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Meet Alex Mazloom of Mind Treasures

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alex Mazloom.

Alex, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was born in Iran in a Baha’i family. My father (a doctor) and mother (school principal) were Baha’i pioneers in a remote village. My father was the only physician in 100-miles radius and my mom established the first all-female school in the area. As a child, I wanted to be a civil engineer to build roads and buildings. I was fascinated with big construction machinery. My path in financial literacy began from childhood with one, particularly reoccurring dream. “I would be in a large room with very tall stacks of coins. I would take a coin from the bottom and all the stacks would collapse!”

All throughout my life I’ve been fascinated with money management. In middle school, I used to loan money to my friends. During this time, I developed a new interest in electrical circuits. This was also the period (1979) when the Islamic Revolution of Iran began persecuting and executing the members of Baha’i community in Iran. My father and grandfather along with 100s more were imprisoned for 2 years. Majority of the prisoners were executed but my father and grandfather were released just before I left Iran, immediately after high school graduation.

Due to the continuous oppression of Baha’is in Iran (even to this date) I could not attend any colleges in Iran so I was smuggled across the border on a camel to Pakistan with the ultimate goal of reaching the US to attend college. 1984, as a teen, in a foreign country, I had to quickly learn how to live on my own and manage a $60/monthly allowance from the United Nations. My path continued to Austria for a 6-month period where I had to work in construction and manage my financial affairs. in 1986, I arrived on the shores of the USA with only $160 in my pocket and worked in a restaurant and paid my way till I obtained my BS in Electrical Engineering in 1991.

During every step of this journey, I felt challenges were over, and yet another one popped around the corner. Throughout my 15-year professional life as an engineer in both large and startup companies, I had my share of not so pleasant bosses or tasks that I performed out of fear of losing my jobs and livelihood. I recall a period of two months, at a startup company, when I would go to work on Thursdays just so we could be told whether there was money to come back on Monday or not!

December of 2005, when my wife came up with the financial literacy idea, coincided with yet another career set back. I was a co-founder of another engineering firm with high hopes of substantial return. 18 months into the project when we had originally thought the company would be cash flow positive, the project funder gave me three options: 1- Take a 40% pay cut, 2- Take two months of pay and leave, 3- Leave and come back when company would be cash flow positive in 7 months! After all, I had been through, this was devastating. I thought this company was going to be the ultimate reward. Hesitantly, with my salary as the only source of income, two toddlers, and all life expenses, I took the 40% pay cut, cleared my head and soul, and started a prayer fast! I didn’t ask for anything specific! I simply asked for guidance because I just couldn’t take it anymore!

Initially, I thought this challenge was because of a few mischiefs that I had been involved in but not knowing that this was actually a gift from God. Baha’i writings remind us: “Naturally there will be periods of distress and difficulty, and even severe test.; but if that person turns firmly towards the Divine Manifestation, studies carefully His Spiritual teachings and receives the blessings of the Holy Spirit, he will find that in reality these tests and difficulties have been the gifts of God to enable him to grow and develop.”

As Mind Treasures’ program began to take shape, more and more, I could see that every knowledge and experience that I had gained in life was necessary to make this project a success. Developing a curriculum, working with children, starting an organization from ground up, managing all affairs of a nonprofit organization, fundraising, developing relationships, various technical aspect and much more. My dreams continued to offer guidance and confirmation throughout my life and this project. After a 3-month period of prayers and when I finally realized that my wife’s idea might be an answer to my challenges, I reached out to my late grandfather (the same who had been imprisoned) and asked him if I was on the right path? He was a great entrepreneur who started many projects. I just couldn’t take a chance on yet another unsuccessful career or project. In my dream, I was at his house and a lady whom I didn’t know looked at my papers and confirmed my path.

The program has and will go through challenges, successes, and learnings as all of these are required for growth. I have learned to completely detach myself from all ideas and opportunities that appear before me. I put 200% effort into them without any specific expectation for results. I ask for guidance from the spiritual realm and it usually comes. This way I see any obstacle, challenge, unsuccessful effort, or success as being guided from powers far more powerful than mine.

Please tell us about Mind Treasures.
Mind Treasures began with an idea by Nazila Shokohi in December of 2005 to assist people who were struggling with financial challenges in the San Diego Bahá’í community. In early 2006 Alex Mazloom (Nazila’s husband) created and conducted a workshop titled “Bahá’í Views on Wealth & Prosperity” for the members of the San Diego Bahá’í community.

This workshop, with about 20 adult attendees, concentrated on Bahá’u’lláh’s principles and teachings on the importance and practical methods of acquisition, management, and utilization of various forms of wealth for the goal of developing stronger individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, and a new world. Writings from various Sacred Books indicate that all humans, regardless of their socioeconomic conditions, are born rich with abundance of Spiritual Muscles (virtues/treasures/character traits) such as Patience, Responsibility, Moderation, Thankfulness, Selflessness, Generosity, Truthfulness, and many more.

