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Replicating Initiatives on Financial Literacy in United Arab Emirates

By Estrella Mai Dizon-Anonuevo, Executive Director, Atikha Overseas Workers and Communities Initiatives

I was surprised to receive a call from Ambassador Grace Princesa, Philippine Ambassador to the UAE and Labor Attache Jeff Cortazar , requesting me to come to Abu Dhabi to meet with representatives of the Ministry of Labor of UAE. Apparently, the Ministry of Labor is interested to conduct financial literacy training of trainers not only for Filipino migrants but also migrants from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and they are looking at Atikha, our NGO to conduct the training.
Replicating Initiatives on Financial Literacy in United Arab Emirates
Atikha has conducted training of trainers on financial literacy for migrants in Italy, Netherlands , Switzerland, Denmark and also various partners in the Philippines. It is of course an honor for us to be endorsed by our Ambassador and Labor Attache to conduct the training in UAE. We were glad of the invitation but at the same time hesitant, since we are not sure that the module we developed for Filipinos is applicable to other migrants who might have different culture and situation. However, after the consultation in Abu Dhabi with the representatives of the Ministry of Labor of UAE and the embassies of the other 4 countries, everybody agreed that the module developed by Atikha is applicable to the situation of other migrants in UAE. All of the representatives of the 5 countries are confronted with the problem of lack of savings of the migrants to achieve their long-term goals for migration. Despite long years of work abroad, migrants are unable to return and reintegrate with their families.

Replicating Initiatives on Financial Literacy in United Arab Emirates

The training of trainers was conducted last January 28-31, 2011 at the Layia Plaza Hotel in Dubai and it was attended by 18 participants from the Ministry of Labor of UAE, India, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. The training of trainers on financial literacy provided the following:

  • Hands on experience on budgeting, goal setting and financial planning. It provided time for migrants in mapping their dreams and reflecting on what they have achieved so far. It discussed strategies on how the family can adjust lifestyle and share the burden to enable them to achieve their goals.
  • It discussed ways in involving not only migrants but also the family member who manages the funds in the country of origin since the family oftentimes splurge on the hard earned money of the migrants. Atikha shared that the ideal situation of the financial literacy seminar is when both the migrant and the family member managing the funds are attending the seminar together. The seminar provides avenue for communication to address financial and family issues.
  • It discussed root causes of lack of savings and addresses problems in family values and issues that drain the resources of migrants such as dependency. It taught them strategy on “How to say NO” “When to say NO and Why the Need to say NO” to prevent the migrants from feeling guilty from saying “NO”. For example Filipinos and other Asian have difficulty saying NO to demands of the family since culture dictates that one has to take care of the family.

Replicating Initiatives on Financial Literacy in United Arab Emirates

The participants of the training of trainers especially from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan were very much appreciative of the generosity of the Philippines especially Ambassador Grace Princesa in sharing our experience in conducting financial literacy. They all agreed that this is a much awaited intervention not only for migrants but also families left behind. Each of the countries planned on conducting the seminar to their migrants. They also strategized on how to reach out the migrants and families left behind. The representative of the Ministry of Labor UAE expressed their willingness to support the financial literacy seminars that are to be conducted by the different embassies by providing venue and other support services. They were also willing to assist in organizing the training and in reaching out to the migrants. According to the representatives of India, they found the training of trainers seminar conducted by Atikha very relevant and they mentioned that 95% of what was discussed is applicable to their culture and situation. The representatives from Bangladesh were given special commendation by Atikha for their very active participation in the training. They were so involved with the training and mentioned that they learned a lot. They shared that the seminar was valuable for them not only as trainers but also on a more personal level.

Replicating Initiatives on Financial Literacy in United Arab Emirates

The Philippine representatives composed of Mr. James Mendiola, welfare officer of the Philippine Embassy, Mr. Baltazar Junio, president of Bayanihan, network of Filipino migrant and hometown associations in Abu Dhabi and Vivien Napenas, leader of Bayanihan immediately conducted echo seminar on financial literacy among the leaders on February 4 and 5, 2011 at the Philippine Embassy to maximize the presence of Atikha for mentoring. It was attended by 25 Filipino migrant leaders from various provinces and professions in the Philippines. The participants also had the chance to listen to the various investment packages that the partner cooperatives of Atikha are offering to migrants and families left behind. The Soro-soro Ibaba Development Cooperative ( SIDC), the largest agri-based cooperative in the Philippines discussed their egg layer investment package to migrants. The Cavite Farmers Feedmilling and Marketing Cooperative ( CAFFMACO), the number 1 cooperative of Cavite, discussed their investment package for the Bailen Farm and broiler farms. The Lifegive Multi-purpose Cooperative of Pampanga discussed their special investment package of PHP 100,000 that has a guaranteed 10% interest available for migrants. Atikha partners only with successful cooperatives who have assets of not less than PHP 80 million to ensure that the funds of the migrants are properly managed. The Philippine Consortium on Migration and Development (Philcomdev) also shared their Ekolife Homestay Ecotour Program as an avenue for learning various migration and development initiatives in the Philippines. It also showed the opportunity for migrants in operating bed and breakfast to augment income of families in the Philippines.
All of these partnerships were forged through the Pinoy WISE ( Worldwide Initiative for Savings Investment and Entrepreneurship), a financial literacy information campaign supported by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) that linked migrant savings and investment with agri-based cooperatives to ensure that the remittances are able to contribute to rural development of source migrant communities.

Replicating Initiatives on Financial Literacy in United Arab Emirates

“ Bakit ngayon lang!” ( Why only now!) was oftentimes mentioned during the seminar since they realized that they have wasted so much of their hard earned money already. They felt the urgency to act on the need to save and prepare for their return and reintegration especially faced with the economic and political crisis in the Middle East and around the world. The participants as well as the officers of the Philippine Embassy shared their appreciation for Ambassador Grace Princesa in bringing the financial literacy seminar to the UAE. It was mentioned that they have had quite a number of ambassadors and it was only during the time of Ambassador Princesa that they heard the term reintegration and financial literacy. We hope that the administration of President Aquino would bring more diplomats who have the heart for the overseas Filipino workers.
The financial literacy seminar in United Arab Emirates was made possible through the support of United Arab Emirates Ministry of Labor, Philippine Embassy-UAE, Planet Finance, International Network on Alternative Financial Institution (INAFI), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Etihad Airways, Bayanihan-UAE, SIDC, CAFFMACO, and Lifegiver Multi-purpose Cooperative-Pampanga.

Replicating Initiatives on Financial Literacy in United Arab Emirates

(The author is the executive director of Atikha Overseas Workers and Communities Initiatives, a non-government organization involved in tapping the development potential of migrants and in addressing the social cost of migration.)

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