of significant life events that are material to their personal/household finances, such as the birth of a child, loss of a loved one, moving house, promotion at work, business upheaval, loss of income, etc. These occurrences superimpose the reality of life over the learning experience and allow for the financial principles being learned to be tested and proven in real-life situations.
The second aspect is the incremental introduction of competency tasks that reinforce the lessons learned during the sessions. These competency tasks begin with record-keeping and advance on to tallying of records, then budgeting based on this data, followed by budgeting based on provided guidelines, development of debt repayment plans, then computation of net worth, development of cash-flow statements, financial goals and finally personal financial plans. This progression builds up over the six months and allows for the participants to grow in their ability to develop these critical tools around their personal/household finances. Another output that participants get to prepare is a will. These competency tasks are strictly tracked and implemented to ensure that participants have acquired and internalised the intended skills and knowledge.
A third ingredient is a rich pool of course resources, which constitutes the primary reading text, Mixing God with Money authored by Revd Dr Dennis Tongoi, F4 study guide (manual) and numerous course resources (templates) that aid the participant to unpack the F4 content and interact with it in great depth. During each monthly interval between sessions, the participant is required to complete reading assignments, complete study portions of the workbook and as explained earlier, fulfil competency task requirements.
Cumulatively, the F4 programme has been able to see over 800 participants equipped, at least 10 per cent of whom have gone on to become F4 trainers since 2013, when the current approach was rolled out. Six out of the seven countries where CMS-Africa has been working have been reached on the continent of Africa (Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, DRC, Burundi and Rwanda), one nation in Europe (Switzerland) has had two cohorts drawn predominantly from African diaspora graduates and a third is ongoing as at the time of writing this article. The course resources are currently being translated into Arabic, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda and French.
The Watoto Church Neighbourhood Programme has benefitted from the F4 programme and its content has been incorporated into the Watoto curriculum that serves vulnerable women in Uganda. The women have managed to begin businesses, providing for their families over the last two years of going through the programme. They have learned how to save and invest, budget and keep a record of every expense they incur in at home or at the business as well as give to the cause of mission.
Key outcomes of the F4 programme include increased household income, often characterised by multiple income streams, improved debt management, enhanced household nutrition and increased generosity.
1 July 2020 will herald a new five-year strategic period for CMS-Africa with the revised vision statement “Renewed Mindsets: Transformed Nations” and a razorsharp intent to position itself as a Christian mission agency that exists to equip and multiply leaders in the church and society for community transformation. Although the world is still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS-Africa is excited at the opportunity that F4 has in the new strategic dispensation to go into new geographies and cultures. F4 is already pilot testing online delivery via the Zoom platform and plans are underway to mainstream online delivery channels as an integral way to train F4.
Henry Mwaniki joined CMS-Africa in 2012 and is a lead facilitator of the Financial Freedom for Families programme. He has a background in microfinance and is trained in counselling psychology. Henry lives in Nairobi, Kenya, with his family and is involved in serving in prison ministry.
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