LIVINGSTON, NJ — As part of the recent Rep My City Challenge—a contest that awards young people ages 13 to 22 with the most inventive ideas that can help better their community—Livingston High School (LHS) junior Aditya Desai has earned a $5,000 grant from Pop-Tarts, Kellogg Company and United Way Worldwide for his organization, Economics Education Initiative (EEI).
Through EEI, Desai conducts financial literacy workshops for students in underprivileged communities throughout the tri-state area in an effort to “empower low-income students with the knowledge of commerce to change the vicious cycle of poverty into a virtuous one,” according to the 16-year-old entrepreneur.
“Aditya’s creative ideas will go a long way toward helping young people in our community better understand budgeting, entrepreneurship and global finance,” said Joe Beauprez, Pop-Tarts Marketing Director, who added that the Rep My City Challenge empowered young people to "think differently and use their imagination to make a positive impact locally."
Desai explained that he learned about the challenge through his mentors at a social entrepreneurship program he attends weekly at Google headquarters in Manhattan. In addition to hearing from various guest speakers, the 20 students involved in the program also participate in “pitch nights,” where a mentor helps them to develop their individual enterprises.
Since forming EEI in 2018, Desai said the registered 501©3 nonprofit organization has been successful primarily due to the team’s ability to deliver the information in a fun, interactive way—often using games that teach personal finance principles. Noting that “financial literacy can be a mundane topic” and that there’s “not that much interest in it at the forefront,” Desai said EEI strives to keep things interesting and prides itself on the diversity of its syllabus.
“Our workshops are normally broken down into a two-hour session,” he said. “The first hour is a simulation to really get students excited about what we’re learning. [For example], it might be a global trade simulation or a corporate communication simulation, where the students have a message at the bottom that they need to convey to the leader without directly speaking to them…
“The second hour is always a breakdown of what they’ve learned. So that’s where we tie in what they experienced in the workshop to the actual economic concept or the core value that they’re going to be taking away from our workshop and bringing into their world.”
When the Rep My City Challenge asked participants to come up with a creative way to address an issue that greatly effects the families in their community, Desai’s initiative fit the bill. Other submissions included ideas to address local food insecurity, the need for after-school activities, crime in their neighborhoods, mental health issues and more, according to United Way of Northern New Jersey (NNJ).
“We congratulate Aditya for his ingenuity and desire to teach young people about financial literacy,” said John Franklin, chief executive officer of United Way NNJ. “Like Aditya, United Way is committed to making a difference by helping to put those who are struggling to afford the basics on a path to financial stability.”
Desai also spoke about his plans for the $5,000 grant, which includes launching an entrepreneurship magazine called “BizStarter Magazine” in August that will be distributed in partnership with the Dwight School, Next Gen and other entrepreneurial incubators in New York City.
“It’s going to be an entrepreneurship magazine that we like to call the ‘Teen Entrepreneur’s Bible,’” said Desai. “It’s going to be a magazine with specific entrepreneurial journeys and insights that teen entrepreneurs can take away.”
The launch of the magazine goes along with Desai’s next endeavor, which is hosting a mini-entrepreneurship boot camp this summer in Montclair and Newark.
After spending the last few summers focusing on core financial literacy workshops in underprivileged areas, Desai said that teaching about entrepreneurship to those who have already established a baseline in financial literacy felt like the next logical step.
“My whole goal with this entrepreneurship boot camp in August is that it’s going to be this incubator that’s going to teach low-income students how to become social and real-life entrepreneurs,” he said. “One of the things that I brainstormed along with my team is: what if we had a magazine that students could take away with them that’s going to have the journeys from entrepreneurs first-hand?”
According to Desai, BizStarter will feature 12 founders or business leaders who will share their tips, insights and strategies for high schoolers looking to start a business.
Entrepreneurs that are currently confirmed to be featured in BizStarter include: Brian Helfman (Founder @ Startup Island), Nik Sharma (Former Head of DTC @ Hint Water), Daniel Wallock (Director of Digital Marketing @ Atlantic Coast Brands), Joya Daas (Founder @ Ladydrinks), Rich Keller (Former Global VP of Branding @ Godiva) and Gary Vaynerchuk (Founder @ Vayner Media).
"I was able to get in contact with these amazing entrepreneurs due to my engagement in a variety of entrepreneurial summits and activities along with my passion for networking," said Desai. “I’m conducting interviews with some of the top entrepreneurs across the country, so it’s just been such a great experience overall getting to really delve into the realm of entrepreneurship and getting this chance to just give back to the community in a way as well."
Although he still has a year left in his high school career, Desai already knows he wants to study business in college and said he sees entrepreneurship as a possible career path.
In addition to planning for the busy summer he has ahead of him, Desai is also currently focused on another prestigious competition he recently advanced in along with a handful of fellow juniors.
In a global investment simulation that fosters the development of critical business skills such as teamwork, communication, industry analysis and risk mitigation, Desai and his teammates have been named among the top 12 out of more than 500 teams worldwide.
For a chance to become global finalists in the "Knowledge @ Wharton High School Investment Competition," the Livingston students will travel to San Francisco next month to present their financial strategy.
CLICK HERE to read more about the Livingston team's participation in the global competition.