Be Smart About Money

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It is never too early to start learning about the value of money. In fact, it is downright essential. These are the beliefs on which Tecla Kalinda founded her business, ZalaSmart, ‘zala’ meaning ‘be’ in one of her heritage languages, Lingala. Senior Analyst at the Bank of Canada by day and a business owner, micro leader, and entrepreneur by night, Tecla took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with me about the importance of financial literacy, ZalaSmart’s achievements to date, and the meaning of leadership.

How did the idea of ZalaSmart come to be?

The idea was born in 2015, formed more concretely in 2016, and ZalaSmart officially launched in 2018. It was my day job in the statistics division at the Bank of Canada that inspired me. One of my responsibilities was to report on household credit and I realized how extremely indebted Canadians are. I saw household credit trending upwards and at the rate it was going I knew it was going to hit $2 trillion, which in did in 2017. I started thinking how different would these statistics look if financial literacy was taught at an early age. I did a bit of research and because I found no in-depth curriculum on the subject in Canada, ZalaSmart was born.

What is the premise of ZalaSmart?

The goal is to provide fun and interactive programming on themes that include budgeting, currencies, investing, saving and much more whereby kids can learn an essential life skill.

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How often do the courses run?

They are demand-dependent. Parents can register their children (5-17) online (indicating which part of town they are in) and once a quota for a course is reached, I open a session in a given area. I also team up with local community centres, summer camps, and the Ottawa Public Library to run sessions. Fees vary per age group and depend on what is taught. We have been operational for about a year now and had 11 sessions, with the summer months having been the busiest – we taught every single weekend. Private lessons are also an option.

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What have been some of the greatest achievements of ZalaSmart to date?

I am particularly proud of the event we hosted with CBC’s Dragon’s Den, Bruce Croxon whose children participated in our program at the beautiful Chateau Montebello. He has a strong following ,promoted ZalaSmart on his social media platforms and gave us great reviews.

We were also invited to the White House for an event hosted by the Women’s Entrepreneurship Council during Barack Obama’s presidency which was a life-changing experience. Being surrounded by other entrepreneurs who are thriving is something that continues to inspire ZalaSmart.

We have recently hosted workshops throughout the Ottawa Public Library network and in November at the Glebe Community Centre we organized a session in collaboration with Ottawa’s Global Shapers.

What have been some of the obstacles you have faced?

After launching ZalaSmart, I suddenly found myself working two full-time jobs or in other words, working one full-time job and coming home to a baby. In a very short span of time I turned a passion for teaching financially literacy to kids into an entrepreneurial venture and became a business owner wearing ten different hats.  That said, it has been such a rewarding journey. Most people have been very receptive and understand how important financial literacy is and that kids need to learn it. Generally, our programs are an an easy sell but there are always skeptics who believe money is the root of all evil and that kids should play instead.

If someone thinking of starting their own business but doubting themselves asked you for advice, what would you tell them?

How badly do you want this realized? Give me a % that represents that desire. If it is over 70%, start with all your heart. The more fear you have the more reason to start. You regret what you don’t do more than what you do. It is important to share your gift and talent and if you identified this gap you don’t need to be a master to fill it (for example: you don’t need to know how to build an app yourself if your idea consists of building an app – you can hire someone who does) and make a difference in fulfilling this gap.

Don’t rob the world of your ideas and remember that success is the result of a series of failures. Hopefully you always learn from failures. In fact, I trust the person who tells me they failed a few times before becoming successful more than someone who tells me they are just simply successful.

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Who is a leader?

Someone who takes initiative to make a positive change no matter how small it is, like cleaning a park and getting others to join you. Leadership consists of actions that inspire and motivate others to make a difference themselves; these actions amplify and result in a pay-it-forward scenario.

Do you see yourself as a leader?

I have been called a leader many times and now I’ve started to believe people when they tell me.

What is something that has inspired you recently?

This idea of being receptive and open-minded to what others have to say and share. I recently lost a family member and a colleague reminded me that the best way to honour someone who has passed onis to live your best life because that is all that person would want you to do. It energized me and motivated me to go out with friends, show up at a social events, laugh again and suddenly it felt OK to be happy. One little sentence from a colleague really changed a lot and gave me that positive push!

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