There are many ways in which our academic education fails to prepare us for what awaits post graduation, but one of the most consequential shortcomings is in how ill-equipped most young people are to handle their personal finances. I recently had the chance to speak with Armita Hosseini, an author and entrepreneur out of Toronto, Canada. Another female founder, she’s made financial education her mission at a young age, and given how many people leave school unprepared for the financial realities of the world, it’s education that is much needed.
Mary Juetten: Where are you based?
Armita Hosseini: EmpowerEcon is based in Toronto however, our virtual events gather participants from across the world! Our most recent event in March 2021 had participants from 22 countries across 5 continents, and it always amazes me how people are excited to be joining despite such different time zones.
Juetten: When did you start?
Hosseini: I started to write my book, Roadmap to Financial Literacy: An Introduction to Personal Finance For Teenagers, in April 2020, and published it in September 2020, a few days prior to my 16th birthday–this was really my first step into the realm of financial education advocacy. After publishing this book, I knew I wanted to continue my work in financial education. Therefore, later in the year, I founded EmpowerEcon to host virtual events for teenagers from across the world.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Hosseini: Lack of access to financial and economic education for teenagers. Many high schools across both North America and the world do not offer a one-semester personal finance course, and money is not a topic that families often discuss with their children at home. As a result, too many students graduate from school having little knowledge on personal finance concepts.
Roadmap to Financial Literacy covers topics such as credit cards, loans, saving, investing, and budgeting, and is designed to give a holistic view of the world of finance teenagers will enter after high school. My goal was to not only help readers understand the topics, but to also help them enjoy the learning process, which is why I incorporated relevant graphics on every page.
An important aspect of financial literacy is responsible habits, and the earlier youth have exposure to this knowledge, the more they can work on developing positive financial habits. That’s why EmpowerEcon’s mission statement is “empowering youth in developing the knowledge and skills to approach their financial futures with confidence”. We aim to help youth not only learn, but to also develop meaningful habits and skills.
EmpowerEcon’s events include educational presentations, activities that supplement the content, and guest speaker sessions during which participants can engage with experts in their industries and learn more about specific interests. I think that beyond just learning the information, it’s important to actually apply the knowledge and gain hands-on experience through live activities, which is an important aspect of our events.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Hosseini: The customers of my book and the participants of EmpowerEcon’s events are primarily high school students, with a small number of college students as well. My biggest way of reaching people, both for my book and EmpowerEcon, has been through social media. In addition to that, people often purchase my book after attending educational workshops I speak at, hosted by other organizations.
For EmpowerEcon, an effective way we have been able to acquire registrations is through setting up an ambassador program. EmpowerEcon ambassadors from different locations actively inform their communities about our events, and this has really helped us reach local regions with our opportunities.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Hosseini: Prior to starting EmpowerEcon, I had worked for a variety of nonprofits where I had served roles in areas such as marketing, graphic design, event planning, and grant writing. Working for these organizations allowed me to develop a toolkit of valuable skills and also gave me insights into the overall operations of an organization, as well as effective leadership. This experience was incredibly valuable as running an organization entails managing activities in many different areas.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Hosseini: EmpowerEcon’s team is very diverse with 25 core members from across 11 different time zones! It is composed mainly of high school and college students. We have directors for various departments such as marketing, event planning, mentorship, and curriculum design, which coordinate activities for our three-day educational events. The ambassador team consists of over 70 members. The EmpowerEcon team comes from countries such as the US, Canada, Sweden, England, the Philippines, UAE, and more.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Hosseini: Near the end of 2020, I collaborated with operationEconomics International, a California-based non-profit, to donate 300 copies of my book to under-served schools in San Marcos, California. For this, I raised $1,500 USD through receiving a generous sponsorship from the non-profit organization Next Gen Personal Finance.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure – what’s your favorite startup story?
Hosseini: My favorite startup stories are those that involve the founders identifying an issue they face in their own lives, developing an idea to address it, and then persevering despite rejections and setbacks until they succeed. I am really inspired by Jamie Kern Lima’s story of co-founding IT Cosmetics. She had a skin condition that meant practically all of the makeup brands out there did not work for her, and realized that other people may be facing this same issue. This led her to create IT Cosmetics, which, in its development, was rejected by Sephora several times, but has now grown into such a large company!
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Hosseini: By the quality of the impact made. While the number of people we impact is also very important to me, I always prioritize how impactful our offerings are to those involved. People sometimes tell me that they are inspired to start their financial or economic education initiative after reading my book or participating in EmpowerEcon’s events. Financial and economic illiteracy is a global issue, and the more people who are leading projects to address it, the bigger of a change we can create.
My favourite success story is of Brendon Burchard, the world’s leading high performance coach. When he was 19, he had a brutal car accident and in the midst of it he reflected on his life up to that point and asked himself, “Did I live? Did I love? Did I matter?”. This then became his tagline and led him to develop the career he has today. I am so inspired by how beautifully he grew through this adversity and how it inspired him to build a life centred around helping people become the best versions of themselves. I would really love to meet him one day! That would be very cool
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders or CEOs in growth mode?
1) Focus on your own journey. There is always going to be someone who is better than you, has accomplished more than you, or is progressing faster than you. But this is your path, and staying focused on doing your personal best is what is ultimately going to take you farthest in the long run, especially when you are just starting out.
2) Actively build your network. Whether it be identifying potential mentors who can guide you, other entrepreneurs you can collaborate with, or people who would be interested in joining your team, surrounding yourself with such people is going to play a major role in your success. Being surrounded by people who are already accomplishing what you wish to accomplish is also a wonderful learning opportunity that will help you grow your own initiative.
3) Constantly seek learning opportunities. I think entrepreneurship entails developing skills in many different areas, and one thing I was especially keen on when I was starting out–and still am–is learning how to improve in areas such as leadership, project management, marketing, and more! In order to sustain continued growth, I think it is really important to constantly learn through activities such as attending events, reading articles, and asking questions.
4) Whatever it is you do, aim to do it with excellence. I really believe that this is one of the key factors in growing any organization or company. If you make it a goal to perform extraordinarily well, you will increase your effort, leave your comfort zone more often, and not only scale and differentiate your initiative but also make a larger impact.
Mary Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Hosseini: We are currently focused on organizing more events, as well as developing some other exciting projects we have yet to announce! Given that the events we host are entirely virtual, we have been able to build a community of participants from across the world. This has proven that the demand for financial and economic education extends way beyond just North America. Therefore, in the long run, I hope to be able to grow EmpowerEcon to a global organization providing educational opportunities in communities across different countries.
I also hope to be able to collaborate with other financial education organizations and advocates when it comes to designing resources and curriculum, as well inviting more guest speakers to speak at our workshops. Feel free to contact me via my email: [email protected]
Thank you for tackling such an important subject. As my own son prepares to leave home for his first apartment he was lucky that his college provided a couple of online personal finance courses but that is much too late in my opinion also. Best of luck to Armita in continuing to teach financial literacy to young people. #onwards.