Championing Global Financial Education in Schools

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This month on Future of the Business World, Wharton Global Youth talks with Sam Purcell, a high school student from Vancouver, Ontario, Canada, who founded MyFLY to build and implement a financial-education curriculum in schools worldwide. Sam’s vision is to empower school investment and finance clubs, educators, and school districts with stronger and deeper financial knowledge to prepare students in all ways for making wiser and better-informed decisions about their money.

a reminder of the importance of nurturing our financial well-being is timely as we head into Financial Wellness Month in the U.S. in January. “I feel learning about finance is a necessity to living a successful life where you can live comfortably and not experience times of financial hardship,” says Sam. How will you begin to make smarter money decisions in 2023? A youth financial-education organization created for students, by students may provide the inspiration you need.

An edited transcript of our conversation appears below. Be sure to click on the arrow above to listen to the podcast.  

Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello and welcome to Future of the Business World, the podcast featuring teenage entrepreneurs from across the globe. I’m Diana Drake, managing editor of the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Today’s conversation puts an exclamation point on 2022, wrapping up a year of our monthly innovation-rich interviews with some interesting teens. We’ve talked about everything from educational equity and migrant workers in Singapore, to sandals fashioned from old tires in India and sustainable farming that uses machine learning to grow healthier crops. Behind every project and product? Entrepreneurial high school students.

Be sure to check out the Future of the Business World podcast archives at globalyouth.wharton.upenn.edu to listen to them all.

Today, we welcome Sam Purcell to the show to talk about a much-loved and sometimes overwhelming topic — money.

Sam, welcome to Future of the Business World.

Sam Purcell: Thank you, Diana. It’s great to be here.

Wharton Global Youth: You attended our Leadership in the Business World program this summer, and it’s there that we learned about your organization, MyFlyGlobal. You are operating in the world of financial literacy, which basically means empowering people with the skills to understand, manage, and grow their finances. School helps us to become more literate in things like reading, writing, and math, and many believe it should also help us understand money from a younger age. I was just reading today how a rapper from L.A. is launching a financial literacy program in 2023 to teach kids from underserved communities all about saving, investing, and even spending their money more wisely.

So, tell us how MyFLY fits into this crowded financial-education market?

Sam Purcell.

Sam: Yeah. So right now, I feel that school curriculums are very limited, and especially in different countries, the topics that they teach may not be very practical, and they also may not meet the needs of students today, which is why we’re trying to directly implement financial-education curriculum in school classes and also clubs in eight countries.

Our goal in MyFLY is to target schools by creating chapters of financial literacy curriculum that teachers will be able to take and teach within existing business courses that they offer. So right now, there are many different third-party organizations, such as Junior Achievement, FBLA and DECA. However, one thing as a student talking with other individuals across multiple countries, we’ve all found that these organizations do not tend to directly target the school curriculum. And I’ve also found that typically, only interested students will be the ones participating. So, to throw in an example — my investment club. We took part in Junior Achievement’s programs, but in a school of roughly 1,500 students, we only had about 100 students with actual access to the programs. By creating an actual course that’s taught for credit, we’re essentially having a larger impact on students by providing them with a thorough curriculum that covers really all the fundamental concepts needed to gain financial freedom.

One of the ways that I think we are unique is we’re attempting to create change on an international level. And through meeting students at different summer programs at Columbia, Georgetown, and also Leadership in the Business World, I’ve connected with students and I really came to realize that a lot of the different initiatives, especially towards financial literacy, are targeted to one specific city or one specific community. But what we’re doing at MyFLY is we’re really trying to collaborate with students on an international level and through some of our full year courses that are going to be taught for credit in semester two in Vancouver and New York, collaborating with different students. It’s really a great thing, because we essentially get the best of the best when it comes to ideas. And this also helps us when pursuing different strategies depending on the country or school that we’re targeting. So that’s kind of how I find that we really stand out and where we fit in. It’s about students teaching students and directly impacting school curriculum.

Wharton Global Youth: How did you get interested in this area of finance?

Sam: My real interest in finance started at the beginning of the pandemic when I had a little bit of extra time on my hands and I started reading books about finance and investing, like many other students. But where the real spark happened for me was volunteering at a homeless shelter in Vancouver and here, it was a really great experience for me because I met individuals from all walks of life. Over the weeks and months, I got to know every guest there.  It was a great experience because it really showed me that it wasn’t the stereotypical person that you would think would be at a homeless shelter. And after talking with my supervisor, we really came to realize that the individuals at the shelter once had like great jobs, and in fact, some were even lawyers. And it was just due to unfortunate circumstances, especially with the pandemic, that caused them to lose their jobs, which would then kind of go into that spiral of not being able to pay rent or getting evicted from your home.

This made me realize that I wanted to do everything that I could to ensure that students in high school were getting that proper knowledge that they can use to help mitigate the chances of ending up in one of those unfortunate circumstances. And once school started again after the pandemic, I went to work right away starting an investment club at my high school, since we didn’t have one. And over the months we grew. I remember I had 12 members on the list once I spoke to the sponsor teacher, and then I think it was within like roughly four months, we grew to 200 members. From there, I did presentations at multiple elementary schools and also high schools within our district. And this was the impact that I was having locally.

This all changed when I attended a summer program at Columbia in 2021 where I connected with students from all parts of the world. I believe it was Singapore, India, the U.S. and Indonesia. I especially connected with the student from Indonesia. We found that we both shared the values of really wanting to increase equity in education and our passion for teaching. One thing that I found while at this program was that we all had our investment clubs or our business clubs or our cryptocurrency clubs, but there was no real way to essentially scale that effort and teach multiple classes in multiple schools. One thing that I realized in three weeks I was there was that it would be best to collaborate with all these students to find solutions to the lack of financial education in school. This is where I started the organization, MyFLY. Ever since last year, we’ve been working towards increasing financial education classes in schools.

Wharton Global Youth: I’ve heard you talk about investing and even cryptocurrency. What financial concepts top your list of priorities in the curriculum? Are you talking everything from saving to investing to retirement?

Sam: Yes. Over the course of the summer, we went to work on developing a solid curriculum that now can be taught for roughly a year and a half or two years. The first course that we created was the curriculum that would provide all students with that base knowledge needed towards financial success or financial freedom. The first chapter has everything about personal finance, [including] everything from credit cards, all the different accounts, saving, budgeting, and this is something that generally every person will need to know once they graduate university, get their first credit card, or want to buy a house or a car. Then the next two chapters specifically talk about investing. My dad’s a financial advisor, so he’ll tell me all the stories of clients and from other leaders in the investing world. And to me, the most important part is understanding what investing is. Because I’ve realized, especially with social media, there’s always those get-rich-quick videos that you’ll see on TikTok or Instagram. And for students who are especially not as educated in investing, it’s something to be careful with.

What we’ve done in our course is outline the specific concepts that are needed, such as learning to invest in stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, bonds, all the basics. And then once we cover that, we then will go into the actual applications. One of the things that I found is you can go on Investopedia’s website and search up what a stock is, what an ETF is, what a mutual fund is. But what’s not there, what’s not on the website is how to apply that knowledge. That’s one of the things that I connect back with school, is really providing education where students can apply the knowledge they learn to their futures, to university, to their jobs.

In the third chapter of our course, we dive into the applications of investing. Now that you understand, okay, a stock is ownership equity in a company. Now, what can I do with that knowledge to help grow my wealth in the future? So, we discuss the best ways to valuate a company for investors, all the different metrics. When you look on a Yahoo Finance chart, what does the market cap mean? What does the PE ratio mean, and what does that entail for the company? What information is on there that I can use to make an educated investment decision? It’s really about giving the definitions and then giving the applications to what you’re learning, so students can use it.

Wharton Global Youth: Well, I have to put in a little bit of a plug for the Wharton Global High School Investment Competition, because I know that you have wanted to talk with us more about that, and it fits very nicely into your discussion of having a practical application of these skills. We have thousands of students competing, and they’ve just now submitted their final reports. We’re excited to see who the top 50 teams are in January.

I’m curious about your curriculum primarily because I know that there are a lot of decision makers involved in curriculum selection at the school level. And I’m guessing that you probably meet with some resistance. How do you confront and address that resistance?

Sam: I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of politics involved with education. And I like to think that schools are always there to give the best for what the student wants. But there’s also some restrictions with that because through being the founder of this organization, talking with principals, talking with teachers, I realize that it’s not as easy as it seems. One of the things that I’ve learned to overcome was forming those compromises with educators. One thing that we’re working on right now is in Vancouver, especially, instead of creating a whole new course that will mess up timetables and draw students out of certain courses, we’re instead creating select chapters that we can bring into business courses specifically. So, one of the things that I realized in most countries [is that] they have courses such as ecommerce, marketing, entrepreneurship. And instead of creating a whole new course on financial education or investing, we can instead take a few select chapters and stick them in at the beginning of a marketing course. So, students will still get that financial literacy education and teachers will not essentially have other students being drawn out of their classes to take a [separate] course.

On a side note, I’ve become the president of the North Vancouver School District, which is essentially student council for 31 schools and 16,000 students. In this position, I had the opportunity to speak directly with all the trustees, all the higher ups and the superintendent that are making all these big decisions for our school. And it was about two weeks ago, I spoke at the annual board meeting on financial literacy and I was impressed to see the strong interest in increasing financial education in schools. So it’s really [about] gaining a good network of teachers who are passionate about it, because the more individuals you have who are willing to put their efforts towards an initiative, the better chance you’re going to have at making some change and making some impact.

Wharton Global Youth: You’ve mentioned a few times the global nature of your relationships and how you have looked globally in developing MyFLY. I’m wondering, how do you adapt to the financial-education needs in different countries?

