“Ensuring that young people are financially aware and independent goes a long way to empowering them and this gives them the stability and security to step up, stand out and live a life on their own terms,” says Marilyn Pinto, founder of KFI Global
Things change when you become a parent, and you probably never see the world the same way again. That’s what happened to Kuwait-born, Dubai-based Marilyn Pinto, the founder of KFI Global, when she realised her calling to launch the first financial literacy platform for children. “As a parent, you think about making the world a better place for your kids, but also raising better kids for the world,” she says in a candid interview, opening up about her personal journey to financial freedom.
My first job was in India, where I am originally from, and at the age of 21 I worked at AT&T for five years and then moved to Coca-Cola. I had really good employment opportunities, but did not know what to do with my paycheck, except to find ways to use it before the end of the month,” she confesses. For many, this was a norm, as no one really discussed saving, investing or spending in the prime of the 20s and 30s. But once she married and had her children, Pinto realised she could not find a suitable programme that taught her kids about money management or investments. So while she was working alongside her husband in the advertising company that she co-founded, she launched KFI Global in 2017. “Though everyone acknowledges that financial education is important, there isn’t much on-the-ground activity to back this up,” she explains.
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As many schools and universities lack in offering a curriculum that involves any form of money management or in-depth financial literacy and education, there is always room for improvement and that is what the award-winning and internationally acclaimed programme offered by KFI delivers. “Last year we won an award for the Best Financial Literacy Project for schools and universities at the Money Awareness and Inclusion Awards, where we competed against 150 high-quality global entries and won,” shares Pinto.
However, winning awards and recognition is not the only thing that is close to Pinto’s heart. For her, KFI has always been an initiative that was intended to have a greater social impact, and considering the world is still recovering economically following a post-pandemic slump, there is an undeniable demand for urgency. “Fin-Ed United 2023 is our latest nationwide campaign that aims to foster financial literacy among the next generation through a scalable, standardised and sustainable approach,” says Pinto. “It’s the first of its kind in the region, and possibly even the world, where so many entities are working together to bring about this impactful social change.”Recognising the importance of financial literacy for individuals, society and the nation, key organisations in the UAE have lent their support to Fin-Ed, with educational institutions, the KHDA and several financial institutions including the likes of Emirates NBD, Dubai Islamic Bank, ADNOC, Continental Financial Services, TECOM and National Bonds coming forward to sponsor the latest programmes which are being delivered across the country. And this is where the story appears to have come almost full circle, as Pinto explains: “With KFI Global, I didn’t intend to start a company, I wanted to start a movement —one that puts this key skill, one that so many life decisions are predicated on, centre stage and gives it the attention and focus it deserves.”
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Working alongside an all-women team of educators to deliver these programmes, Pinto ensures she puts more than her heart into her work, and is open to working with everyone who shares her vision. “We owe it to the younger generation, so that they can set themselves up for success,” she says. From ensuring that young graduates leaving school benefit the most from the programme, to reaching out to university students in their undergrad and post-grad courses, Pinto is passionate about human psychology, social justice and innovative methods that speak to the youth of today, giving them what they really need. “I don’t just read about financial education, but also neuroscience and how the brain works, behavioural economics, psychology, cognitive biases, entrepreneurship, climate change and social justice. I use all these seemingly disparate threads to weave together a narrative that’s innovative, interesting and immensely relevant to my main sphere of knowledge,”says the mother of two, and author of the book Smarter, Richer, Wiser, which was published last year.
“I think financial literacy is intricately entwined with social justice issues like economic inequality, gender parity and climate change. Ensuring that young people are financially aware and independent goes a long way to empowering them and this gives them the stability and security to step up, stand out and live a life on their own terms. It helps them do better, not just for themselves but for humanity as whole,” says Pinto. All of the programmes offered by KFI Global are available at no cost to children or parents, but are instead sponsored by financial institutions to ensure every student is empowered to make better decisions and begin their investment journey early. For her five- and 10-year vision, Pinto doesn’t hold back from explaining what her dream vision is: “I want Fin-Ed United to be a legacy campaign, nota one-off event. I’d like to see deep collaboration among the stakeholders that would enable us to scale this to reach a greater number of students in the UAE. I believe this could be a template for other countries to emulate.”Judging by the awareness and ripple effect of her efforts, we are sure it will be a model that will make every nation stronger, raising conscious children for a future that they can embrace without fear.
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Words by Odelia Mathews | Photographed by Ausra Osi | Styled by Jade Chilton