In 2010, Lily Lapenna, CEO of MyBnk, was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship. About a year later, in May 2011, SocialBusiness.org featured MyBnk, a London-based social enterprise that offers financial education to youth, and the piece was one of the most popular that month.
With a Twitter bio that reads, "Founder of social enterprise @MyBnk, passionate about financial education, youth saving, social enterprise, corporate social innovation and salsa dancing," Lily Lapenna is a top-notch choice for a SocialBusiness.org interview. Here, she explores how the principles of microfinance influenced the development of MyBnk, as well as her inspiration sources and creative rituals.
Four Questions with Lily Lapenna
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
It was really after I graduated from university that the idea for something like MyBnk began to take shape. I was working for BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) in Asia. I spent a lot of time with women borrowers and saver and realized how through microfinance these women were learning all how to run small businesses, manage their finances and plan ahead for themselves and their families. It was clear to me that microfinance was a very powerful educational tool. When I returned to the UK my friends were already in significant debt, following university they had incurred overdraft and credit card debt and many of them didn’t know how they had gotten themselves in such a financial pickle nor how they would get out of it. The UK government was pushing for enterprise education in order to remain competitive and so I though it’s time to create a programme that uses the principles of microfinance to give young people in the UK the same skills that women in Bangladesh were developing. MyBnk started.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
It was my background, growing up between London, Italy and the USA within a very socially minded family. At 18 I left London for rural Zimbabwe working on youth AIDS awareness –- I decided very early that I was going to dedicate myself to youth development.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
From the beginning young people have always been my inspiration. I make sure I spend at least two days a month with the young people we work with, as they re-energize me, keep me on my feet and remind me why I work so hard at running MyBnk.
I'm also constantly inspired by the great team I work with. I feel very happy to come to work every morning and see them all. We share a very small and crowded office where a lot of sharing of ideas and innovation happens.
Michael Norton is a one-man ideas factory. He's also my mentor and a source of endless inspiration.
It's also very important for me to draw inspiration from other working environments and sectors. I spend a lot of time meeting leaders who work in the private sector, in the arts, in government and they always provides me with new insight. I also have a few friends who are futurists and they never cease to surprise me.
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
My fiancé is a film-maker; I love to watch him work. It takes me out of my office environment and exposes me to a very patiently creative reality. I find it quite calming to be on a film set and watch scenes happen over and over again until the detail is just right.
When I have time, I go salsa dancing to have fun and escape!