Saturday, August 13, 2016

Change Agent series (2/3): Moneyshiksha - Pursuit of Financial Literacy

Change Agent series – features individuals who are contributing in their own way, in challenging the status quo, for bringing about a positive progressive change.

"I lost my Dad when I was 29 & being the eldest child had the responsibility thrust upon me to take charge of my mother’s finances. I personally observed the painful transformation of my mother from a happy housewife who just signed anywhere told to one who could handle bank transactions herself. Be it depositing cheques to writing them she learned it bit by bit by asking around. I used to wonder how it would have been if my mother knew 'how to' from the beginning. Asking and learning at this stage made her feel more despondent" - Ms Shubha Ganesh. 

Sometimes adversities in life, becomes the impetus for a life long mission.
Reflecting back, Shubha vividly remembers the painful transformation her mother had to undergo, after her father's untimely demise. The importance of financial literacy, dawned upon her as she could feel the pain her mother was undergoing, in her struggle of financial management. 

Also having an academician mindset, she soon realised financial illiteracy at her home was not an exception to the norm. Sadly, abysmal lack of financial literary was the norm & by the time a person recognises this flaw in their skill repertoire, unfortunately it's already too late in the day. 

Shubha fondly expresses her gratitude for Mr. Y.S. Hegde (retired Managing Director of Can Fin, Canara Bank) saying he has played a significant role during the formative years of Moneyshiksha. 

The central theme of her mission, draws inspiration from Albert Einstein's famous quote: "Everything should be made as simple as possible". Her aim is to simplify financial education by delivering it at the level people understand (non-finance background).

Walking on the road less traveled, eventually Shubha's vision, idea, thoughts, experiences & learning came together in the form of Moneyshiksha a 'financial literacy & individual investor education program'.

Walk us through the early days of Moneyshiksha?

"Those days, I used to regularly write articles in Economic Times & I consider it very humbling getting to Mr. Y.S. Hegde, reading my columns & he finding them of value & substance" - Shubha.

Around that time, Mr. Hegde was in leadership position with Canara Bank & had just retired as Managing Director - Can Fin Homes. One of the common grounds between them was a keen interest in the field of personal finance. A meeting took place through a common friend & the idea of teaching personal finance to commoners, instantly struck the chord. 

In Mr. Y.S. Hegde's own words, "In 2010 very few people spoke about financial planning in India. During my frequent travels aboard, I have seen that personal finance education helped people a lot. I shared my experiences & wanted to do the same in India with Ms. Shubha".

The first program 'Be your own Financial Planner', was launched on October 2011, conducted at Royal Orchid Hotel Bangalore. Mr. Hegde took the lead in organizing this event & Ms. Shubha played the role of a teacher. A passionate teacher & academician, Shubha ensured all the learning outcomes - concepts, practical applications were well comprehended by all the participants. Post it's successful launch, a series of sessions were conducted on a regular internal at Times of India Building Bangalore & many other venues - Yoga centers, for retired people, academic institutions (including MBA colleges) & IT companies.

In recent times, Mr. Hegde busy travel schedule keeps him away for considerable long duration. He fondly reflects back & says, "We did our bit to spread financial literacy among people. I teach about financial lifecycle guide to people. People should understand how to approach their finances at each stage of their life. I also look at finances from the angle of our Hindu scriptures. Saraswathi Ashtakam book talks about the need for Lakshmi, Saraswati & Durga representing wealth, knowledge & health all equally important for complete happiness. Now Ms. Shubha, is carrying out the good work started by us. I hold on high esteem her in-depth understanding of the subject & her passion to contribute to the society".   

So what is financial literacy? 

In her own words, Shubha explains:
"Today our approach is to depend on somebody who rightly or wrongly displays some confidence and knowledge about investing. We take their advice as gospel truth and blindly invest. If it is wrong investment we blame them. We do not take charge of our finances.

In contrast, financial literacy is having sufficient knowledge to manage your own money properly. So financial literacy will give you the confidence and ability to invest right after duly consulting experts but owning the investment decision yourself".

Shubha strongly believes, financial literacy is a very important life skill. She beautifully articulates the rational why financial literacy is so important:

"Finance pervades our life today. When child grows up we tell him or her to go to the best schools to “earn more”.  But we do not educate them what to do with it? How to preserve it for the future? & how it will be required in later years? So I feel however far you go in your field of expertise a bit of financial knowledge leads you to have a secure life". 

Having the basic understanding of what is financial literacy & why it is important, makes so much of common sense. Yet why is financial literacy, so elusive among the general population? 

Shubha mentions, the root causes for poor financial literary are:
  • Finance is considered as 'difficult', 'boring' & highly avoidable' by an average person. So educating the reluctant requires high level of dedication & patience.
  • Our formal education system (school, colleges) does not consider financial literacy important enough & hence does not allocate high level of resource and time. 
She points out, lack of financial literacy is in fact a global phenomenon.

However, being an eternal optimist, she is quick to mention the wheels of change, has been set into motion. On a global landscape, United States of America has done commendable efforts to correct this lacunae. Back at home too, Regulators are now seriously putting efforts to spread personal finance knowledge, though with limited success. 

