Interviewed by: Parvathi Mukundan
BASED IN: AUSTRALIA
PROJECT FUTURES is a not for profit organization dedicated to ending human trafficking and slavery by empowering individuals to take action on the issue in their community. Funds raised go directly to services that rehabilitate, reintegrate, education and empower men, women and children who are victims or at risk of exploitation. We currently have impact projects in Australia and Cambodia.
What was the inspiration behind starting the organization- how did you get started?
When I was 21 I read a book about a woman sold into prostitution at a young age and was inspired to do something to support the three safe houses she ran in Cambodia. That 'thing' was one bike ride across the country! 21 friends joined me and we collectively raised $80,000! It was fun, easy to do and something I did in my spare time. After I came back from that experience I thought well why not create an outlet where we can empower and mobilise more people to do the same!
How important is it to have co-founders and focus on building a strong team? Do you have any tips you can share with us about meeting new people and bringing them on-board?
Your team is everything to a growing organization. When we started out we had a 'management team' of 11 people who were friends with a variety of skills and talents. Collectively we organized events, bike rides, parties - fun stuff that we knew our networks would want to do and guess what the bonus factor is profits from those events went to an amazingly worthwhile cause - the end human trafficking and support victims. You need to be really clear with your team, have goals they can hit, be as detailed as possible in what you want them to achieve and let them go out and do it.
What advice do you have for others who are inspired to start their own non-profit organization?
Let me say first - the solution isn't always to start something, I know I might seem like a hypocrite saying that but the hard work coupled with funding constraints (which is the number one reason many businesses and organization fail) is something that really needs to be looked at. Have a solid plan for what you want to achieve and first and foremost see whose already in the space - try to work collaboratively with them - it's completely a waste of time if you think you can do it all - the NGO world must learn and collaborate with one another to achieve what it wants - big NGOs, small ones and everything in between.
Why do you think now is the time to be a female entrepreneur?
There is so much opportunity now than ever before! We are so much more connected and there is a desire to support women grow in this space- why not take advantage of that?
What do you envision for the future for Project Futures?
We want to support more and more impact partners on the ground in the Asia Pacific region and we want PROJECT FUTURES to be known amongst young people as a empowering outlet for them to make change!
Interviewed by: Justyna Kedra (email@example.com)
What do you do? What is the vision?
I run a nonprofit organization called Finding the Fabulous. We unite fabulous girls with fearless attitudes and revolutionary futures to advance the next generation of female leaders and role models. Our goal is to inspire girls, ages 5-18, to choose confidence, compassion and creativity in their journeys to overcoming core challenges like fear of failure and lack or purpose.
Do you believe that anyone can become an entrepreneur? Do you think that everyone should try?
I don’t believe that everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur. My husband, for instance, likes to leave his work at work. I can’t do that. I carry my laptop like an accessory. He also does better with a structured schedule. He doesn’t mind getting up early and probably wouldn’t get any work done if he didn’t have someone giving him deadlines. The thought of a nine to five gig makes my throat close up just a little. I cherish my flexibility, but I’m also disciplined enough to spend my night writing emails instead of going on a Netflix binge (though I love those too). I do, however, think everyone can benefit from adopting an entrepreneurial mindset. Creativity, innovation and problem solving are all traits that will serve you well in any work setting.
How do you keep yourself motivated when you can’t keep going anymore?
I take a break. I laugh. I take a nap. And then I pick up the pieces. As a teenager, my mom would institute “mental health days” if she saw that I was getting too overwhelmed with trying to be perfect at everything. That was one of the best lessons she ever taught me. A lack of motivation is often a side effect of burn out. One of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur is feeling like I always have to be “on”. I always need to be doing something to move the needle because if I don’t, I could fail, and if I fail, it will be all my fault for not working hard enough. Vicious cycle, I know. Thankfully my brain and body tell me when it’s time to stop and I’m learning to listen. When I hit a rut, I take a break. Sometimes it’s an hour, sometimes it’s a week. It’s never at a convenient time (those don’t exist), but it’s always worth it. I do something completely unrelated to my work to get out of my own head. And then I come back refreshed, inspired and motivated.
Is it important to set goals or is it better to just “go with the flow”? What is your strategy?