– “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.” Bahá’u’lláh
– “Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.” Buddha

Based on that initial workshop, the ABCs of Wealth curriculum began to take shape initially for adults and ultimately for children as young as age 8. The curriculum, while retaining its spiritual origin, is independent of any religious doctrine and has been mainly implemented at school campuses, community and faith-based centers throughout the world. Based on this curriculum and the need of the community, Mind Treasures was formally established as a nonprofit organization in 2007.

Over the past 12 years, the program has organically grown from a small after-hour enrichment program where our two sons attended elementary school, to regular weekly sessions at public schools throughout San Diego and beyond. In this period over 7,000 individuals (mainly elementary students) have completed the program. Our curriculum and training is appropriate for any age group regardless of their socioeconomic, geographical, and cultural circumstances. Beginning in 2015, through a monthly $40K Google AdWords we began to advertise the program throughout the world. Since then we have received an overwhelming number of requests from all across the globe for implementation of the program. So far programs have been established in New Zealand, Nigeria, and Vietnam with many more in the pipeline.

Our Curriculum:
Mind Treasures has developed a unique curriculum (ABCs of Wealth) that combines character development with financial education, in order to raise a generation that is mentored to become financially stable and independent, and to use various forms of wealth such as knowledge, expertise, money, and time as well as physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual muscles (virtues/character traits) to build stronger families, neighborhoods, communities, and a new world. Through these programs, attendees learn to build a solid foundation in saving, investing, sharing, and spending by developing key character traits such as patience, responsibility, moderation, thankfulness, selflessness, generosity, truthfulness, and many more.

This development is complemented by learning the goal setting, consultative decision making, borrowing, and budgeting processes. Furthermore, attendees learn the value and concept of wealth and various elements of banking services, interest, credit, basic taxes, and much more. While participants attain the necessary understanding of financial systems during workshops, they are mentored to work as teams within their family and community structure to implement and practice this knowledge in their daily financial lives as well as others around them.

Currently, the curriculum is available in English. Spanish, Vietnamese, and Portuguese translations. Complete outline of this curriculum can be viewed on http://mindtreasures.com/our-curriculum/.

Programs:
Neighborhood Financial Literacy is an ongoing program, established in 2008, that provides financial literacy, leadership, entrepreneurial, and philanthropic skills, to children and youth with an emphasis on elementary students in grades 3 – 5. Typically, ABCs of Wealth Level I curriculum is delivered through 12 weekly sessions of 60-90 minutes to one grade level in each campus as part of the daytime schedule in respective classrooms. Each week certified Mind Treasures staff, in collaboration with teachers and parent volunteers, design and deliver hands-on lesson plans from the ABCs of Wealth curriculum based on needs, challenges, and realities of the neighborhood where programs are offered.

Each student receives a printed or web-based workbook and treasure box with 4 slots (Spend, Invest, Share, Save) and engages in activities and discussion to build financial literacy and character development skills. Weekly lesson plans concentrate on building a solid foundation in saving, investing, sharing, and spending by developing key character traits such as patience, responsibility, moderation, thankfulness, respect, generosity, truthfulness, creativity, and many more. This development is complemented by learning the goal setting, consultative decision making, borrowing, and budgeting processes.

Furthermore, attendees learn the value and concept of wealth and various elements of banking services. Afterward, youth and adults (ages 16 & up) continue with advanced classes to learn specifics of finances. Play money is used as a tool to replicate allowance and how life necessities, wants, investments, and sharing can be planned (budgeting).

Participants also learn to invest and share their various resources (not limited to material wealth) for their individual, family, and community development. Throughout the program, students practice reading, writing, and math according to their grade level.

Newly gained knowledge and skills are transferred to parents through weekly take-home sheets that describe lesson plans, give specific actions to be followed at home, and request for feedback. During the final session of each series, representatives from each classroom present their learning in an assembly format to their schoolmates, schools staff, parents, and community members. Students, teachers, and parents complete a post-program reflection form. Upon program completion, treasure boxes provide a tangible mean so the education can be continued and practiced by parents with real money at home.

Expected Outcomes and Results:
– Short Term: Change of behavior and awareness of various aspects of finances, life, and community while attending workshop series. Participants to realize that wealth management requires specific skills and habits that should be acquired and developed from early ages. Attendees to become aware of their financial, educational, and social responsibilities not only to themselves but also to their families, neighborhoods, and communities. Participants to identify existing challenges in their immediate living surroundings. Results: On average we see a 10% increase in the number of students that receive an allowance, maintain savings accounts, carry financial conversations with parents, and are inclined to pursue higher education. Participants, even at young ages, can clearly identify challenges within their community and propose solutions. Student presentations can be viewed on www.mindtreasrues.com.

