How I started a not-for-profit at 22

How I started a not-for-profit at 22

We asked a number of leading women who are speaking at the recent She Leads Conference what they’d like younger women to know about navigating their leadership pathway. Below, Stephanie Lorenzo, Founder and CEO of Project Futures, discusses what it’s like to start a not-for-profit organisation at the ripe old age of 22.

Starting a not-for-profit organisation wasn’t in my marketing and communication career plans. Rather, it’s something I stumbled into.

I had high hopes to climb the corporate ladder and started PROJECT FUTURES as a side project to give back to a cause that I felt extremely passionate about.

When I was 22, I picked up a book about a Cambodian woman sold into prostitution at a very young age. I was appalled, saddened and shocked that such evil existed in this world today.

My eyes were opened and I quickly learned that inequality in so many parts of the world towards women was rife, yet I was so privileged; Why?

I felt an overwhelming responsibility to do something about it, and thus, PROJECT FUTURES was born.

PROJECT FUTURES is an NFP dedicated to empowering our community to raise awareness and funding for anti-human trafficking projects on the ground in Australia, Cambodia and Nepal.

We have been running for almost six years, four of which were run part-time or 100% voluntary, and to date we have raised just shy of $3,000,000, the majority of that raised by young professionals aged 20 to 35 years old.

I was a pretty straight shooter when it came to starting up PROJECT FUTURES. I was focused and passionate and I worked non stop in my day job and then at night as a volunteer.

Any entrepreneur will tell you it’s hard work and the best to get through it is to surround yourself with positive people, be open to new experiences and take on every opportunity.

My mottos in life to help with my entrepreneurial journey are five simple mantras that I think about everyday, especially when I encounter roadblocks. These are:


1. Ask for forgiveness not permission


Don’t wait to have all the answers, just start and learn along the way.


2. Don’t ask don’t get


Don’t be put off by not having resources, be resourceful and look at the networks around you.


3. Embrace YES


Step outside your comfort zone and embrace YES even when it might not be your cup of tea.


4. The norm is boring, challenge it


Rise above the status quo, don’t do something everyone else is doing.


5. Follow your bliss


No matter what, be passionate about what you do – you’ll never survive otherwise.

I never saw myself as on a different level to the boys. Maybe part of that came from going to a great all-girls high school with a fantastic group of friends who only wanted to bring the best out in me.

Maybe it was growing up with two strong older sisters and a dad who always retreated to what his daughters asked for.

I always look at the glass half full and look at the great qualities I do have and will judge myself on how I use those qualities to their best potential.

Stephanie Lorenzo is CEO of Project Futures Ltd, an organisation she founded in 2009 after being introduced to the issue of human trafficking by Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman sold into prostitution as a child. PROJECT FUTURES empowers young professionals to participate in creative, innovative and sustainable fundraising initiatives to support long-term project partners in Australia, Cambodia and Nepal. In April 2013 Stephanie became the first full time paid employee and is growing the organisation at a rapid pace. This story originally appeared on Women’s Agenda.


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