Shubha proposes the following project charter, for pursuit of financial literacy:
  • Personal finance should be taught at school (middle school to high school levels). 
  • Educators & parents should encourage children to attend such classes or programs. 
  • Make financial literacy a natural process rather than a forced education. 
  • Ask questions without fear or shame. 
  • You need to know just enough to ask the right questions before investing.
  • As a grown up adult you should read and learn the basics of financial literacy. 
In this pursuit, Moneyshiksha plays a big, meaningful role as a change agent - 
  • Striving to bring about shift in mindset of general population 
  • Inculcating financial literacy in parallel to mainstream education
  • Proactive positive intervention (knowledge & skill enhancement) to mitigate crisis
Like all inspiring stories, Moneyshiksha started small by teaching at colleges, but it always kept a lofty goal of trying to solve the financial illiteracy problem prevalent among the general population. It aspires to empower the individuals, who are most ignored & subjected to exploitation or misguidance by "so called experts".

Moneyshiksha is an independent educator, not affiliated to any financial institution or organisation. Being independent & non-affiliated is it's biggest strength as it speaks volumes of it's unbiased nature, zero conflict of interest & it's deep rooted philosophy on education.

Moneyshiksha's mission statement, beautifully narrates their educational philosophy: 
'Financial empowerment comes from financial education. We enable individual investors by educating them, by delivering knowledge of managing personal finances in simple and easy steps to investors of all ages'.

Faculty members at Moneyshiksha, are all experienced senior finance professionals, with teaching experience at premier B-schools. Through their educational seminars & workshops, they strive to bring in value by: 
  • Teaching an individual financial concepts & techniques, for managing their finance
  • Bridges the knowledge gap between individuals & the financial products
  • Road map creation of an individual's life long journey of wealth creation
  • A wide range of modules - Fundamentals to advanced investment picking strategies
As in real life, a journey is far from ideal, Moneyshiksha's story is also made up of real life flesh & blood. They started quite small, taking baby steps by teaching in colleges. Eventually, they ventured out into public space by conducting workshops & programs as an independent entity. There have been times, when their workshops were attended by very few participants. Needless to say, many times they have incurred financial loss & have been subjected to big dent to their morale. 

Upon reflection Shubha says,"The first challenge is to convince people that they need to know about personal finance.The mind shift, people have to make is our biggest barrier". Despite these low phases, Moneyshiksha has persisted with their mission 'pursuit of financial literacy' & their goal of educating as many individuals as they can.

For encouraging people to take up personal financial classes, she tried offering various freebies (very nominal fees to completely free of charge classes), as motivators. But to her surprise, she found free classes were not valued. In her own words, "What pained me was to see people walking in, walking out, disrespecting faculty members time & efforts. After a series of such bad experiences, Moneyshiksha adopted a model of reasonable fees for it's educational program. This ensures enrollment of students who are serious about learning & increases the engagement level.
There are other practical challenges, which Shubha's recognises as an hindrance while reaching out to the younger generation. In her own words, "My challenge as an educator is that education now has become rote learning. However, with width of knowledge acquired by reading is almost non-existent among youngsters. I am trying to be on Board of Education in many colleges to include practical training as part of curriculum. Moneyshiksha tries to bridge this gap to an extent". 

Apart from external factors, Shubha has to deal with internal challenges as well:
  • Pursuing self-education & adding on to her skills: After her Chartered Accountancy, instead of carrying on in auditing & taxation, she switched over to stock analysis & stock market. She educated herself further in this field by pursing a post graduate diploma in Equity Research.  She gives lot of credit to the support she has received from her husband in this journey, "My husband encouraged me to explore this field and has been my guide and mentor throughout".
  • Time management: Being a working professional & a family to manage. Moneyshiksha is Shubha's weekend effort & in this trade-off she has to sacrifice family time.
So what keeps her going, in midst of all these upheavals & challenges?

Shubha is quick to respond, "Passion & Compassion!"

"Every time somebody comes back to me and says that they have benefited from my workshops it drives me to do more. I think with my workshops I am able to convince people that equity investing is not taboo and they can generate wealth through equity mutual fund. It pains me to see people lose money due to bad investing or bad advice. So I am trying to do as much as I can to avert it". 

How does the road ahead, looks like for Moneyshiksha?

With a twinkle in her eyes, Shubha responds "Till date, we have reached out to more than 10,000 people & we plan to reach at least a million more".

Quite a lofty milestone for Shubha & Moneyshiksha. But when one is fuelled with passion, inner drive to bring about a social change, their pursuit transforms into a mission much bigger than themselves. Moneyshiksha's mission continues to gather momemtum & it continues to bring about positive change in people's life through their pursuit of financial literacy.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Career Guidance series (1/1): Fashion Design

The content of 'Career Guidance' blog series, are based on my detailed interaction with experienced working professionals, from their respective domains.

The objective of this blog series is to offer insights to students about various profession, so that they can make informed career decisions.

Fashion Design

A BIG THANKS to Chitransh, for sharing your experience & valuable insights about Fashion Design profession.

