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#SheEmpowers: Gaining Financial Freedom with Fin-Ed Platform Sophia

#SheEmpowers Series | To celebrate International Women's Day, we speak to four trailblazing women on how they are helping women find self-empowerment in various aspects of their lives.

March 9, 2022

"I don't know".

A common answer found among women when filling in a multiple choice survey testing their financial knowledge. According to academic paper Fearless Woman: Financial Literacy and Stock Market Participation, "a shortfall of confidence accounts for a third of women’s lower levels of financial literacy relative to men." Over the last few years, we have seen more and more financial education platforms pop up in an effort to bridge the gender gap when it comes to personal finances. We speak to Tanya Rolfe who, together with Christine Yu and Nicole Denholder, created financial platform Sophia to educate women on specific kinds of investments—angel investing and venture capital—and encourage women to invest in other women.


Can you tell us about your new financial education platform Sophia?

Sophia is an exciting education platform for women to increase financial education and therefore freedom for women. Sophia strives to increase diversity and inclusion in early-stage investing. 

Sophia educates and empowers women to think differently about money, to gain confidence, increase their wealth and at the same time, drive more investment to women entrepreneurs.  It also provides a safe ecosystem to ask questions, share ideas and opportunities and to build a much-needed network and community. 

Photo: Sophia

What led you, Christine Yu and Nicole Denholder to combine forces to create Sophia? 

There are very few women working in the female founder or female investor space in Asia so the three of us knew each other long before Sophia. Timing is critical and the three of us started speaking at a time that worked for all of us. We all wanted to see more women entrepreneurs receiving funding so we set out on a discovery of how we can best do that. This discovery led us to the conclusion that the people that were motivated to help support women businesses were other women.  

We each bring a complementary perspective to solving the gender investing gap. Christine brings her years of finance knowledge gained in the capital markets and bonds space as well as her experience as an impact investor and angel investor. She has developed transformational education and training for women through her involvement in The Women's Foundation Mentoring Programme as well as through co-founding a non-profit community for women  in Hong Kong called Girls Just Wanna Have Fund$—a community built to empower women on their investing journeys. 

Nicole brings a wealth of experience when it comes to female founders fundraising and has been on that journey for a number of years with hundreds of female founders.  Nicole also has wonderful and unique experience when it comes to community building.  

I refer to us as the #dreamteam and I think this is absolutely correct.  

Photo: Tanya Rolfe

What made you focus on angel investing and venture capital?

Our first course is on angel investing and venture capital but our next two courses are Money Basics. By the end of this year, we will have a full suite of courses taking you from Money Basics right through all the investment asset classes.  

We started with angel investing and venture capital because it really is our specialist subject and the lack of funding for women entrepreneurs is really what started the Sophia journey. 

When I was running a VC fund for women entrepreneurs in Singapore, I discovered that there is a lack of support for female fund managers. Female fund managers are rather a new breed of fund managers and therefore they are often, like I was, an emerging manager. Investors into funds (LPs) seldom like emerging managers. Sadly over 90% of female fund managers are emerging managers so they are often overlooked. I had the very sad realisation that the flow of capital from the top down was biased and that bias did not favour women. Not women fund managers and not women entrepreneurs.  

I therefore concluded that we needed to turn inwards to address this huge challenge and mobilise the capital held by women and direct that to women. 

Photo: Christine Yu

 How do you explain the gender gap in financial literacy?

I believe that financial education is lacking for all on a global level. However, girls are not socialised as children/young women to discuss money. So, it becomes a more unfamiliar topic compared to men very early on in our lives. I think men get comfortable with the topic at a younger age and therefore start earlier—the gap between men and women just widens as we age.  

I think there may also be a fear of lack of knowledge and when you’ve not been taught something (at school etc), it is left to you to educate yourself but if the finance world is so male dominated, it is hard to navigate or break into. It’s also less appealing with just a sea of men and male focused financial products and services.  

If we don’t have a basic understanding of personal finance then investing is too far a reach for most.  

Photo: Nicole Denholder

How is having financial confidence and being involved in financial decisions a form of self-empowerment? 

We hear phrases such as ‘taking care of your mental wellness’ and ‘taking care of your physical health’ very often these days but I truly believe that both of these ‘wellnesses’ along with all other forms of wellness can really only be achieved through having financial wellness. 

One cannot join a gym,  hire a personal trainer or a nutritionist or even download Headspace if we cannot afford it.  Therefore, having your finances in order facilitates all other aspects of your wellness.  

If we start to link these two things, I think we would see a lot more people taking control of their money and seeing a myriad of benefits from doing so. It is not just about having more and more cash or money for money's sake but what does being financially independent afford us. That’s empowering.  

What would you tell women who don’t know how to take the first step towards financial freedom?

That they are not alone, in fact, they are likely in the majority. However, start small and be conservative but whatever you do, take a step. It is imperative that you start and of course, sign up to and start with Money Basics. We’ve got you!  

See also: #SheEmpowers: Finding Runner's High With Veronika Vadovicova