I recently came across an intriguing article profiling the ING-Girls Inc. Investment Challenge, an innovative take on financial literacy and youth empowerment, currently being implemented across the country.
While most financial literacy initiatives emphasize basic principles and skill sets associated with savings accumulation, account management, and fiscal responsibility, ING builds on this core knowledge and takes financial exposure to a different level by walking high school girls (yes, interestingly, this program is targeted towards girls only) through the basics of stock trading, mutual funds, and portfolio management! The girls start off with $20,000 virtual portfolios to manage, and, over the course of a few months, build up to $50,000 with which to trade freely. Program participants are exposed to ideas such as asset allocation, diversification, even valuation — concepts only encountered and discussed at-length in my second-year Wharton classes! Results thus far indicate that the students are far more adept and prudent at handling this “free” money than many adults would initially credit them, or even be capable of themselves. Portfolios are generally well-balanced and well-researched, and participants exhibit greater attentiveness and sensitivity to market dynamics (…any stock tips for the rest of us?!).
As an additional feature, after three years, ING awards any portfolio gains to the girls in the forms of scholarships! What better way to promote early exposure to key financial discipline and encourage a continuation of the learning process? I personally believe it is great that program sponsors and facilitators recognize the importance of building strong foundations in financial literacy in today’s youth, and possesses enough foresight to recognize their impact on future leadership and economic conditions.
FLCP recruiting is in full swing for the Fall 2011 semester and it is exciting to see how many people are interested in teaching. A mere few months ago, the program still yet had taught a class and I think there was a lot of uncertainty of where things were going to go. After what seems to be a great first semester with our students (post-assessments are this and next week), it is encouraging to see that so many of our current teachers are excited to come back and also that there are so many talented people interested in teaching in the fall.
Today, we had a cupcake social in honor of Wharton’s Social Impact Week and it was awesome to see so many applicants come out and discuss their interest in the group. Some talked about past experiences teaching and others talked about how passionately they felt about the issue of financial literacy education in America. It is great to see so much support for the program and I am eager to see us find some great new teachers for the fall.
It’s been a crazy four months for the Financial Literacy Community Project. It seems like yesterday that Mimi and I were bouncing ideas off of each other in my apartment in Hong Kong, analyzing next steps over greasy takeout from Cafe de Coral. In any case, I wanted to start this blog (and the new website revamp) off with a much-needed update.
What we’ve done so far: laying down the foundation
1. Built a strong core team. None of this would have been possible without my partners and co-conspirators Mimi, Starry, Ryan, Shani, Whitney, Jennifer, Ellen, and Troy. Going to meetings at 10 PM on a Thursday night and sacrificing studying during midterm season to interview teacher candidates and spontaneously going to pitching competitions in New York – it’s been a crazy ride. Laying down the foundation for an organization takes the greatest kind of commitment and the hardest kind of work. Everyone on this team is so excited about making our vision a reality. (By the way, if you’re interested in joining the team, let us know – we’d love to have you!)
2. Recruited an outstanding team of teachers to kick off our pilot program. Recruitment for our spring 2011 pilot program exceeded all of my expectations. We received 70 applications for a teaching team of 14 (that’s a 20% acceptance rate!). Our teacher class is incredibly diverse. They hail from Massachusetts to Mexico, range from freshmen to seniors, and encompass both experienced teachers and complete newcomers. I am very excited to see all of our teachers in action this spring.
3. Developed great relationships with community partners. We have partnered with Henry C. Lea Elementary School and West Philadelphia High School for the spring. Our closeness lies not just in distance but also in heart, as many of our teachers have worked with these coordinators and in these classrooms previously.
4. Obtained fantastic faculty, institutional, and financial support from the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School. None of this would have been possible without the help of Keith Weigelt, Stacy Franks, and Cory Bowman, who hooked us up for our initial support from the Netter Center-Wharton School joint venture. Our pilot project has been guaranteed complete funding, and we are thankful for this opportunity to show real results. And of course, we are grateful to the other University of Pennsylvania faculty who have supported us with their advice throughout the semester.
5. Designed an innovative and fun curriculum. Does “Justin Bieber on a Budget” make you want to learn financial planning? J-Biebs makes me want to learn financial planning. If Bieber Fever isn’t really your style, there are plenty of other fun stories, examples, and problems in our curriculum that make financial literacy engaging, yet still serious in delivering results. Because we are intensely results focused (both in knowledge retention and behavioral change), we have developed assessments every step of the way, both during the course and afterwards (we plan to do surveys to record behavioral change, etc.).
6. Selected as a 2010 DoSomething.org Grant Winner. Starry Peng is an absolute beast when it comes to pitching. Not only did she have the balls to enter a two-hour pitching competition on the spot, she also managed to win the title. She snagged us $500, national media attention (interest from representatives from Today Show, New York Times, Huffington Post, Fox Business News, and USA Today), as well as attention from potential donors (Mastercard and Deutsche Bank).
7. Gone on TV. After winning the DoSomething.org competition, we were approached by talk show host Felicia Brown. We went on Youth Talks with Felicia Brown to tell the world why we are an organization for young people that rocks. (We heard that she’s pitching the series to Oprah. Great way to end O’s last season?)
8. Secured legal support. Many thanks to Ballard Spahr, LLP for taking FLCP on as a pro bono client. In particular, we love our young, fun associates Tracy and Muhammad. They’re helping us out with all of the paperwork and legal advising that goes into the incorporation and 501(c)(3) decision-making process. Ballard Spahr is one of the oldest and most prestigious law firms in Philadelphia – FLCP is grateful to have their support.
Where we plan to go next: execution and expansion
1. Execution. At the moment, most of our energy is spent on the successful execution of our pilot program. Our teachers are going to go into extensive training and curriculum preparation, before entering their classrooms in January. They will be blogging about their experiences on this blog every week, complete with pictures and video (do follow along!). Their progress and results will be monitored every step of the way. We are excited to see what happens!
2. Expansion (structurally). Now that there’s more to do, we need more people to do it. One of our main goals in January is to recruit more volunteers onto our core team. As noted above, we’d be happy to have you if you are interested – there are both positions available at all levels, depending on degree of interest and commitment! We restructured the board after our first semester, with more defined roles, although the energy and culture at FLCP is essentially entrepreneurial. As a start-up organization, we are very fun. Don’t go to Penn? Not even in college yet? That’s fine. We welcome high school students to get involved as interns.
3. Expansion (directionally). Besides operating in brick-and-mortar schools, FLCP recognizes that open-source learning is the future of education. The internet lacks financial educational resources in general – not to mention fun financial educational resources for youth. FLCP is currently developing an entire online platform that will make this truly a community project – keep your eyes open, because we will be launching it soon!
3. Expansion (physically). Upon a successful pilot program, FLCP plans to expand into other schools in Philadelphia. We are already in talks with local public and charter schools – the prospects are bright, and we are always excited to welcome more community partners on board, in line with our vision to raise the national level of financial literacy. We are also considering the possibility of a national expansion through a chapter system.
4. Expansion (financially). Upon a successful pilot program, FLCP will have both the numerical results and the great personal stories that will allow us to obtain the financial sponsorship that is necessary to grow to scale and impact national change.
More updates to come soon. Happy holidays, and here’s to a fantastic 2011 with FLCP.