While some teens used the pandemic shutdown to play Minecraft or learn TikTok dances, Ashwin Joshi was reading “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” a book published decades ago about increasing your financial IQ.
It was the start of the 17-year-old’s mission to empower youth and educate them about financial literacy through the nonprofit, school club and online resources he developed for the Ashwin Teen Financial Academy, or ATFA. It’s all a “teens teaching teens” effort to be money wise.
“My parents never told me to save my money, it was just innate,” Ashwin said. It helped that he had his first checking account at age 6, a lemonade stand at age 7, and started asking his dad about the stock market at age 9, building on a shared interest with his father in growing investments.
The senior at Southridge High School in Kennewick continued reading more on the topic, including “Think & Grow Rich,” a self-help book first published in the 1930s, and boned up on Warren Buffett’s annual letters to shareholders, helping to amass his wealth of money knowledge.
Since age 15, he’s been developing his own custodial stock market account.
He’s eager to share what he’s learned.
Ashwin’s not trying to offer stock tips or hot takes on the best way to invest. It’s about teaching the overall picture of all the pieces that go into making, saving, investing and growing money.
“I always tell people it’s like going into a flower shop,” he said. “You can buy one flower or a whole bouquet. One flower has a much higher chance of dying, but if you have a bouquet, even if a few are dying, there are a few others that bring it up. That’s how I explain diversification and mutual funds to kids in our program.”
Ashwin also has learned plenty about how the business world works, thanks to his parents and through a two-year internship in the hospitality industry.
His father, Dr. Sandeep Joshi, is a medical internist. His mother, Sunanda Joshi, is a businesswoman who, along with his dad, co-owns and manages multiple real estate properties. Ashwin helps his parents manage their international and local businesses.
He also has learned “every operational job” through his internship with A-1 Hospitality Group, where he works as a project fund associate in the corporate office.
With a year still to go in high school, the 4.0 student – who speaks three languages in addition to English – is the president and chief executive officer of his 501(c)(3), and the face of the nonprofit.
He has grown the club at Southridge to over 300 members, expanded it to Kamiakin and Richland high schools, created a curriculum with two years’ worth of content, and authored a study that looked at the financial acumen of his fellow students, citing just 22% reported feeling confident in their ability to handle financial challenges and problems.
Not finding a “by teens, for teens” method out there, Ashwin spent much of 2020 creating the curriculum himself and launched the club, called an ATFA financial chapter, when Covid-19 restrictions lifted in late winter 2022.
By the end of the school year, it had become the largest club at Southridge with 55 members and Ashwin felt he had just scratched the surface, especially with students headed out the door for good.
“Graduating seniors were asking, ‘What’s a free resource to keep learning about this?’” he said.
He directs them to his free online curriculum, hosted by prominent online course provider edX, where anyone can log on and learn about the money topics they’re most interested in, including credit, crypto and taxes, at their own pace.
Seth Alderman joined the Southridge ATFA chapter during his junior year. He’s off to Washington State University in Pullman this fall.
Alderman found himself swept up in Ashwin’s enthusiasm for financial literacy.
“I was a little skeptical about the club and I didn’t join at first because I’m pretty busy and I wasn’t sure I could dedicate my time to that, but I went to one meeting, and, honestly, the vibe and the community there really helped with everything. I thought it was worth my time and worth putting my time into,” he said.
Alderman recalled an especially effective lesson on credit taught by Ashwin’s mom.
“I knew a little bit about it from my own parents, but she gave us the full rundown and it inspired me to get my first credit card through my bank to start building my credit score. A lot of kids are scared to get a credit card because of the stigma around it – you can ruin your credit or credit cards aren’t good for you – but if you use them correctly, like Ashwin has taught, I feel it can be very beneficial to young people to build their credit early,” he said.
The ATFA club meetings are intended to be fun and engaging with information on a variety of topics, guest speakers, lessons and competitions, including one designed to simulate the popular TV show, “Shark Tank.”
The club’s success caught the attention of Kennewick School District Superintendent Traci Pierce, who invited Ashwin to talk about it during a school board meeting last school year. “Ashwin’s club has been very successful at Southridge, and his passion for financial literacy is inspirational,” she said.
Anyone with concerns that these high school teens might not be getting the full picture can rest assured. Ashwin vetted the accuracy of his online curriculum with help from Ty Haberling, a certified financial planner and founder of HFG Trust in Kennewick.
Haberling said he appreciated Ashwin’s passion for financial literacy, as it’s the same reason he started his own business 40 years ago.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, a lack of interest, or inaccuracy on the topic. I was impressed with how he grasped the information, and his passion is infectious,” he said.
Haberling said he expected Ashwin to be looking for some kind of financial backing when he first met the teen. “But he didn’t need money, he just needed my time and some mentoring, and I found that refreshing,” he said.
Ashwin has built his nonprofit’s team to include a board of directors, with students holding various positions, including chief operations officer, chief technology officer and creative director.
The ATFA team includes: Hamzeh Beckmohamdi (chief operations officer), Sahir Tandon (chief technology officer), Omar Elsawi (financial officer), Fintin Collins (assistant web developer), Hiba Alhaidari (creative director), Parker Collette (content specialist), Farah Adam (assistant creative director #2), Jacob Fifield (marketing director), Vy Doan (chief secretary), Andre Mayoral (content outreach specialist) and Jihan Awjat (assistant creative director).
“The fact that we’re all together on a journey to empower each other and reach our maximum potential is something that’s become rare in our society. It just shows that one person can do a lot, but if everyone works together, you have a movement,” Ashwin said.
Financial literacy classes are graduation requirements in the Richland (1 credit) and Pasco (0.5 credit) school districts, but they are not a statewide graduation requirement.
Kennewick school officials expect this school year to make a recommendation to the school board on whether to require a personal finance/financial literacy class to graduate. Ashwin advocated for the board to consider it last year.
Ashwin said he wants more students to become financially literate.
“I’m not just fighting for my future and the students in the Tri-Cities, this is for the entire state,” he said.
Go to: atfaacademy.org.
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