Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Brains, ambition and bitcoin: The tween sisters launching 'Bitcoin for Kids' series

If you are looking for any examples of people flying in the face of every gender and age-based stereotype, you need look no further than the Sabra Sisters. To say that these girls are three, young, bright ‘kidpreneurs’ would be a vast understatement. JuJu, GiGi and JoJo (all pen names) are all award-winning inventors, best-selling authors, and professional bloggers and vloggers and the eldest, JuJu, is only 13 years old. Their favourite subjects are science and math-based, they are keen on healthy eating and possess a maturity of thought and moral code that would put some adults to shame.

Their latest venture, BitKidz, is a three-book series, aimed at children to help them become interested in bitcoin and teach them what it is, how it works and some of the benefits and uses of digital currency.

Written by themselves, with a little help from their mom, Ponn, and edited by prominent bitcoin advocate and entrepreneur, Trace Mayer, the books are now available to buy for bitcoin and also for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

It is not their first foray into publishing as they have previously written a range of books on subjects, from blogging to smoothie making, all aimed at making learning fun for kids.

It comes as no surprise because all three girls clearly gain a lot of enjoyment from learning themselves - something that takes place wherever they are in the world and anywhere but sat at the back of a classroom. They call home Connecticut, USA, where their grandfather is based but when we interviewed them, they were travelling in the Middle East. The girls are prime examples of how to turn learning into something fun and profitable. “This is the beauty of home schooling,” explains JuJu. “We blend our “work” into our “school” and vice versa.”

Their “work” to date includes eight separate blogs as well as their books. Each focuses on a different area of interest including nutrition, blogging, web designing and what they call STEM subjects: Science, Technology Engineering and Math. They say the latter is their “biggest passion” and so the concept of bitcoin was something that triggered their imaginations.

“May 30, 2013 was a life-changing day for my girls and I because my younger brother, known as Uncle I.J., introduced cryptography and bitcoin to us,” says their mom, Ponn Sabra. “We openly discussed the possibility of this truly fascinating innovation, and he never got bored by our many questions.”

That introduction led to a challenge to write a Bitcoin For Kids Fun Facts book and less than 24-hours later, BitKidz.com was born, dedicated to their bitcoin learning journey. So far, that journey has seen them grasp some of the concepts of bitcoin that many adults struggle to comprehend.

By Kids For Kids

They say their interest in promoting bitcoin to kids is because they believe it will be children driving forward the bitcoin economy. “Sure, we may invest, save and keep some,” says JuJu, “but we’ll be the driving force of reducing its volatility and making it viable money. Kids will circulate the money and force mainstream businesses to accept it. Therefore, people will stop speculating on bitcoin as an investment and start using it as a value transfer in our daily lives, making the world smaller, safer, more secure and a happier place to live.”

Like them, they also hope that bitcoin will inspire children’s entrepreneurial spirit and whereas some people may be deterred by the idea that bitcoin or finance is confusing, particularly for children, the Sabra Sisters believe valuable life lessons can be learnt by exposing children to money from a young age, particularly if they have earned it themselves. They cite money management, comparing budgeting to spending and investing to saving and international financial markets as some of the key areas in which children would gain knowledge, stating that “[Kids] become more informed consumers.”

“Kids will spend money more wisely because when they learn to watch the international market rates they will learn to be frugal and only spend when the rates are in our favour and holding it if the value dips a bit,” JuJu explains.  

They are the “real-life hands-on” experiences that they think will enable their generation to appreciate the value of something as well as learning “subjects most kids hate and life lessons in a fun way.”

Their book primer, (“Kids Making Money Online. 12 (17) Inspirational Bitcoin Stories That Will Motivate You To Action!”) introduces bitcoin by way of telling children’s own stories of how bitcoin “changed their lives” and the sisters say this was not just monetarily but also through the relationships forged with colleagues and friends, young and old, all over the world. “It was about the feeling of getting paid from someone online for a computer program a kid developed all by himself, then buying a computer with his profits. It’s about getting excited about becoming closer to an uncle we always loved but never talked to, or saw often enough—like in our case,” they say.

