When Katherine Tang and Sara Raza started FuturFund
The friends canvassed their classmates and discovered many also felt ill-prepared for the financial decisions they were about to face as they pursued their post-secondary education.
"Sara and I felt unprepared for financial independence, and we wanted answers," Tang said in a blog post
To fill the knowledge gap, the pair decided to develop a conference featuring financial literacy experts who could educate students like them on various money matters. In January 2015, FuturFund hosted its first such event, at a Mississauga, Ont., high school, with 100 delegates.
Eight years since Tang and Raza conceived of the idea, FuturFund has become a venerable student-run non-profit organization dedicated to equipping high school students with the skills to make sound financial decisions. (The group even managed to host two virtual conferences during the COVID-19 pandemic.) FuturFund has also attracted large community sponsors, such as RBC Wealth Management, to help expand its passion for building financial literacy skills and confidence in young Canadians.
Rana Al-Fayez, FuturFund's executive director, says the organization's mandate has remained the same as it expands across Ontario, but with increased focus in recent years on young women between the ages of 16 and 24.
"We wanted to focus on an area where we could make the biggest impact. For us, that meant making the conversation around financial literacy more empowering for young women," says Al-Fayez, who knows from experience that it's an underserved demographic. She attended the inaugural FuturFund event as a Grade 9 student, which was the first time she heard the phrase "financial literacy."
"Young women are typically left out of the conversation around money; they also don't see themselves represented in the financial industry. And research shows they have lower confidence in their ability to make financial decisions. We want to uplift them by providing a supportive network," says Al-Fayez, who's also now a fourth-year student at York University's Schulich School of Business.
"We want young women to have financial literacy so they can go and make financial decisions with confidence."
One of her proudest moments since taking the executive director job, in June 2020, was bringing back the Women in Financial Literacy conference, which was held for the third time, on March 8, 2021—also known as International Women's Day. She says the FuturFund flagship event is the largest youth-run conference of its kind designed specifically for woman-identifying individuals in high school and university. The event includes woman-identifying experts and attendees with diverse backgrounds from across industries.
"Its focus is starting the conversation around money and transforming financial literacy into something that's empowering," Al-Fayez says. "We want to make sure attendees walk away with a real feeling that they can change their futures today … I don't know any other place where women can talk about money like that—in a candid way."
Al-Fayez says FuturFund's goal is to expand the brand across Canada.
"We want more conversation about financial literacy in more communities," she says.
RBC supports FuturFund by providing eligible Women in Financial Literacy conference attendees with a free, 30-minute personal finance session with a registered RBC advisor.
"It's unprecedented and truly gives our attendees the most value possible for the investment they make in their time and skills," Al-Fayez says, adding that many conference attendees come from backgrounds where they don't have access to a financial advisor.
"It's an extraordinary opportunity for our attendees," she says of the advisor program, offered at the event two years in a row.
According to Al-Fayez, approximately 60 young women have had one-on-one conversations with RBC advisors to date, and more advisors are coming on board to participate.
She says some of the students have also kept in touch with the RBC advisors following their sessions.
"It's unbelievable how just 30 minutes of advice can have a long-lasting impact on somebody's life," Al-Fayez says, adding that the advisors volunteer their time. "It's been quite empowering for them and the women they're helping."
FuturFund also has a mentorship program that pairs students and young professionals from different backgrounds who are passionate about discussing their personal financial literacy journey.
"It's less about skill-building and more about community-building," Al-Fayez says.
"It's something that's very much needed and we always have demand from both mentors and mentees. It's a symbiotic relationship in which they learn from each other."
Al-Fayez says the shared enthusiasm for financial literacy is what motivates FuturFund to keep pursuing its mission to provide young women with the skills and confidence to make smart money decisions today and to set them up for a brighter future.
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