Teachers and students recognize the value of lessons about financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship.
Were you financially literate as a nine-year-old? As a high school senior, were you prepared to market an innovative product to investors?
If you answered yes to those questions, then give yourself a pat on the back. For most pre-teens and teenagers however, the concept of entrepreneurship and strong financial literacy is often developed in post-secondary.
That’s why Junior Achievement of B.C. (JABC) has grown so drastically over the past decade. Just this past year, one-third of school districts across B.C. had a waiting list for their services. A good chunk of that demand came from the province’s largest school district in Surrey.
“Surrey is a fairly important community considering that it is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada,” said Sheila Biggers, CEO and President of JABC. “With Surrey being the largest school district, schools are already busting at the seams, and we want to make sure we’re doing more to serve Surrey.
“And it’s not just about Surrey. We have programs that are really helpful to B.C.’s youth, and we want to make sure as many youth as possible have access to those programs.”
JABC’s Impact Lasts for a Lifetime
While JABC offers programs for kids in grade 4-12, the impact of those programs is often felt for a lifetime among attendees. Biggers has started to notice that at public events among adults who previously attended JABC classes.
“It’s amazing that almost every time I’m out in a business setting, people tell me they went through the program,” she said, “I recently ran into a woman who started crying when I told her who I was. She told me that JABC was one of the most incredible things in her life.”
One of the best success stories among Junior Achievement graduates is that of Bruce Poon Tip, who founded a successful travel company called G Adventures, which has been around since 1990, and they have over 1.3 million likes on Facebook. There’s also alumni such as Ross Beaty, who’s company Alterra Power Corp was acquired for $1.1 billion last year.
“There are all sorts of people that go on to have fantastic careers after completing JABC programs,” Biggers said. “That’s where you see the success long-term.
“The demand is growing too. If you’re out in public and you ask someone about JABC, chances are you’ll find someone who went through the program.”
What JABC Offers
There are four areas that JABC programs focus on for kids in grades 4-12.
• the first is financial literacy • the second is work readiness and preparing kids for the workforce. • the third is budgeting • the fourth, and most powerful one for many high school students, is entrepreneurship
Within those four areas, Biggers notes four impacts that it has on youth.
“First and foremost, youth should be optimistic about the future. We want them to see goals, how they can achieve them, what their abilities are to make that happen. We want to focus on measuring optimism.
“The second is being financially literate.
"The third is charting their future and understanding career options to support their desired lifestyle. “The fourth is developing life-long skills for success, and specifically that means problem solving, mustering creativity, and how to effectively work as part of a team.”
How JABC gets in front of students is through teachers hearing about the programs and deciding to bring them into their school. Over the years, the demand has grown drastically due to positive feedback and success stories that arise from the program.
Last year, in Surrey, JABC delivered programs in 183 classes, benefiting 4,788 students. Their goal in Surrey this year is to reach more schools, they have received funding to deliver 135 programs so far and are looking to the business and philanthropic community to support growing these numbers.
While kids as young as nine can take JABC classes, the most repeat students come from high schoolers, according to Biggers. That’s especially evident with the intense company programs.
“This is a 16-week, three hour per week program where students build their own company. They have to make a product, get investors, create revenue and produce reports. We run after school classes and some students run it as a club.
“It’s in programs like this where kids start to develop skills in a much deeper way,” she said.
How to Support JABC
The most pressing issue for JABC moving forward is to keep up with the increasing demand from teachers around the province.
“We ended the year with 30 teachers still needing programs,” Biggers said. “We have high demand, but not the resources. The fact that we have these waiting lists means we need to do more to serve that community.”
Although JABC was established in Vancouver, the bulk of the growth is coming South of the Fraser.
“When I looked at the numbers yesterday, I said wow when I saw Surrey, Fraser Valley numbers. We have more resources in the Lower Mainland because that’s where we grew out of, but I’m passionate about growing our supply out there.”
If you’re interested in donating, it would clearly go a long way towards easing JABC’s constraints of providing more programs and teachers. Last year, SurreyCares awarded JABC a grant to help with program costs, but more is always needed.
“When people give, they have their choice of how they want to help,” Biggers said. “The money goes to program delivery, but people can focus their gift.”