How Did I Get Started?
Throughout my career, I have mentored many motivated young people entering the workforce looking to change the world. Again and again, I have witnessed the education system’s failure to teach them essential life skills, leaving them unprepared for managing their finances in real life. I wished to help these young people achieve their full potential by offering my decades’ worth of knowledge and experience. That is when my then-10-year-old daughter gave me the inspiration for Explorer Hop.
In 2017, I left the corporate world to establish financial education programs for kids. We opened our first centre in 2019. Then, when the pandemic hit in 2020, we pivoted online and became accessible to kids all over the world. Today, over 5000 youth have been through our financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and STEM programs!
About Me, the Founder and CEO
My life in finance started when I was a 12-year-old going to the bank to pay family bills and deposit cheques (before the advent of online banking, of course!). Having this responsibility early on jump-started my life-long involvement in finance and economics.
I first studied the latter at the University of Rochester and UC Berkeley before doing my Masters of International Economics in Switzerland. Throughout my professional career, I worked as a Special Consultant on Trade and Finance for the United Nations, managed multi-million dollar projects for the Federal and Ontario Governments, led global teams in Banking, and became the youngest IT director of a major Canadian insurance company.
During this time, I also started a family and travelled, while becoming an advocate for education and a strong proponent of women's financial literacy. Though I’ve since left the corporate world behind, I’m merging my passion for finance and innovation to teach kids about early financial literacy and entrepreneurship with the hope of creating the change-makers of tomorrow.
Building Financial Know-How for the Next Generation
With 20+ years of experience in global finance roles, I have extensive expertise in money management and understanding financial markets, which I apply to the programs I create and teach at Explorer Hop.
It’s Time to Bring Kids into the “Money” Conversation
I was picking up my child from school one day when I saw another kid (Grade 4 or 5) ask their mum if they could go to Disney this summer. The mum said, “No, we can’t afford it” and what ensued was a pure battle between the child and her mother. Exasperated, the mum looked at me and said, “they don’t get it, do they?”.
I didn’t answer back, but what I wanted to say is, “No, they don’t” and “No, they won’t until we include them in these conversations.”
I am constantly concerned about how kids today are lacking financial literacy and seem uninterested in money management - but this is not just their fault. Many women in my generation with kids have shielded their children from any exposure to the hard and bad world of money in order to protect them.
Several mums my age will agree when I say that our mothers did not have any problems telling us they couldn’t afford things. Yet, today, my friends seem to have that exact problem. This is because we somehow believe that by not telling our children that we cannot afford something, we are keeping them a “child” longer. Allowing them to perhaps enjoy a bit more of their childhood before they have to deal with money. The world of finance is far too complicated for a child, we think. But is it?
I firmly believe that the time to include kids in the discussions on money and family finances is well overdue. Our decisions impact them and they need to be involved in the conversations that take place around money at home. We need them to understand the concept of money management and educate them more so that, when faced with the same choices, they do not make the same mistakes.
A child should already have a fair understanding of money before you give them a cellphone. They should understand how to preserve, if not grow, their money before they go out to work. And really, they should understand the quotient of value vs. enjoyment before they go out and spend their first hard-earned dollar on something of no value or enjoyment.
But how do we do that? How do we start a national discussion on financial literacy with kids right at the elementary school level? How do we get children from Grade 1 so familiar with money management that it becomes second nature to them?
The provincial plan of starting Financial Literacy from Grade 7 onwards may be a small step in the right direction, but it is not nearly enough. Most kids in Grade 7 have already racked up bills on their phones, have already spent more than a reasonable amount on toys and the latest gadgets that entertain a scant few minutes, and have already developed a sense of entitlement without understanding the notion of “work for your money”.
Kids are going to go into a hyper-connected and hyper-competitive world where it’s all about Instagram. Keeping up with others on Instagram is far more expensive than keeping up with the Joneses. It is therefore imperative for them to have a sound foundation in money management and understand investing so that they start off on the right foot.
Empowering Youth to Become Global Citizens
Having lived in 10 countries and travelled to 45 (and counting!), I believe the next generation of leaders needs to be equipped with a strong global perspective. Our programs are designed to help build an understanding of our interconnected global world, be it through learning how different events impact different financial markets or learning about launching global digital products.
