Lily Lapenna, Sector adviser and Practitioner in Residence at the Skoll Centre, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford has been awarded an MBE for her work with MyBnk, a social enterprise that provides financial and enterprise education to young people. Since 2007, it has helped over 175,000 young people in more than 800 schools and youth organisations, and the MyBnk team works internationally in countries such as Italy, Turkey and Uganda.
Lapenna founded MyBnk after working at BRAC, an international development organisation based in Bangladesh. ‘I realised how financially literate and entrepreneurial the women I was working with were, in a way that many of my friends in the UK were not,’ recalled Lapenna. ‘They could run small businesses and track credit in a healthy way, and it made me realise there was something missing from the British education system.’
Upon returning to the UK, Lapenna researched the scale of the problem, and found that 90% of British adults had received no financial education at all. ‘I discovered a poverty premium in terms of people’s interaction with financial services. The poorer they were, the more expensive that interaction became,’ she said. ‘I found myself asking: why do we have sex education and drug education, but not financial education in schools?’
MyBnk came to life in 2007, when the team set to work under the strapline ‘my money, our future,’ and they soon saw results from their interventions. ‘The young people we worked with were starting to feel less stressed about money, and they could understand the products and financial services available to them. It was having a really positive impact on their lives,’ said Lapenna. ‘Seeing these great results led us to take on a bigger challenge. We wanted to make a permanent change to the education system in Britain, so that all children stood a greater chance of managing their finances as young adults.’
MyBnk joined forces with other organisations in their sector to lobby the British government to include financial education in the curriculum, and their efforts paid off in 2014 when it became compulsory in state maintained secondary schools. However, Lapenna’s work is by no means done, and the charity has now focused its efforts on primary schools. ‘If you start financial education when the neurological pathways are forming in the child’s brain, you stand a better chance of success,’ explained Lapenna. ‘So we’re doing our work at a primary level, and at the same time we’re campaigning for it to become part of the primary school curriculum.’
Reflecting on her award, Lapenna said that she was ‘extremely grateful to the person that nominated me, and I’d love to give them a big hug, if only I knew who they were! The moment I found out was completely surreal – I was over the moon and I still am. Most importantly, it’s been great for MyBnk, because it has shone a light on the amazing work the team do each day to tackle the financial capability gap and to make a difference. I am so proud of them all.’