Below is her interview with Business Insider Africa.
BI Africa: Your latest work, ‘A SMART WAY TO START DOING GOOD,’ explains the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to children, all in easy rhymes, and has been endorsed and published by the United Nations. Can you tell us a bit about this book and what the process of writing the book was like?
Mara: This book is part of the SMART WAY TO START rhymed book series on money, equality and sustainability. I was keen to find a way to help educate young children on these important topics, given that money habits are formed for life around age 7. My hope is that the next generation of children will grow up associating money with empowerment, equality and environmental consciousness , rather than with outdated notions of power, greed and competition. It is very important to teach children about the impact their daily money choices will have on the world. And every child – and parent – needs to know what the world needs, and why our money choices matter so much. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the 2030 Agenda that every nation on our planet needs to work towards. Our children should grow up knowing their SDGs like their ABC, so they will develop the creativity and skills required to contribute to building a sustainable future for all. The SDGs are not just goals; they are also rights: every child should know what they should expect of adults, corporates, and governments. By educating the kids, we involve all the parents too. Together, we can achieve the 17 SDGs!
BI Africa: To the regular African parent, how will you explain ‘A SMART WAY TO START DOING GOOD’?
Mara: Our world has many problems that we must fix to create a more equal and sustainable future for all. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the World’s To-Do List. We all have a role to play, and being aware of the goals is the first step toward finding the solutions our world needs. Everyone can contribute, and together we can have a huge positive impact! As the quote of Edmund Burke (1783–1785, statesman, economist and philosopher) in our book says: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
BI Africa: What is it about money, equality and sustainability for kids that fascinates you so much? Because your works are all about helping parents to teach children about money and how it impacts their lives.
Mara: I firmly believe that money is the most untapped source of positive social and environmental impact. I always say: “Money is not just a transmission of value; it’s a transmission of VALUES”. If we were much more mindful about our money choices every day, we could steer much more capital towards businesses that are truly doing GOOD things for people and our planet. Would we buy from businesses that are polluting our planet if we knew about it and could avoid it? Would we invest in companies that are destroying our planet’s biodiversity? Knowing where your money goes, and whom you empower with your money choices is key. I want every child to grow up knowing how much power is in their hands with every money decision.Money mindfulness is key to shaping a better future for all!
BI Africa: How much of your work is fiction, and how much fact?
Mara: I would say 95% fact and 5% fiction to make the storyline flow well for the reader. The stories on money, equality and sustainability are born from real-world experiences intertwined with concrete financial literacy foundations for kids.
BI Africa: You partnered with Daughters of Kenya’s founder, Knight Muteti, to create a new version of the book in Swahili and English, so Kenyan children can better relate to the images. Can you explain a little how you did that?
Mara: I met Knight at the WIN Conference in Rome 2019, hosted by Kristin Engvig. I was immediately supportive of her efforts to educate, empower and protect Kenyan girls and knew I wanted to find a way to collaborate. When I wrote the SMART WAY TO START DOING GOOD, I thought this might be a good tool for her to raise visibility for her DOK’s efforts, while sharing an important message with the world. It was clear that the book would need to be re-illustrated if we wanted it to resonate with children and parents in Kenya. The original illustrations are beautiful, but they represent a European view of the world. After sounding the original book with almost 60 children in local schools in Kenya, we had enough feedback to know what resonated – and what didn’t – with local kids. The Kenyan edition of the book is something children and parents can relate to, depicting their local context. The local adaptation is important because “you cannot be what you cannot see”. My only regret was that we could not translate to Swahili the entire book in RHYMES!
BI Africa: How do you think having a version of the book in Swahili and English can play a part in helping Kenyan children understand the 17 Sustainable Development Goals?
Mara: This book makes it very easy to learn about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for children and adults alike! I wanted to reduce the complexity by explaining each Goal with four simple lines for rhyme. It’s so much more fun to read in rhymes, and it makes the experience more memorable. It can be quite difficult to memorize 17 things, so the book also contains a poem that summarizes the 17 Goals in a few easy lines of rhyme that you can learn by heart, in the correct order! This way, you will never forget which SDG is which. This poem has been put to song by a talented—Canadian artist of Rwandan origin, Thalia Malaika Urbani. We will be unveiling the song together with the book during the launch event. It’s a very catchy tune – so everyone will soon be singing along and learning their SDGs by heart!
BI Africa: You mentioned that you have worked for 21 years as a senior leader in finance in Switzerland. Could you tell us a little about that and how it influences your writing?
Mara: Working in finance for over two decades, I became very aware of the gender biases in money semantics: we talk about money differently to girls and women than to boys and men. This translates into lower female financial confidence, lower female financial participation (many women save without ever investing) and lower risk tolerance when women invest. Cumulatively, this leads to huge gender wealth gaps. Women are missing out on wealth creation opportunities. So I wanted to address this. Within the financial institution I worked for, I initiated and led a global transformation program to better serve female clients, which sparked industry-wide debate on how to de-bias finance. We also channeled over 1.5bn USD of private capital into gender-lens investments. After publishing my book “Women and Risk: Rewriting the Rules” in 2018 (Nikolai Publishing & Intelligence, Berlin, Germany), I knew I wanted to address the root causes of these biased money semantics. And the root cause is the dialogue we have (or don’t have) with girls and boys in early childhood. I wanted to make it easy for any parent to be their kids’ best money role model and teach them about money in an easy, fun and engaging way. As mentioned above, I believe our daily money choices can be a force for good – so the sooner we start, the better!
BI Africa: I know it’s all a bit tentative at the moment, but is there anything you can tell us about the likelihood of your next book?
Mara: The next two books are already lined up! In Autumn 2022, we will launch a birthday book: A SMART WAY TO START – MARTY’S BIRTHDAY. This book was born during covid lockdown when no one could celebrate a birthday and have a party. So I wrote a joyful rhymed story about Marty’s birthday de ella-and Marty receives a gift of money from her Grandparents de ella. This book is an invitation to learn about money, equality, and sustainability by reading the rest of the SMART WAY TO START series. Consider it an introduction to the series. It is intended as a child’s birthday present for any adult who wants to gift money to a child, together with this book! My motto is: “Why just gift money when you can gift financial literacy?”
In 2023 I aim to launch the next book of the series: A SMART WAY TO SAVE RESOURCES. This book explains to children how they can actively contribute to protecting our planet’s precious resources. In easy rhymes, it explores the “12 Rs” of sustainability:
BI Africa: Just to draw everything to a close, what’s the most important message to take from this book?
Mara: The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the World’s To-Do List – and the clock is ticking if we want to reach these goals within a decade. We all play a role in shaping a more equal and sustainable future for every child, adult and our planet. Knowing what the world needs is the first step to being able to contribute. By engaging all the children, we hope to engage and motivate all the parents too! Together, we can have much more impact!
BI Africa: Anything you want to say to readers looking for clean books for themselves or their kids?
Mara: All too often, we don’t educate kids on money during their early childhood years (3-7). We believe children don’t need to talk about money when they are that young. Yet age 5 is when confidence is formed. And by age 7, money and money habits are largely formed for life. Money skills are life skills – they play an important role in shaping our children’s future. I would encourage every parent to prioritize this – it’s never too soon and never too late to start!