Advice for the disabled wins praise

By John Powell | March 11, 2010 | Last updated on March 11, 2010
2 min read

As business students from George Brown College found out, sometimes financial advisors can learn a thing or two from their clients.

George Brown’s SIFE team (Students In Free Enterprise) won the 2010 HSBC SIFE Financial Education Challenge Regional Championships and will now move on to the national competition in Calgary on May 11th. The competition is operated by Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship (ACE) and supported by HSBC Bank Canada.

“We were all really committed to this project. It shows that a group of student volunteers can really make a difference,” Mick Theodore, George Brown’s SIFE president, told

What was unique about the team’s entry was it consisted of a free financial advice workshop series teaching developmentally disabled individuals the importance of setting goals, building credit and budgeting.

The idea was the brainchild of SIFE project manager Jessi Gillis. While performing consulting work for Toronto’s Common Ground Co-operative – a non-profit organization promoting self-employment initiatives for people with developmental disabilities – Gillis discovered there weren’t any financial literacy training programs for disabled adults who were making money and had no way to track or manage it properly.

For four months the George Brown SIFE team consulted with financial advisors, Common Ground, the program’s participants and parents to come up with the workshop series.

“The development work didn’t end then. As we went along, we had to constantly change to adapt to the different learning styles of each individual. We had to custom tailor some of the material to make sure some participants were engaged,” explained Theodore. “They had the biggest hearts and they really wanted to learn.”

George Brown’s SIFE team.

Like many, Theodore admits if the issue had not been brought to his attention, he might not have given it a second thought.

“We went in thinking we are going to deliver this course and educate a population but we gained a bigger education from our experience with them,” said Theodore.

ACE operates the SIFE program in Canada. SIFE brings together university students, academic professionals and industry leaders to contribute their talents to projects that improve the lives of people worldwide and mould the students into responsible business leaders.

“The HSBC Group believes that education is a fundamental building block for a strong and prosperous society. That is why we are pleased to support programs like the HSBC SIFE Financial Education Challenge,” said Sharon Wilks, senior manager public affairs, HSBC Bank Canada. “The HSBC SIFE Financial Education Challenge gives students the opportunity to strengthen their leadership skills and learn the value of community investment, an important part of our culture here at HSBC.”

John Powell