Sam: We have roughly 1,000 students in school clubs across the world with access to our curriculum. What we’ve done as an organization, all the individuals that are on our team, they are most likely part of an investment club or a business club at their school. One of the things that we’re doing for all schools is trying to put our course into that club for students to teach. But in terms of the curriculum for schools, we’ve realized that each area or each part of the world will have different protocols for their education system. So, for example, in Arizona, California, and Florida, they have financial-literacy courses and personal finance courses. So, in this case, this wouldn’t be something where we would be dedicating our efforts to because they’ve already made initiatives there to increase financial-literacy education.

I remember talking to a student in Florida who managed to pass a bill making it mandatory for financial-education classes. And in other countries, such as countries in Africa right now, we have a few students who are trying to increase our involvement there in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. Since they do not have adequate financial education, we’re directly targeting principals of schools to implement our curriculum for teachers to teach. And then also in Vancouver and Canada, for example, we haven’t made the step to make mandatory financial literacy education. So, this is where we directly target schools.

However, there are school districts that have a very inflexible curriculum, and I’ve noticed this particularly [in] India, where a majority of the international schools have an IB [International Baccalaureate] curriculum. After talking with principals and teachers, it’s very difficult to change the curriculum for students since they’re following IB. So, this is where we need to focus our efforts on clubs, specifically where we would have students teaching our curriculum that we offer.

Wharton Global Youth: I know there are some skeptics out there, right? For instance, we tell students, you must learn about math because it’s important, so we’re going to teach it to you in school. And they say, okay, we’ll take it. Right, because we need to know math. And I’m sure they have the same kind of approach to financial education. Why should high school students care about finance, Sam?

Sam: I think high school students should care about finance because it’s something that everyone will need to understand in their future. No matter what your major is, once you become old enough to graduate high school or if you want to go to post-secondary university, once you have an income or need to purchase a home, you’ll need to understand personal finance and ways to grow your wealth.

I feel like there’s a strong misconception that people in finance and business are just greedy or out there to get rich. And I feel learning about finance is a necessity to living a successful life where you can live comfortably and not experience times of financial hardship. And especially with the pandemic, we’re seeing this right now where interest rates are going up. One of the things that I always think about is, okay, in 10 years from now, in 20 years from now, are students being prepared to make financial decisions that our parents are making right now? And with my dad being a financial advisor, he’ll tell me stories of clients who will try to do it themselves without any previous background and speculate on investments that they [think] they can make quick money off of, and how most times these speculative strategies will not end up playing in their favor.

Wharton Global Youth: One question I like to ask all my guests on Future of the Business World is if you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

Sam: It would probably be to bring more socioeconomic equality to all parts of the world, because especially through volunteering at the homeless shelter, I realized the impact that financial hardships can have on individuals.

Wharton Global Youth: Let’s wrap up with our lightning round. Give me quick answers to these questions.

Wharton’s Leadership in the Business World changed the way you think about?

Sam: The way I think about working with students internationally. Before attending the summer program, I really thought of working locally. And by attending this program, I connected with students of diverse backgrounds, and I embraced a lot of different perspectives. And it helped me as a future entrepreneur to understand the importance of working globally, especially in business.

Wharton Global Youth: What is one thing you’re excited to learn about that you don’t already know?

Sam: I’m excited to learn about marketing and reaching scale with something that I’m passionate about. And I’ve put my foot in the water with this a little bit with MyFly, reaching a few countries internationally. As I enter university, it’s to study entrepreneurship and studying how to grow something that you’re passionate about.

Wharton Global Youth: Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

Sam: In 10 years, I hope to have my master’s degree either in education or an MBA. After attending LBW, I spoke to the gentleman in Penn Residence, John Gamba, and he’s entrepreneur in residence and also an ed-tech entrepreneur. So, [I’d like to be] focusing on education, technology, and creating initiatives that students can directly benefit from.

Wharton Global Youth: You’re starting a business-themed talk show. Who is your first guest and why?

Sam: The first guest that I would do would be a local businessman in Canada named Frank Giustra. And he’s actually the cousin of a close family friend of mine. One thing that really inspires me about Frank is that he’s a great leader and someone who’s motivated and very hardworking. He came to Canada from Italy with next to nothing in his pocket, and it’s really been his hard work and motivation that’s got him to become one of the most successful businessmen in Canada today.

Wharton Global Youth: Sam, I wish you luck with MyFly. Thank you for joining us on Future of the Business World.

Sam: Thank you so much. It was great to talk to you.

Conversation Starters

Do you have financial education in your high school? What does it cover? Has it helped you to feel more empowered financially? Share your story in the comment section of this article.

Sam Purcell says, “I feel learning about finance is a necessity to living a successful life where you can live comfortably and not experience times of financial hardship.” Do you agree? Why do you think financial education is important?

How would you make Sam’s finance project more innovative?

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