Image result for fashion designing

Pre-requisite attributes for students, who are aspiring to become fashion designing professionals are creativity, innovative thinking & sketching skills.

Graduates in fashion design, can seek employment as a 'Designer' (apparel industry) or be on their own as 'Freelance Designer' (designer label).

A designer to be professionally successful has to apply the following principles in their work:
  • Apply creativity without compromising on the products sales volumes & profit. 
  • Have a good understanding of consumer behavior (their likes, dislikes, interests, predicting their buying behavior etc). 
  • Keeping oneself regularly updated with fashion trends
  • New ideas - to be able to innovate or seek inspiration to create new products suiting local market
  • Need to be deeply observant to pick up clues from social media, fashion blogs, movies, television, society at large to be able to understand whats in vogue, the changing trends & to be able to predict what is going to be in demand in next fashion season/year.
  • One needs to be highly energetic, passionate, hard working & should have the ability to handle pressures of demanding project timelines & deliverables. 
The apparel industry, caters to four seasons: spring, summer, autumn & winter.

The career path in apparel designing industry falls into three broad categories:
  1. Designing 
  2. Product Development (Apparel production team)
  3. Buying
  4. Sourcing
Designing: The designer, develops a 'concept', taking into account 'trend research' & 'sales analysis'.

Product Development: The apparel production team, converts the 'concept' into a marketable product.

Buyer: The buyer, plays a crucial role as they decide on the final salable concept (design/product).

The 'apparel production team' comprises of sourcing (procurement of raw materials), product development (manages various stakeholders) & technical team (body fit & pattern making of the garments).

On a comparative scale, the 'Designing team's' nature of job, demands higher creativity compared to 'Product Development team'. On the other hand, the 'Product Development team's' nature of job, demands higher analytical skills, managerial skills & business acumen, in comparison to 'Designing team'.

The buyer profile demands the following skill-set: 
  1. Very good understanding of fashion/design/trends. 
  2. Very good at number crunching (mathematical ability, data analysis, trend analysis). 
  3. Good decision making ability for product allocation (i.e. what quantity & what kind of products to be allocated across geographic locations (tier 1, tier 2, etc...). [These decision making are based on demographic data, consumer profile, trend assessment on consumer behavior etc.]
Apart from working directly in apparel designing domain, there are several interesting employment opportunities in associated domains, for example:
  1. Sales domain - multi-brand & single brand outlets (visual merchandising), 
  2. e-commerce (UI/UX designer/Graphic designer), 
  3. Fashion/style magazines,
  4. Fashion communication (mass media, e-commerce/websites/mobile apps).
Many global brands have their manufacturing hubs in developing countries & these contract manufacturing units provide opportunities for employment as line manager, production manager, quality assurance manager etc.

Fashion Design graduates, can also opt for a specialised MBA degree in retail & get into the commercial/business side of the fashion retail industry.

Fashion design graduates, who are inclined for further specialization, can pursue Masters program in their choosen area (textile, fashion, accessory etc).

In summary, fashion design industry provides many career opportunities, after all it is not just about design rather this industry offers various job opportunities all along the continuum, from conceptualization to sales.

There are fashion design, graduate & masters degree offered by prestigious Govt. institutes like NID (National Institute of Design) & NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology).

The entrance examinations for NIFT (and in general for all design institutes) checks for general aptitude, mental ability & creativity (e.g. on the spot a topic is provided & the aspiring students need to convert it into a slogan/banner/visual aid etc). Candidates, who successful pass the first round appear for situation test (e.g. raw materials are provided & the aspiring students are challenged to convert them into a product).

NIFT offers the following programs:
  • B.Des (Bachelor of Design): (4 years program)
  1. Accessory Design
  2. Fashion Communication
  3. Fashion Design
  4. Knitwear Design
  5. Leather Design
  6. Textile Design
(Graduates of B.Des, typically join apparel industry as Designer)
  • B. FTech (Bachelor of Fashion Technology): (4 years program)
Apparel Production

(Graduates of B. FTech, typically join apparel industry as Product Development/Apparel production team).

The 2 years Masters program in offering from NIFT are:
  1. Master in Design
  2. Master of Fashion Management
  3. Master of Fashion Technology
NID (National Institute of Design) offers Bachelors & Masters degree in Textile Design:
  1. B.Des (Bachelor of Design) - Textile Design (4 years program)
  2. M.Des (Masters of Design) - Textile Design (2 years program)
There are a host of govt & private institutes offering Diploma, Bachelors & Masters degree in Fashion Design: (an indicative list)
  • NID
  • NIFT
  • NIFD
  • JD Institute of Fashion Technology
  • Symbiosis Institute of Design
  • Pearl Academy
  • GD Goenka School of Design
  • Wigan & Leigh
  • Raffles Design International
  • Northeast Institute of Fashion Technology
  • Army Institute of Fashion Design
  • BIFT
  • Arch Academy
  • IAM - Apparel Management
  • GIFT
The career prospects are very bright as apparel industry is fast growing & going by the trend of globalisation, global exposure, evolving consumer, the growth trajectory is headed northward.