We encourage the participation of kids who have low attention spans by creating shorter and punchier lessons, welcome kids from differentiated backgrounds with limited technology access by offering low tech alternatives, encourage kids who have concerns with math by building formulas into our investment spreadsheets that help them understand the logic. Over 5000 students have been through our programs, and we have learned from each of them.
Here is what I have learned:
Any pedagogy or teaching method is useless if even one student does not get it
To make a difference requires more than just money - it requires some serious out of the box thinking and a commitment to drive change
You can be passionate about a cause, but the delivery of that vision has to be via whatever medium is the most accessible
And lastly, I have learned that education continues to be the easiest way to uplift an entire generation.
Helping Youth & Women Succeed
I champion the empowerment of youth and women - a passion I apply to Explorer Hop. Every program is designed to engage kids to participate and innovate.
Value of Education
Education is one of the biggest expenses families in Ontario have these days and there is a definite push to get more bang for your buck. I have spent a lot of time in the last year thinking about the “value” of education. This was predominantly brought upon by our decision to move our kids from a traditional academically strong school to something that can best be described as a very liberal “play based learning” school with a stellar reputation in Ontario. I was also deeply honoured during this year, to be given the opportunity to teach Explorer Hop’s Money Modules and Explorer Hop’s Adventure Program at the school - an experience that has proven invaluable in understanding the core thinking of the school and the impact it has on the kids.
Right from the beginning, I will say that the kids in the second play-based school are far more social, happy and enjoy life than those in the first school. While they may not be 2-3 years ahead in Math, they were certainly several more years ahead in their ability to communicate, articulate their thoughts and are fearless in their beliefs. All these are far more important for anyone’s future development and success.
Having also been given the privilege of running a similar program in the previous school, I was in a unique position to observe the math levels in both places. What I found is that the level of practical application was effectively the same. As any teacher will tell you, there are some kids that are just better and more advanced at math than others and, in both schools, I found this to be true. In the former of the two schools, where the math was rigorous, I found that the real world application of math remained effectively the same even though the kids had a far higher level of theoretical knowledge. The only difference was that the children in the play-based school did not have to go through all the tests, drills and stress involved in getting there. But when we live in an age where almost everything is done by computer, I wonder: is it really important for an 8-year-old to do algebra?
I have always believed that the business leaders of the next generation (like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Bill Gates) will need extensive imaginations to find a solution to the problems we are going to face. Public and most academically focused schools do not emphasize imagination and creativity. This is where most drop the ball in training their students for the future. Without imagination, we cannot sustain our planet, make weekend trips to Mars a reality, or even find a seamless way for Amazon to deliver my orders in real time. Imagination and creativity are the fundamental building blocks of the future.
I am most inspired by the creative side of the play-based school when I see the impact it has made to our second child, who is in nursery. While all kids have an amazing imagination, he is extremely rich. His ability over the past few months to build amazing Lego sculptures is far beyond his age. His ability to resolve issues and discuss matters that concern him is also far beyond his age. Just last week, he told us at the dinner table that he had an “announcement to make” and then said how he didn’t want anyone shortening his name. There was no crying, shouting, or tantrums. It was all done in a perfectly respectable, almost adult like fashion - something I believe is amazing for a 4-year-old.
But it’s not just imagination, it’s a commitment to education. While academically rigorous schools’ commitment is limited to tests, in our “play-based school” they take education out to a grander playing field. Kids learn how to debate and then when they are in Ottawa they meet a judge of the supreme court and have a debate there. They learn about gravity by rock climbing. They learn about the environment by trying to find new uses for plastic water bottles and creating a recycle container out of recyclable water bottles. This is the education that remains forever.
I am not surprised that these kids from “play-based schools” score higher on aptitude tests and get far more coveted middle school spots than those in the academically-focused schools. This little play-based school seems to have figured out how to teach in a way that is meaningful and fun. Kudos to them!
