Charlene Fadirepo

MBA '09

Founder, Smartchoicenation
Author, Ayo's Money Jar

What do you do professionally?

I am the founder of Smartchoicenation, a financial education company that teaches families and kids about money. I was inspired to start Smartchoicenation after spending nearly 17 years in the financial services industry. My previous professional roles at several banks and a consulting firm provided wonderful community service opportunities for me to teach financial education.

I’ve always known I wanted to do something in the financial education space, but I didn’t get serious about my business until I discovered I was pregnant with my son, Ayodele. With my background as a banker, teaching my son how to build healthy money habits early in his childhood was a high priority. However, I was deeply disappointed in the lack of children's books available on the topic. Further, I discovered that financial education books specifically written with children of color in mind were virtually non-existent. So, I decided to write the book I wanted to read to my own son, and that book became our first product, Ayo’s Money Jar, a multicultural children’s book on money management. Find out more about the book here: http://www.ayomoneyjarbook.com/

My company, Smartchoicenation arms parents—especially parents of color—with the books, tools, and resources they need to provide their children with a solid foundation on money, economics, and entrepreneurship. In addition to providing products, we also support financial education efforts on a larger scale through the delivery of financial educational workshops and programming to non-profit organizations and schools. I also run a blog called Smartchoicemoms.com, which celebrates financially empowered parenthood. Check out my blog here:  www.smartchoicemoms.com

Charlene Fadirepo Holding Ayo

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

I love being an entrepreneur. It is exhilarating, empowering, and very fulfilling, but it is also grueling, stressful, and unpredictable. As tough as it is sometimes, there is nothing more satisfying than taking a concept from an idea to a tangible product. The freedom to chart your own path and be successful at it is powerful. The training and support I received at Fuqua gave me the confidence and skills to step out on my own.

What is the biggest challenge you face?

My biggest challenge is definitely getting it all done. Entrepreneurship is an “eat what you kill business” and there are potential leads around every corner. So, I try to leave no stone unturned. My days are filled with appearances as a panelist, an exhibitor, or a speaker at a range of different types of events such as workshops, empowerment tours, or local festivals. In addition, engaging my audience is a critical part of my business, so I am very active on social media. I am also a blogger and I am a part of the Huffington Post contributor network.

What sorts of interesting places has your position taken you? Do you have a favorite?

I was so excited to have my first live TV experience a few months ago on Good Morning Washington on Channel ABC7. I was on the show to talk about my book, Ayo’s Money Jar, and to share a number of family money activities. It was a nerve-wracking but fantastic experience! It went so well the producers have invited me back for another segment later this year. I love the idea of using media and entertainment as a teaching tool for financial literacy, so I hope to do more media appearances in the future. Click here to view the video.

Charlene Fadirepo on TV showing Money Activities for Kids

This year I was also pleased to learn that Ayo’s Money Jar won the 2017 Independent Author’s Legacy Award’s Children’s Book of the Year. Last month, I participated in a fun community based childhood literacy event called “Books, Boys, and Cuts” with Forever Free Books, a childhood literacy non-profit, and Industrial Bank, a large community bank in Washington, DC. The event was held at Classic Cuts, a local barber shop in Southern Maryland. With Industrial Bank’s generous sponsorship, we were able to give away hundreds of books to the young men that visited Classic Cuts for their back to school haircuts. Find out more about the event here.

Charlene Fadirepo winning Award With Family

What is the best professional advice you've received?

I went to a women’s conference last year where the CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns, said, “You only regret the things you don’t do.” This simple quote has stayed with me and pushes me to think big, remain open minded, and to keep executing.

Aside from your current role, what is your dream job?

I love what I do; this is my dream job. I hope to continue on the path of becoming an influencer in the field of financial education for children and parents. Knowledge of financial education is one of the critical life skills that all children need to master in order to become productive members of society. I look forward to becoming a leading voice to help parents—especially parents of color—start a household conversation about money.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Community activism is extremely important to me. For the past three years, I have served as the President of Greater Washington JumpStart Coalition, a non-profit organization that focuses on K-12 financial education efforts. Through my work with GWJ$, our team has impacted nearly over 800 middle and high school students in the DC metro area.

I love salsa dancing, running, and CrossFit. I also really enjoy international travel with my family. My son had a passport well before he could walk! My four year old has been to Beijing, Barcelona, Puerto Rico, and all over the US. Last year we spent nearly 2 weeks traveling around Nigeria and this December we are headed to Senegal.

What is the most important thing you learned during your time at Fuqua?

My experience at Fuqua enhanced my ability to be flexible and resilient. September 2008 was the beginning of my second year. It was also the time when the financial crisis was unfolding rapidly. I distinctly remember bursting into tears as I watched the news clips of bankers from Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns carrying boxes out of their former employers’ buildings. I spent my entire first year at Fuqua preparing to continue my career in finance, so I was pretty was devastated by the financial crisis and its impact on the job market. I even wrote a melancholy article in the Fuqua Times about it. Had it not been for Fuqua’s amazing career management team and the support of my peers, I would not have been able to successfully pivot toward a career in consulting. I learned case interviewing, built relationships with several consulting firms, and finally accepted a full-time job offer in consulting in December 2008. The timing was perfect, because weeks after I accepted my offer, I was off to South Africa to spend my last full semester studying at the University of Witwatersrand. The resiliency I learned at Fuqua has served me well as an entrepreneur.

What is your favorite Fuqua memory?

There are so many memories to choose from. I really enjoyed my learning team experience during my first year. We were called “Team Gitterdun”, and that is exactly what we did. We had so much fun cranking through case assignments and learning from each other’s rich professional and personal experiences.

Why do you support the Fuqua Annual Fund?

I support the Fuqua Annual Fund because I value Fuqua’s commitment to developing leaders of consequence.

What does Team Fuqua mean to you?

For me, Team Fuqua translated to a diverse, supportive, and cohesive network of cheerleaders and confidants. In other words, my tribe. Fuqua helped me recognize the power of relationships and the value of connecting with people on a deeper level. Although many of us live all over the world, and I don’t see them all very often, when we do see each other we pick back up like we never left campus.