This might be a surprise to those who know me since I’m such a type-A personality, but setting weekly, monthly, or yearly goals doesn’t really work for me. It’s sometimes cathartic for me to write lists, but then I never look at it again … or I rewrite it so many times that it becomes unproductive. I try to leave space for unexpected opportunities that I wouldn’t have even known to put on my goals list. Those are usually the most worthwhile opportunities to pursue anyway. Most important for me is (1) to keep evolving the big picture vision. I need to be motivated by my mission And (2) refining my priorities until I’m crystal clear on what requires my attention right now. As an entrepreneur, my work is never done, so I don’t always have time to be looking three months down the line. Sometimes I just need to be concerned with what needs to get done before I go to bed tonight.
How do you inspire girls? How can others do it?
I love this question because it’s exactly what we need to be asking. I talk to so many teen girls who either suffer from lack of exposure to potential career options or have a vision but don’t feel like they have permission to pursue it. I never had any plans to be an entrepreneur and I still often struggle with feeling like a fraud, so I understand how confusing it can be to walk in your purpose. Finding the Fabulous is trying to do our part to answer this question through our new program called The Collaboration. We connect high school girls with professional mentors for a mini externship opportunity. The goal is for girls to experience different workplace cultures, explore areas of interest without making major commitments and get a sense of what they want (as much as what they don’t want) in their future careers. I believe that the best way to decide whether entrepreneurship is right for you is to talk to as many people as possible about their personal journeys.
What is one (or more) piece of advice you can offer our readers and other entrepreneurs that are reading your interview? What is the most important to keep in mind?
1. Be uncomfortable. Terrified. Embarrassed. Those feelings mean you’re dreaming big enough. And if you’re dreaming that big, it may mean that you never achieve it all. That doesn’t mean you’ve fallen short. It just means you’ve left room for other people to build on to your dream.
2. Go on vacation. Regularly.
I am an emerging leader in lean project management starting a firm this fall, I am a writer of inspirational women’s journals, and am the founder of a nonprofit that educates doctors and nurses, on strategies to provide compassionate care to vulnerable communities.
I am passionate about all my projects, and they all flow together nicely to create one package of well-structured and innovative learnings anyone can use to win at work and in their home life.
What is the most surprising thing about being a female entrepreneur?
The thing that has been most surprising to me as a female entrepreneur is the number of different options that opens up when you decide to believe in yourself and to move forward toward a goal. The key is in choosing the right one. So often we have to try many different routes before we land on the one that is a perfect fit and will get us to our financial goal. I am always looking into the future to see what’s coming next, anticipate the changes needed, and lean ways of expediting to make it happen.
How did your past experiences help you get to where you are today?
Growing up in the rural state of Indiana, I was not given much in the way of a quality education. When I moved to Philadelphia and realized all that I didn’t know, it was unbelievable to me. I had never been around people from foreign countries or even people in the LGBT community. When I came to Philly, I feel like my life began. I met all different kind of people, learned so many things and had so many new experiences I would never have had in Indiana. This new learning helped to fuel something that was lying dormant inside of me for years. I came here to the “new country” and woke up. I am now writing, starting businesses, in school for my Ph.D., and am a community leader. I am doing so many things I never dreamed of before. Location, location, location!
What are some ways of motivating yourself in times of doubt? Do you ever feel like giving up? Why do you keep going?
I feel like giving up about.. once a month. It is has been a long journey, but a rewarding one. When I begin feeling lost or become doubtful, I often talk with my team, and my team brings me back to myself. I try not to let them know how I am feeling, but I may just throw out a question to them, and they shift my thinking in an area which then gets me back on track. I also listen to a TEDTalk or TED Radio and seek out stories of successful business owners. The stories that inspire me are those who say right at the moment they were going to give up; fate turned the corner, and they landed a million-dollar contract. These amazing stories leave me thinking if she can do it, so can I.
Do you think you want to start other businesses in the future or do you want to keep growing this one as long as possible? What is the dream?
I started with Speranza Human Compassion Project in 2012, a nonprofit designed to educate and inspire a shift in health care for vulnerable and marginalized women and children facing domestic abuse. My next venture is a for-profit venture taking the wisdom I have acquired over my past 10-years of managing projects and create the most innovative lean project management firm. I am now in the process of writing the plan.
Is it important to dream big? What is the big dream for your business?
The danger of dreaming big is you could be disappointed, a lot. One thing I learned is to set small, realistic goals for myself leading to one big goal. For some this is easy, for others, this is hard. The skill is in knowing what the right step is to get to the right next step. It is a skill, we have to constantly fine-tune. Small wins every day add up to big wins. The wrong steps and consistent lose, can be incredibly discouraging. Clarity is everything.
Making ten cold calls in the morning, and ten cold calls in the afternoon, and ten email in the evening, and starting all over again the next day until someone says yes, can be tough. Although it’s challenging and tedious, it must be done. