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Cha Cha, the financial panda

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'As part of my lesson, I asked children what they needed and what they wanted. So this tiny boy, maybe eight years old, put up his hand and said,"Miss, I want a sweet, though I need a book." I'd never heard the contrast put so well. But it also made me think: what book could I give him to transform his life?'

Quin's presence in this part of the city was a bit of an oddity; there weren’t many foreigners going to places like Korangi, not least to teach children about managing finances, and her visit made a splash. The following day, the CEO of one of the country's biggest banks got in touch and suggested she write a book on financial literacy for children.

The seed was sown. While mulling it over back in Hong Kong, a shared friend introduced Quin over email to fellow ACCA member Malik Mirza FCCA FCA, a CFO based in Islamabad. A purely professional connection at first, the two found they had much in common, not least a shared passion for communicating and educating.

As Quin had the idea of a book on financial literacy for children and Malik had the writing and publishing experience, it made perfect sense that they collaborate, but this is easier said than done when you've never met, you barely know one another, and you live in different countries and in different time zones. 

Nevertheless, they set out on a journey to write Cha Cha and the Forest of Wisdom: The Art of Wealth Management, a book on financial literacy for children.

They both agree that their shared affiliation through ACCA membership was key in getting the project off the ground. 'I realised for the first time that being a global qualification matters. It meant that Quin could relate to me, which was the first step to us working together - this was truly exciting,' says Mirza. 'Knowing he's an accountant, knowing he's an ACCA, I felt a fraternal bond, as though we went to the same school - it established the friendship quicker,' says Quin.

Over early-morning Skype calls, emails and frequent WhatsApp messages, they plugged away. Quin, through her first-hand experience teaching children, gave the book its direction, while Mirza, taking on the role of writer, was charged with developing the stories. They agreed goals and a structure, and worked week in, week out, chapter by chapter.

First they developed the characters. According to Chinese folklore, a queen of the Ming Dynasty used pandas as diplomats and Quin had found success in using the animal during her lessons to represent a level-headed 'guide' figure. They decided on the name Cha Cha for the panda, which means uncle in Urdu and wise man in Chinese.

They also felt the book should have a boy and a girl - Aimee and Sam - to make it easily relatable to as many children internationally as possible.

The book follows Cha Cha the panda as he guides Aimee and Sam through the key principals of financial literacy:

  • wealth is more than money
  • the difference between need and want
  • save, spend, share
  • setting goals.

After 18 months of work, the book was launched at the Children's Literature Festival in Karachi in February 2016 and published by Oxford University Press.

Yet how do children respond to concepts that many adults find difficult to grasp? 'Very well,' says Quin. 'They go home and teach their parents.' 

The core message of the book revolves around the concept of wealth being more than money, but encapsulating time and knowledge, and that these are equally valuable and equally tradable. 'It's not just about donating your money - time is wealth, sharing your toys or your books, or if you're good at maths, then sharing that knowledge with a friend at school,' says Quin. 'The concept of sharing is global and you can see a lot of kids can share a lot of their wealth.'

If the crux of their book is about sharing to manage and to even create and disperse wealth, then the book itself is testament to this, with the collaboration a mining of one another's skills, strengths and vision to create something of singular value.

And it all grew out of a boy putting his hand up in class. 'One day I want to give that little boy in Korangi his own copy of the book,' says Quin.

Youthful feedback

Sophie, a young girl from Hong Kong, was asked by Quin to read Cha Cha and the Forest of Wisdom and describe what she had leant. Inspired, Sophie wrote a parable that could easily have gone in the book.

'There was once a blind person and a person with no legs. There was a fire in their village and they were the only ones left. What did they do to get out? The blind person let the person with no legs jump on his back and the person with no legs guided them out of the inferno.'

A version of this article originally appeared in May/June in ACCA's Accountancy Futures and Accounting and Business magazines.

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