Teaching Again

25Feb12

It has been six years since I have stood up and taught a class. Undertaking a PhD offers many opportunities to give presentations on your own research, engage in lively debate of current literature and become knowledgeable on a microcosm of your own passions. However, I have always found teaching a different creature. It is the immense hope that one can teach with an engaging style and make a topic come alive! When I was asked to volunteer to teach a course called “The Important Numbers: Finance & Accounting for Social Entrepreneurs” this month by a student society called Beyond Profit, I madly tried to remember back to my own days of learning business principles for the first time.

I dug in my memory pot for recollections of my favourite classes, most personable professors and the concepts that I still remember today.  In the Fall of 2005 I was a teaching assistant for a course called COMM 457 – Fundamentals of Financial Accounting for Non-Business Majors. Every Friday, I used to teach a hour-session to 80 (mostly engineering) students. Thinking back, there weren’t many girls in the classroom, but it was the girls who attended office hours afterwards and asked questions.

In my preparation, I reached out to some great professors at UBC Sauder School of Business, my alma mater, to ask them for advice of what I could feasibly cover within 2 hours to a group of interested/potential/would-be social entrepreneurs.  I split up my 2-hour lesson plan as such: 40 minutes on Accounting (what is accounting?), 40 minutes on Finance (time value of money) and 40 minutes on Impact Investing and SROI.

If anyone is interested in the position of covering such topics in the future and would like a sample lesson plan:BEYOND PROFIT Course Feb 6. No powerpoint, flip chart and markers to work out the examples together with the class.

As I waited for the class to arrive, I noticed a surprising trend: The first 15 people to walk through the door were females. This class was about 75% women! I made this observation to the organizer and yes, they didn’t expect it either when they first opened registration. These were busy Cambridge undergraduates & graduate students who were taking this weekly course and piling it on top of their regular coursework.  So I started striking up the casual conversation of why they had signed up for the course (the inner researcher in me was very curious!). A range of answers came up: “It’s an important topic, and we don’t learn anything about business as a history-major”, “I am in the process of buying a house – and I really want to know what the terms mean on my mortgage agreement”, “I want to start a business – but don’t even know the basics!”, “I started investing recently and I wanted to learn some fundamentals”. All reasonable answers!

I marvelled at the 75% women attendance phenomenon to many friends throughout the week. Ramona, an intelligent and astute friend commented, “do you think it was majority girls because the course was advertised by a society called Beyond Profit and placed an emphasis on social entrepreneurs? Would the composition have been different if the course was called something else?” I thought about her observation and nodded. The majority of my lesson plan could have easily been used as a seminar on “What you need to know to start your path to being a hedge fund manager” for most 18 year old non-business and non-economics majors, but it wasn’t advertised that way.

The two hour session turned out great, I really enjoyed teaching it – and in CONTRAST to the me of 6 years ago, I could use real-life examples in my teaching. I used my work experience to feed in examples to the importance of financial statement analysis and how to risk-adjust the discount rate for different projects including high-risk, high-reward drug development milestones.

But my Three Biggest Take-Aways were as follows:

1. Financial literacy in higher education NEEDS TO BE TAUGHT! As a society, we would be better off if our brightest undergraduates finishing degrees in classics, Italian, or archaeology could also understand cash management. Two examples of great organizations working on teaching high school students financial literacy are MyBnk (UK) and Financial Literacy for Youth -FLY (Canada).

2. During the same week as teaching the seminar, the Facebook IPO was announced. In regards to the call for: Why we have too few women Leaders – see Sheryl Sandberg (FB COO TED talk) – I was pleased to see the female interest being represented in the room.

3. In development circles, it is known that the education of women is one of the best interventions to encourage a positive cycle of growth in a nation. The Girl Effect – ably illustrates this. Past primary education, let’s see girls receive the same kind of quantity and quality of BUSINESS TRAINING as men in developing countries. CAMFED, a great Cambridge charity, is already starting to do this with offering business training and small grants to its alumni network of girls. Kudos!

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