Pheroz Austin has been traveling to Indigenous communities since 2012 to collaborate with Indigenous Peoples and help bring TD products and services to remote Indigenous communities.
When Austin first travelled to the Cree Nation of Chisasibi in 2013, located on the eastern shores of James Bay in northern Quebec, he initially thought of it as a straightforward client business trip.
To his pleasant surprise; this visit left Austin – Senior Regional Manager – Quebec, Indigenous Banking Group – with a new perspective on purpose-driven, meaningful reciprocity with customers.
As he proceeded to pitch the benefits of working with TD to the Cree Nation of Chisasibi’s Chief and Council, he was met with an unexpected question: How can you give back to our community if we confer our business on TD?
As he spoke with the Chief and Council, he quickly learned there was an important need within the Chisasibi Community: financial literacy programs.
Indeed, financial literacy is a challenge for many Canadians living outside of urban centres and in Indigenous communities. According to a 2021 Government of Canada report, Indigenous Peoples are more likely to be financially vulnerable due to, among other reasons, the lack of financial institutions present in their communities, limited access to resources (both educational and basic necessities) and limited access to infrastructure due to physical remoteness.
Because of his role at TD, Austin knew there was an opportunity to share his financial knowledge with others. That’s why he teamed up with ABC Life Literacy Canada’s Money Matters program for Indigenous Peoples to help deliver a workshop in Chisasibi.
Money Matters courses are offered by ABC Life Literacy Canada, a not-for-profit organization supported by TD through the TD Ready Commitment, the Bank's corporate citizenship platform.
Rhonda Spencer believes it is never too late to learn about financial education.
Spencer – the Youth Development Coordinator in the Cree Nation of Chisasibi – helped organize her community's latest Money Matters workshop for Indigenous Peoples alongside Austin.
It was the first time the community had hosted this course since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. ABC Life Literacy courses are designed to help financially vulnerable Canadians learn critical financial skills and educate them about money matters while helping to boost their financial confidence.
While this course specifically targeted youth in Chisasibi, people of all ages from the community showed up to learn about ways to save money, Spencer said.
"We really wanted to start teaching our people, our community members, how to understand and plan out their finances and to start doing it now," Spencer said.
Spencer said she noticed that in her personal life, and at work, many of the people she encountered lacked a basic understanding of how to create and stick to a savings plan. She hopes workshops like this one help encourage people in her community to save their money, no matter their stage of life.
The Money Matters “Ways to Save” module was led by TD volunteers, and focused on a number of areas, including how savings accounts work in Canada, different ways to save for the future, how interest savings rates work, and strategies for saving for a child’s education.
The participants gathered in a gymnasium. It was a small group with TD volunteer leaders and participants all sitting together in a circle, rather than a more typical lecture-style setting.
While the participants had a workbook as a guide, the course ended up being more organic, with peer-to-peer learning as participants asked questions and shared their own financial concerns.
"It never stopped; the questions just kept coming," Spencer said.
Sharing financial education
Now, whenever Austin has the privilege to meet with the Nation’s Chief and Council, he pairs his visits with time allocated to deliver a Money Matters workshop within the broader community. He sees it as a way of giving back.
“This is how we demonstrate that we've listened to the need that they expressed,” said Austin.
Austin has led multiple ABC Life Literacy Money Matters modules and encourages those TD colleagues he travels with to remote locations to become accredited Money Matters workshop volunteers, too.
Just like he did for the course in Chisasibi, Austin always has everyone sit around in a circle—whether there are five or 50 participants—to facilitate an open environment where questions are always welcome.
At the end of each module, he and the other TD volunteer leaders share their contact information with the attendees so the learning can continue outside of the classroom (or gym).
“We're not just there to deliver one course - we are accessible anytime to answer questions,” he said.
For him, the Money Matters financial literacy modules are all about providing equitable access to the financial knowledge that some take for granted – such as how to manage a credit card or how to open and save with a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA).
Take the “Ways to Save” module, for example.
“We presented that module in response to a real, grassroots need in the community where community members said to Rhonda, ‘I'd like to know more about ways to save,’” Austin said.
Spencer said she wants to bring more Money Matters modules to her community, for both her staff and the community at large. She even wants to adapt a module into a short show for local radio to get the financial education information out to an even bigger audience within the community.
For now, she’s hopeful that the participants in the June class share what they learned with others in Chisasibi, and beyond.