How Millennial Women Have Been Let Down
When we first started, I did not even consider millennial women as my target market. I mean, this is a group of highly capable young women, a group which has more information literally at the tips of their fingers than any other in humanity’s history! Surely, I said to myself, these women must be pretty savvy on the financial front. And with this assumption, we began our financial literacy workshops, which were then called “Ladies Learn about Money”.
Our first term had women who were mainly in their mid-40s and had financial horror stories I had heard multiple times before. In our second term, we had several younger girls. At first glance, they looked totally at it. I remember wondering if I should skip the basics and just move straight to the more advanced money management topics.
Then, we talked. I can tell you I was gob-smacked! How could a group of women who had so much information available to them, and who spend so much time accessing information, be so clueless about money? This scene was repeated in so many classes that I have now become really concerned about the future of this generation.
Let’s understand the statistics first. Only 39% of Canadian women have a basic sense of financial literacy. Basic meaning being able to answer questions such as: “what does mortgage term mean?” or “do you need a licence to buy and sell stocks?”. The only group that did worse than women were millennials, who scored only 13%. If you put both these numbers together, you get a statistic that literally keeps me awake at night... only 5% of millennial women have basic financial literacy!
Let me put that another way. 95% of millennial women cannot manage their money, balance their household budget, or even figure out how to pay for the new iPhone they just purchased. My anxiety is further heightened by conversations I have with mothers whose daughters fall into the “female millennial” category. They just nod their head and agree!
So, knowingly, we have allowed the future of this country to be unprepared to manage their own finances (much less someone else's finances or those of the entire country!). Schools have shoved this responsibility to parents (who were also challenged with financial literacy), who have in turn left this responsibility to be dealt with at some point in the future.
Never have we had a young generation that is so deeply in debt because of the previous generation’s inability to provide free, quality, university education and an economy which employs them. Never have we had a generation that is so ill-equipped to deal with the financial problems handed down to them. What a complete tragedy! If we do not guide, educate and provide a medium through which these young women can become empowered and financially literate, are we not doing a disservice to everyone?
Over at Explorer Hop, once we saw how dire the need was for women to learn about money in a way that makes sense to them, we structured a program that was fun, student-driven, and provided practical applications. Teaching a young woman how to read the balance sheet for a company is, for most people, a tedious and useless task. Instead, we took an approach that would help teach them how to use money in real life. How to make choices with their money, understand their risk profile, figure out an investment and make sense of/play in the stock market.
Empowering women with financial education changes their entire future. It removes a lot of stress and it gives them the confidence to reach higher and do better. As a company founded with the vision to empower, educate and enhance people’s financial literacy, this is what we find most rewarding.
Understanding the Parent Perspective
I am a mom of two kids and this life experience has shown me why it is so fundamentally important to empower this amazing new generation with the real-life, practical and creative skills they need to succeed.
As parents, we all want the best for our kids and spend significant time helping to pave their way to a better future. What better skill could we teach them than effective money management?
It's not Equal Access, but Equitable Access to Education that we need
I come from a family that has long believed that the only way up is through education. This teaching is so ingrained in the past three generations of our family that we simply cannot think of any other way to improve our situation. To date, if anyone asks me for advice about anything, my suggestion always includes education.
Yesterday marks the day my dad would have been 96. He was a surgeon whose family had few means; he studied under the street lamps on Mumbai’s streets, worked in many kitchens to pay his medical school bills (an experience that made him an amazing cook), and had a bunch of interesting stories that come with survival. At his funeral over 20 years ago, many told us how he inspired them to become more educated.
While I sometimes regret that I never became a doctor (especially when I am binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy), his call to action for uplifting others through education rings loud and clear. It is, therefore, not a surprise that I find myself now as a crusader for financial literacy among youth.
I founded Explorer Hop with the goal of providing equal opportunities for financial literacy education for all. The idea was simple - anyone, irrespective of their financial situation, should have access to a financial literacy education. I naively thought that simply offering these programs would be sufficient and soon realized this was not the case!
It’s not about equal access, but equitable access. Enabling someone to attend a program does not mean that they can get the same result out of it. For that to happen, you need to make it equitable. At Explorer Hop, equitable access to financial literacy has become our goal. We have pondered, experimented and continued to innovate in order to find ways for all children to get the same fundamental understanding of money.