any high school seniors right now are submitting the last of their post-secondary school applications and anxiously waiting for acceptances. A year ago, that was me. But amidst the nervousness, I felt an excitement for the future – one that included new friends, new adventures, and best of all, the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want.
It was not long before I realized freedom isn’t simple – it comes with a hefty price tag. I had been relatively sheltered by my parents all my life, and did not have to worry much about finances. I had income from my part-time job, and could splurge on dinners with friends or tea flavours I had been dying to try. Yes, I made sure that every dollar I spent was worth what I got in return, but I had no long-term budgeting, saving, or investment plans. Can I still afford the lifestyle I have given my new monthly budget? How much debt will I have piled up in four years? In times of high unemployment and poor economic conditions, how can I ensure I don’t go bankrupt?
I approached my friends with these questions, but turns out, they did not give this topic much forethought either. I realized that I was staring at a gaping hole in the high school curriculum – financial literacy. It is an incredibly crucial and practical skill that every individual, no matter the field of work, will need. In fact, well-managed personal finances lay the foundation for any desired lifestyle.
That night, I called my friend, Sara, to complain about the underemphasis of financial literacy at school. Those frustrations turned into an idea, and that idea sprouted into action. We founded FuturFund, a non-profit, student-run organization that aims to equip high school students with financial literacy skills. We had a vision of an informative yet fun, full-day conference that gave delegates the ability to plan their futures. Our initial excitement, however, was quickly met with a hiccup – securing sponsors.
I remember one afternoon very clearly – our naivete told us that if we dressed our best, put a big smile on, and handed out sponsorship letters, people would give us money. We approached around twenty local businesses and banks, yet all of them returned a polite, but uninterested “no”. With every rejection, our smiles became harder to maintain, and eventually, we returned home defeated. Still determined, however, we devised our backup plan – in the case that we were not able to secure any monetary support, we would split our $500 budget from our own savings.
The following week, we continuously sent out emails to our networks. We were in disbelief when we received an email reply from Rick, the President of Sun Life Global Investments, saying that he’d like to hear about who we are. As we were escorted to his office, we did not dare to keep high hopes. However, we confidently presented our vision: we want to address the financial literacy in high school, in a way that the curriculum has not. Rick believed in us. He validated our goals, and immediately established a partnership. His mentorship and investment, in simply an idea of ours, was able to give us the confidence and funding to move forward with our project.
For the following four months, we accessed our networks for speakers, prepared marketing materials, and reworked our agenda. With the encouragement of our teacher sponsor, Ms. Duke, the help of our school, Glenforest Secondary School, as well as the generous support of Sun Life Global Investments, our first annual FuturFund conference was a hit. In January 2015, we welcomed 100 delegates. The morning was packed with workshops from community leaders and the afternoon involved an investing competition that put the delegates’ new knowledge to work. Everyone was served lunch, and prizes amped up the energy. After the conference, Sara and I didn’t even have time to celebrate: Sara sat down in the sofa while I went to go get a glass of water, and when I returned, she had already fallen fast asleep.
To be honest, the initial motivation behind founding FuturFund came out of self-need. Sara and I felt unprepared for financial independence, and we wanted answers. We thought that the speakers there would be able to give us those valuable insights. In reality, we just ended up running around the conference that day organizing behind-the-scenes, and only caught fragments of the workshops. Nevertheless, throughout the past year and a half, our need for financial literacy turned into passion. We are so incredibly proud to see FuturFund become a reality from just an idea over the phone. Of course, FuturFund would not exist today without the recognition and mentorship from various leaders in the financial literacy community, including Rhiannon Traill, CEO of The Economic Club of Canada, Merv Hillier, CEO of The Centre of Education and Training, and Kevin Maynard, COO of Canadian Foundation for Economic Education. With their expertise, they provided us with the connections and confidence necessary to overcome numerous bumps along the way. Looking forward, Sara and I hope to instill the need to start thinking about financial literacy early, well before university is in the horizon, and give high school students the tools to become independent individuals.
This year, our bigger and more talented team will be expanding FuturFund to include 150 delegates all over the Greater Toronto Area. The second FuturFund conference will take place on May 14th at Branksome Hall. With so many exciting details confirmed already, we are stoked for what will come in the next months. Stay in touch with us on Facebook and our website for the release of our speaker lineup and our pre-registration!