‘Ohana-Based Approach to Incentivized Youth Savings

How can we measure the impact of incentivized youth savings beyond just financial impacts?

Hawai‘i Island ‘ohana participating in the Kids’ Saving Initiative

This was one of the many questions posed at CFED’s well-attended Children’s Savings Account Conference. Incentivized youth savings accounts, popularly known as children’s savings accounts (CSAs), are proven vehicles for introducing the concept of savings to children and youth through seed deposits or savings matches towards specific asset building goals. By supporting and encouraging savings behavior from a young age, it has been shown that CSAs increase the likelihood of that youth to go to and graduate from college by three to seven times.

A growing area of research through entities such as the Center for Social Development through its SEEDS for Oklahoma Kids experiment indicate that CSAs have positive effects on a child’s social-emotional development and parents’ psychological well-being.  In addition, the Aspen Institute has also begun to spearhead a two-generation approach through its Ascend Network, which includes CSAs as one tool in providing services and opportunities to address the needs of both children and parents. 

The conference demonstrated the growing support for CSAs from public agencies, private philanthropies and businesses, and social service organizations. To some extent, representatives from each area asked: How can the variety of CSA activities be supported, sustained, and expanded?
In Hawai‘i, a number of organizations have begun to embed some form of CSAs in their operations to meet their populations where they are and provide relevant support. For example:

  • Hawaiian Community Assets—youth and families must complete culturally relevant financial education to accumulate a match toward an identified savings goal, often related to homeownership.
  • MA‘O Organic Farms—youth interns must maintain a certain GPA in pursuit of an Associate’s Degree and specific performance metrics on the farm, including cultural education, to obtain matches for qualified asset purchases, related to near or long-term educational goals.
  • Epic ‘Ohana—foster youth up to the age of 26 receive support and financial education, participate in advocacy efforts, and save toward asset purchases that cover near term emergency needs to establish a foundation for family stability as well as longer-term goals related to education, housing, or microenterprise.

Each of these efforts embody different spots on the continuum of support for youth to build assets that they need based on where they are—a part of a family unit looking to build a foundation; beginning their educational career to earn an associate’s degree while learning organic farming and traditional cultural practices; or aging out of the foster care system and looking to set out on their own. 

Imagine if these approaches were more specifically articulated as support for youth in different family situations—an ‘ohana based approach—that articulates asset building and financial capability opportunities as a way to not only build the assets for children but also be an entry point for parents to engage in financial education with their children and access asset building products and services to strengthen their family’s financial stability. Imagine then how a faith-based institution could embed CSAs as a part of its food justice work where youth could be rewarded with matched savings for helping in the parish gardens and distributing that food to the needy.  Imagine how a community-based organization could use CSAs to incentivize youth participation in environmental and cultural restoration. Imagine how CSAs could be a tool to engage youth as leaders to explore a regional approach to food systems founded in traditional culture and knowledge transfer

Such possibilities then create the conditions for an organic embodiment of the ‘Ohana Economy, an economy focused on the family, which supports the creation of ho‘owaiwai, or genuine wealth.

Brent Kakesako is the executive director for the Hawai’i Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development (HACBED), a nonprofit intermediary that works to build the capacity of families and communities in Hawai’i and provide ongoing support so that they have choice and control to push for economic, environmental, and social justice.


  1. Brent, I’m curious about the GPA requirement and how high it is set. I understand the desire to provide encouragement/incentive for being a good student, but if the goal is well-educated, culturally literate farmers, there are many routes to that. Is there any recognition of different learning styles or aptitudes? Are only people who fare well in a certain kind of traditional educational setting worthy of support?

  2. Hi Miriam — mahalo for your comments and questions! The GPA requirement is 2.0 as the focus is on college matriculation in a geographic area that has historically low college going and graduation rates and is balanced by a “farm GPA” that encompasses work performance on the farm and attendance at a variety of sessions, which include cultural knowledge and financial literacy support. As such, the focus has shifted beyond training farmers to growing agriculturally and culturally literate young leaders who have a grounding in place and culture as they pursue whatever field they choose. Would love to have an in-depth conversation off-line!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.