The Money Festival 2020

Ferzona's Intro 

Today's read is a CLASSIC labyrinth story!...I know this because I was there from the start. It involves twists and turns; maze and haze; tragedy and comedy; all beautifully constructed within a powerful journey of passion, excitement and perseverance. Does this mean there is an entrepreneurial lesson lurking within in...You bet yourself there is! This is the story of the infamous Money Festival 2020. A journey that started as an awareness campaign about hyperinflation, setting goals to beat a Guinness World Record. The team was well on their way to achieving this goal; BUT coronavirus struck and changed the entire agenda - turning a carefully and meticulously planned out event into ashes. In a twist of fate and giving a brilliant middle finger to our boy COVID-19; the team was able to turn the tragedy of a pandemic into a successful webinar event. I caught up with one of the team members to give us an insight into this incredible journey. Read is an interesting read. 

Author: Maria Cristina Ionita

I thought that living in an Eastern European country and coming from a low-income family would have taught me one or two things about adversity, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what it meant to organise the Money Festival 2020.

For those of you who don’t know, The Money Festival is a 4 weeks online conference on financial literacy and activism that is happening while you’re reading this. Every Monday from 10 AM since the 18th of January 2021 we have brought together professionals and activist to speak about the controversial matter of money and what this weird, made-up concept is capable of doing.

P.S It’s not always good.

Yesterday(1st of February), we organised our third webinar and we spoke about hyperinflation. Maybe you’re wondering "why did she specifically mention this one?"  it’s not for self-promotion, even though as an event organiser I had to do a lot of it. It’s because hyperinflation is what triggered the creation of this project in the first place.

Exactly 489 days ago (yes, I actually took the time to figure out how long it’s been) I met Katherine Hasegawa-Perez at a Business Society event at Anglia Ruskin University. Before that day I always saw her around the campus but never managed to have a proper conversation. However, at that event, we 'clicked' and spent hours talking about her passions: sustainability and activism. Later on, she confessed to me that she had a dream – to raise awareness of the economic disaster that Venezuela (her home country) is facing.

She desired to achieve this by beating a Guinness World Record  folding Venezuelan banknotes into origami birds. Crazy right? I thought the same just before telling her that I would do everything in my power to make her dream come true. It was an exciting task.

Fast Forward

...Two business students trying to find sponsors, convince the entire university to support our projects and find students to work side by side with us to make it happen. How hard would it be?

Unbelievably hard!

For more than 3 months we tried to create a team of students to help us, but it’s very difficult to find people to join such a crazy movement, especially when you’re asking for the little time left they have after studying and working. Despite that, Elina Ramona (3rd year International Business Management student) and Cornelia Scarlat (1st-year Illustration and Animation student) believed in us and decided to put in the effort.

But we didn’t have any money to support this project. We needed £1000 just for the Guinness World Record application fee and evidence review, without mentioning the costs of promotion and logistics of the event itself. How were we going to get that much money? The ARU Student Union was kind enough to fund a part of our project as the Latin-American society was the main organising body. We were supposed to do a crowdfunding campaign to obtain the rest of the money.

This was all happening between September and December 2019.

By February 2020 we had 7 members in our team, an external professional – prof. Alan Barrel that guided us and provided invaluable feedback and ideas on our work, and £800 to use. We were already dreaming of the big day: thousands of students folding origami birds, meaningful and stimulating conversations, media coverage, loud music, the thrill... but that was scheduled for autumn 2020.

Because the resources we had were not enough, we took the difficult decision to postpone the event until the next academic year. We planned to regroup and develop a better strategy for promotion during summer.

But in March 2020, ( March) the pandemic destroyed everything! I had to leave Cambridge without knowing if I would ever come back. I didn’t have the time to say goodbye to anyone and the team was scattered throughout the globe at this point.

Our campaign – Money Origami 4 Education, was meant to fail. Due to health and safety reasons, Katherine and I knew that we couldn’t organise the event anymore. At that point, we had spent 172 days working on this project  just for it to vanish in one day? I was heartbroken.

By summer 2020, Katherine was graduating and I was taking on my new responsibilities as Faculty Rep while planning my return to Cambridge. I remember she called me while I was stuck in my home country, trying to avoid sunburn, and she told me she wants to try again.

"Try again?" I said. I was simply in shock. I couldn't believe how much resilience and passion can exist in one person.

You probably know my answer. I said Yes.  

This time, we were going to take the event online.

Again, we didn’t have a team, or funds, or any plan of what it would look like. During that phone call, The Money Festival was born and scheduled to happen throughout the first trimester (September – December 2020).

With Katherine graduating, I had to step up and become the President of the Latin-American Society and try to connect with people within the university that would help us turn our project into reality.

As an introvert, I can’t explain how terrified and stressed I was about every single meeting. I knew that I had to get people involved, otherwise failure was waiting for us, but I just couldn’t shake this thought: Why would they care?

Because I care. Because students must understand what money really is and how to create generational, sustainable wealth. This world is not getting any better without us standing and fighting for what we believe in.

And so I did.

In September the ARU Student Union granted us £600. In October we got 4 amazing people on our team – Tatyana Sysak, Vittoria Ragni, Eve Ambrose and Anousheh Fulford that spent more than 100 hours working with us. December brought us external support from Natalie Goodchild (an amazing personal branding coach) and Simon Krystman (a serial entrepreneur) and Carole Dulliot of CD Coaching (who helped Katherine come up with the initial plan for the Money Origami Campaign). They so kindly decided to provide their professional advice on how we can make this campaign valuable to our attendees.

It is with a wide smile on my face I tell you this; after all the hurdles and twists we faced, the first online event happened on the 18th of January 2021 and guess what?...We had 40 attendees! I could not believe it. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I was ecstatic. Then we had another on the 25th and then a third yesterday(01/02/21). The final one will be happening on the 8th of January - and I'm sure I will meet some of you there. It is Free, Everyone is Welcome and you will most likely learn something new.

Here is the Link to register your interest - Click Here.

It starts at 10AM.


489 days, hundreds of hours spent in meetings, £1400 going in and out, countless crashes of the registration website, difficult conversations, over 1000 emails sent, frustration, heartbreak, hopelessness....and every other thing we faced.

Would I do it all over again? Yes.

Because it’s one of the best things that has happened to me. I can't imagine trading that feeling for anything else.

Don't forget to join us for the final event on the 8th of January, I can almost make a promise  You will enjoy it. Click Here to Register

Maria Cristina Ionita


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