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Strengthening financial capability for youth through an innovative summer jobs program

May 24, 2022


In 2008, the City of Boston put out a call to action: find new ways to foster economic opportunity for low-income youth. John Hancock – Manulife’s U.S.-based subsidiary – answered that call by creating the MLK Scholars program, built on the inspirational values and legacy of its namesake, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). The program annually provides 600 Boston youth with access to summer jobs at local nonprofit organizations or John Hancock’s corporate office and combines the employment experience with digital financial capability training and leadership development forums. Since its inception 15 years ago, John Hancock has invested over USD$15M in the community to fund and create over 9,000 jobs at non-profits and non-governmental organization (NGOs) across the region.


“This program is helping to drive more inclusive economic opportunity for underserved youth by empowering them with work experience while building confidence in their financial skills,” says Annie Duong-Turner, Director of US Community Investment at Manulife (and a former MLK Scholar). “We work with partners who have diversity, equity and inclusion as core to their operating model and serve communities where people of colour live. It’s not just a community investment initiative we’re running in a silo ‒ we’re part of a cross-sector collaboration, with John Hancock, non-profits, the City of Boston and other funders making up Boston’s summer job ecosystem.”


For the Scholars, summer jobs are more than just a paycheck. They are a networking opportunity, meaningful career experience and a step toward financial independence. Whether they're working at John Hancock or across nearly 50 other organizations in positions that are funded by John Hancock, the Scholars can gain experience in a field that interests them and meet leaders across the corporate and non-profit worlds.


The structured and highly supportive program provides Scholars with a two-month employment placement, which includes being paired with a mentor and Leadership Forums that focus on empowering youth on the job, in their lives and in their communities. Participants also take online financial literacy courses where they build their financial capability, learning skills like how to set up a bank account to understanding how to fund post-secondary education.


Research shows that summer jobs programs help boost job readiness, college aspirations, social skills, academic results and community engagement. The MLK Scholars program helps youth build skills, confidence and make career-building connections at the intersection of employment and education.


“My experience set me up for success, supporting a safe space to grow and equipping me with real-world professional skills that I could take with me and continue to polish wherever I went,” says 2021 Scholar Angelica Pham. “Working here was my catalyst, jumpstarting my search for further professional opportunities and success.”


A recent report found that high school seniors score an average 48% on financial literacy exams and aren’t knowledgeable about basics like building a simple budget, comparison shopping, and understanding an invoice. The financial education component of the MLK Scholars program empowers participants with knowledge. In 2020, 77% of Scholars said they felt more prepared to manage their money than they did before the program, and 68% made it their goal to “avoid taking on new debt”.


In addition, Scholars agreed that both employment and education contributed to their preparedness: seven in 10 participants agreed that receiving a regular paycheck has changed how they think about money and eight in 10 said that the education they received through the John Hancock Well-Being Education Center helped them manage the money they received. In comparison against other high school peers in Massachusetts, youth who participated in a summer youth employment program reported higher ratings in confidence in basic personal finance tasks such as: selecting a bank account, reading a paycheck and understanding what determines their take-home pay, setting up and following a budget, and checking credit scores.

"Economic empowerment and financial education are critical for Boston's young people, and meaningful work experience helps build long-term positive financial behaviors and skills," said former Boston Mayor Kim Janey. "For too many, these opportunities aren't accessible. It is great to see initiatives like John Hancock's MLK Scholars Program help level the playing field and foster a diverse future pool of job-ready young people for Boston's communities."


Read Annie’s Duong-Turner’s article in Commonwealth Magazine about the importance of financial literacy


To learn more about Manulife’s progress against its Impact Agenda objectives and focus on sustainability, visit