– Mid Term: How new knowledge and tools are implemented in participants’ daily lives. Participants to develop and implement habits of wealth management: creating moderation and balance in various aspects of life such as educational and fun activities, work, family, shopping, and etc. Identifying what is generously wasted on daily basis and how the elimination of such squander affects one’s financial affairs, savings, and future finances. Attendees to begin tracking and recording income & expenses in preparation for creating budgets. Results: Parents continually report changes of attitude and behavior towards money and life in their children and more in-depth conversations about finances at home. Students are also taking on more responsibilities at home and patiently saving for what they want.

– Long Term: How community, others, & the next generations are benefiting from participants. Attendees to share their learning by becoming role models for their family, neighborhood, and community members. Today’s youth who receive our training will be better prepared to raise financially and socially responsible children in the future.

Results: Parents report that their children eagerly bring their new financial knowledge to their home environment and share it with their siblings. Young students often describe their desires to teach their knowledge to their own future children and the whole world.

Sample Comments from program participants:
Participants: What would you do with everything you learned?
– I will teach someone else
– I will use it to help & understand what it’s like to be a person who doesn’t have any food and no shelter or much water.
– Have my box and put real money and save it
– Before this class anytime that I had money I would go and spend it and now I save my money
– The videos inspired me to help people (homeless) & travel around the world helping people who don’t have what I have
– I sure use it when I grow up and maybe show my kids
– Help my community
– I will teach my parents this because they did not have it when they were younger
– Go help other school raise money for kids

Parents: What is the most important change in your child?
– He is now more aware of how he spends his money
– She is more conscious of prices when we shop
– I didn’t know he was taking this program but I noticed that he had started saving his weekly money not only for himself but also for his siblings.
– My daughter is teaching her young siblings to save
– I noticed she is more aware of what happens around the world and the struggles people go through
– Enhanced her generosity and responsibility and how she teaches her brother about it
– I noticed he wants to save for thing he wanted to buy in the future

Teachers:
– I like the discussions that some of the topics and videos brought out of my kids. they were thought-provoking and relevant to this age group.
– I will try to carry it through to an activity that I do with the class at the end of the school year. It relates to food, nutrition, health and now I want to include money and planning/savings.
– I will use a lot of the vocabulary learned while discussing citizenship in my class.

Currently, we have a team of 10 part-time facilitators (including myself) in San Diego that visit students in their classrooms. Based on the current level of annual funding we receive we work with about 1,100 in SD.

Our multi-year sponsors include companies such as SDG&E, Wells Fargo, Mission Fed, Union Bank, Sony, and Pacific Western Bank and foundations such as Boys & Girls, Benbough, Weingart, Parker, and Julian Grace. Financial literacy based on the development of spiritual powers is a very unique approach to this worldwide challenge.

Based on our knowledge this has never been done before. Over the past 12 years, MT has become known as a reliable organization that delivers on its promises.

Here is an accomplishment story from one of the program participants:
2008, Upon completing the first financial literacy program in the Diamond Neighborhoods, Marquis Snowden who was only a 4th grade student at the time, was inspired to organize a weekly lemonade stand with his friends and raise over $1,100 to help with the purchase of a climbing wall for the kindergarten students at his elementary school.

2009, Marquis was quite saddened when he learned that due to drastic budget cuts at his school district (Lemon Grove, CA), he was not going to be able to attend the 6th-grade summer camp. Inspired by his previous fundraising efforts, he took on a new challenge to raise enough funds so not only his classmates and schoolmates but the entire 6th grade class in his school district can attend the 2010 summer camp. Marquis’ tireless efforts eventually enabled a small group of students to enjoy the 8th grade trip to Washington DC in 2011.

2012, Association of Fundraising Professionals (San Diego Chapter) honors Marquis as an Outstanding Youth/Student Volunteer during the National Philanthropy Day.

2013 Marquis establishes the NewComers Investment Club in the Diamond Neighborhoods to engage community youth and children to invest in the future of their community. This club is designed for the young members of the neighborhood who like to begin investing in stocks and community endeavors. At monthly meetings, members review and decide how to manage their stock portfolio. Completion of financial literacy programs is required for all potential club members.

In 2016 Marquis’ efforts were featured on Chelsea Clinton’s “It’s Your World” project. He continues to work with emerging youth leaders in the community. Watch VIDEOS of Marquis’ projects and accomplishments.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My father would always travel around the new year and bring back a toy for me. The toy would only last a few weeks in my hands as a whole before I would begin to take it apart and try to put it back together! Of course, I would always end up with a bunch of extra parts that seemed to be of no use anyway!!!

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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