Sesame Street’s Elmo and Cookie Mon­ster help make fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy child’s play

The National - News - - BUSINESS -

Trans­lat­ing money mes­sages to 100 mil­lion kids around the world is not a feat for or­di­nary hu­mans – you need mon­sters.

Elmo and Cookie Mon­ster, to be spe­cific.

These two and their furry band of Mup­pets have been part of Sesame Work­shop’s “Dream, Save, Do” pro­gramme, a joint ven­ture of Sesame Street and the MetLife Foun­da­tion.

Op­er­at­ing for the past four years, the ini­tia­tive has been lever­ag­ing fa­mil­iar Sesame char­ac­ters to foster fi­nan­cial em­pow­er­ment for fam­i­lies in nine coun­tries: the UAE, Egypt, Mex­ico, Brazil, Chile, China, Ja­pan, In­dia and Bangladesh.

The out­reach has so far been a whop­ping suc­cess in terms of the num­bers reached, Sesame Work­shop con­cluded at a sum­mit last month that brought to­gether coun­try di­rec­tors. The most dif­fi­cult chal­lenge they iden­ti­fied was how hard it was to trans­late money mes­sages across dif­fer­ent coun­tries and cul­tures.

One ex­am­ple: a Cookie Mon­ster car­toon about the con­cept of de­layed grat­i­fi­ca­tion – which in­volved wait­ing for an ap­ple pie to bake – did not make much sense in the Chi­nese diet. So they changed the de­sired ob­ject to dumplings – and it was a hit.

In In­dia, the idea of “work” was con­veyed by the im­age of a woman sewing; in Brazil, it was some­one an­swer­ing a phone in an of­fice. In some coun­tries “wa­ter” was a tap in a crowded al­ley; in oth­ers it was a sink in a home.

In China, there is no huge need to teach kids about the con­cept of sav­ing – be­cause all of them are do­ing it. Many, even at ex­tremely young ages, are planning for col­lege or think­ing about their first house. So in­stead lo­cal course de­sign­ers in China fo­cused on other fi­nan­cial be­hav­iours like shar­ing or do­nat­ing.

“Ev­ery les­son has core com­mon ele­ments, but it also tai­lored to the lo­cal mar­ket, which is the real magic of it,” said April Hawkins, an as­sis­tant vice pres­i­dent at the MetLife Foun­da­tion who helps to stew­ard the pro­gramme.

Sesame Work­shop also had to be flex­i­ble about how it got the word out. For in­stance, in the slums of In­dia’s New Delhi, a typ­i­cal struc­tured class­room set­ting just was not go­ing to be pos­si­ble.

“So in the nar­row al­ley­ways of Delhi, we ended up us­ing veg­etable carts,” said Shari Rosen­feld, Sesame Work­shop’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent for in­ter­na­tional so­cial im­pact. “We set up DVD play­ers to broad­cast our ma­te­ri­als, hooked them up to car bat­ter­ies, loaded them on to carts, and kids and their fam­i­lies would all gather around.”

In some coun­tries, even the name of the pro­gramme it­self was changed. In ar­eas where there is not a lot of money kick­ing around, and poor kids might not be able to “save” much of any­thing, the pro­gramme ti­tle was al­tered to “Dream, Plan, Do.”

And which char­ac­ters were tapped to spread the money mes­sages? Not The Count, as you might ex­pect, given his ob­vi­ous pas­sion for num­bers.

In­stead, Sesame Street al­ready has an en­tire cast of pop­u­lar for­eign char­ac­ters at their dis­posal. There are ex­ist­ing stars like Lola in Mex­ico, Chamki in In­dia, Bel in Brazil and Lily in China – all smart, con­fi­dent young fe­male char­ac­ters.

In one pop­u­lar piece of con­tent, all those girl char­ac­ters from around the globe gath­ered to sing a song about fe­male em­pow­er­ment, goal-set­ting and achieve­ment.

So what is next for Dream, Save, Do? It could very well be the global refugee cri­sis. Many chil­dren have lost ev­ery­thing, so what do you tell a child like that?

“Hope is of­ten lost in com­mu­ni­ties that have ex­pe­ri­enced such trauma and dis­tress,” said Nada Elat­tar, Sesame Work­shop’s di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes. “So that is some­thing we have to fo­cus on next: the idea of hav­ing dreams for your­self, and set­ting goals, as a way to re­store hope.”


Elmo, far left, and Cookie Mon­ster, cen­tre, are among the char­ac­ters fronting the Dream, Save, Do cam­paign

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