The sisters also hope that through these stories, the world will see “how ingenious and inventive [children] can be—if given the opportunity. Bitcoin affords kids from all over the world the opportunity,” says JuJu, who describes bitcoin’s inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto as “a genius”.
We really believe Satoshi was a kid-at-heart, because everything stopping us from entering the free global market was crushed the day he released bitcoin.” She adds, “Never before in history have kids had the power to earn and spend their own money without a third party, such as parents, credit cards, banks, PayPal, etc. legally. With the right parental moderation, kids have the power to affect the world by preventing social harms caused by the lending industry and fiat currency, such as divorce, defaulted loans, foreclosures, and even world wars. Kids CAN make a difference one bit or bitcoin at a time.”

For them, bitcoin is the vehicle to get children interested in not just earning money but doing good with it as well and they believe learning about bitcoin could promote more charitable giving. “Never in our short lives and mommy’s longer one, have we witnessed so much charity given, be it publicly or anonymously, until the Bitcoin community came to existence,” say the sisters. “It’s hard to see which came first: charitable people using bitcoin, or bitcoin making charitable people. People need to hear these bitcoin stories more often, and we’re eager to share them!”

To prove they are backing up their words with action, they are donating ten per cent of the BitKidz book profits to charity, split between SeansOutpost.com and TheBitcoinAcademy.com. During November, they were also donating a percentage to the victims of the Philippines typhoon. Although they don’t know anyone personally affected, it was a cause close to their hearts. “Our late Gramma was Filipino, and we’re extremely close with our extended Filipino family, so this was really devastating news to us,” they say. “We wish we could help more.”

Their travels have helped inform this attitude but equally, they think having more children involved in bitcoin will help boost charitable donations.
“We’ve travelled in the poorest of places, and we see homeless kids begging for money [out of] necessity,” says JuJu. “While we can’t give them bitcoin (yet), we can definitely donate more to them because as kids we can give our own money.”
 She also thinks that the technology of bitcoin will be another big attraction for youngsters. “We see very poor kids tinker and play in the garbage in the streets, as if to build—which is technology at its best. If we can donate even more technology, like electronics, to them as a means of education (which is already being done with ideas such as laptops for kids), more opportunities can be made, by those whom desperately need aid.” She sums it up with: “Put bitcoin in kids’ hands (digital wallets) and let them explore all the ways to help others!”

The world as a classroom

Despite the time they dedicate to their entrepreneurial ventures; their blogs, books, and bitcoin, they are not, they say, “stuck on screen” for hours. Their mom, Ponn, a bestselling author herself, ensures they get a well-rounded education and they embrace the concept of the world being their classroom.
“The girls have experienced every kind of schooling available, and we continue to explore other methods as we travel throughout the world,” she says. They have trialled both the public and private education systems, tutors, online classes, various methods of schooling around the world and even participated in the Stanford University EPGY (Educated Program for Gifted Youth).
“[My husband and I] are extremely strict with them,” she admits but adds, “we do our best to keep them grounded at all times. That’s why they see volunteerism and donating to charities as an obligation.”

With herself a biologist, her husband a biomedical engineer and with grandparents having worked in the fields of chemistry and engineering, it is no surprise that an interest in science and technology was “highly encouraged.”
The girls say their parents are their biggest inspiration, however despite their mom’s guidance, the children are encouraged to gain a mastery of a subject and explore the answers for themselves rather than having them spoon-fed.  “We don’t like superficial knowledge, or bits and pieces gained for fact-based tests. We prefer assessments that they have to report, write or present the whole topic in simplified terms for any lay person to understand,” Ponn Sabra explains. “I always ask them would their six year-old cousin understand this or that explanation. If not, try again.”

Bitcoin has without doubt changed their lives and their mother has found it also provides many different learning opportunities.  “For example, JoJo and I spent a fun hour playing with fractions and decimals, then applying our newfound knowledge to the current bitcoin rate. GiGi is learning more about investments, when’s the best time to buy, how to read market charts, etc. JuJu is insatiable about learning more computer languages, software programs, and seeing how she can be a better asset to the bitcoin community. She’s always been into Tech News, but now she watches it with bitcoin and the world of finance in mind and the implications the two have together.”

Whatever they learn for themselves, they share with their followers online and are already planning content for the next books to come out. International finance markets, economics, math and decimals, the protocol, cryptocurrency and cryptography are among the topics they are studying and will be included in the series expansion.

Aside from bitcoin, the girls are also exploring other avenues, stating they would “all LOVE to be polyglots, but we have a long way to go.” They are currently fluent in English and Arabic and have a growing vocabulary in American Sign Language.
“We always tell people we’re mastering Math as a language,” says JuJu. “We’re trying to pick up as many computer languages as possible; right now we know html, CSS, Visual Basic, and just started Java Script and Python recently.”

Away from learning the girls say they enjoy cooking and hiking together as a family and also trying out new sports such as soccer, rollerblading and martial arts. They say their friends are “their biggest fans!” when it comes to reading and commenting on their blogs and although they are not bloggers, authors or entrepreneurs themselves, they give them a lot of support. Bitcoin seems to be the one area that is capturing the most interest among their friends. “We’re telling our friends one by one, and they’re taking bigger steps online based on our advice and encouragement than any topic we’ve personally shared before,” JuJu says.

The future

Despite the girls’ voracious appetite for all things science and technology, they say they are desperately lacking in their own hardware. JuJu says,” My sisters and I have laptops from 2009 and mom’s is a clunky one from 2006! Even though we’re Kindle publishers, we don’t have our own ereader, Kindle or tablet.”

With ambitions to head to a bitcoin conference next year and have their books translated, there is plenty they are saving up for in their “savings wallet”.

Just a new concept to the girls a few months a go, bitcoin is now a fundamental part of
their lives and they have each found their own interests within it.  JuJu finds the protocol “fascinating” and believes there is much to be explored “beyond just money transfer.” GiGi finds online shopping has become easier and when the value of their bitcoin went up she says, “We were able to buy three times what we planned and gave gifts to a friend, and four family members.” For JoJo it is all about the money and the math. “Counting in decimals is so cool, watching the daily market values, and playing with different Bitcoin apps on mom’s phone is awesome,” she says.

For the sisters there is a lot more at stake than just learning at home. Their business looks to be taking off and the BitKidz series will be the first of their Kindle books made into paperbacks. The Bitcoin Academy and Bitcoin Bootcamp plan to use them in their curriculum and they are trying to raise up to $3000 to self-publish them so that they can be used in a pilot after school programme in San Diego, California.

“It’s truly an amazing time in our young lives,” says JuJu, “and we really want to encourage all kids to get involved—it’s NOT limited to white, high-tech, Libertarian, freedom-loving men either. My sisters and I are breaking the mould since we’re three tween sisters—yes, we love technology; but most of all, we’re just girls interested in making a difference in this world and bitcoin couldn’t have come at a better time to help us out!”

She and her sisters are not just breaking the mould, they are smashing through it and proving that bitcoin bears as much relevance to them as it does the IT wizards and “hi-tech, libertarians” they describe.

Where people so often struggle to come up with a simplified explanation of what bitcoin is, these three tween sisters have made the job look easy:

“Bitcoin is digital money that can be used by anyone of any age, anywhere in the world, anytime. It’s the safest, most secure, cheapest, easiest and most fun way to transfer money no matter how small—even a single US penny can be sent all the way to China online! It’s as easy as sending an email or SMS text message. How cool is that!?”
- The Sabra Sisters

They are fortunate enough to claim Trace Mayer as one of their “biggest bitcoin mentors” and say they are “honoured” to have met Jason King and his family from SeansOutpost.com. The third book in their bitcoin series also has interviews with some of the world’s best-known bitcoiners including Mike Hearn, Vinny Lingham and David Johnston.

If there was one other person the girls could interview, I expect it would be the bitcoin creator himself. “We think Satoshi Nakamoto is a genius on many levels,” says JuJu. “He took two things kids love most ­—technology and money — and combined them together! We believe it’ll be kids that will drive the market into full adoption.”

With kids such as the Sabra sisters paving the way I have no doubt they could be right.

By Louise @ BitScan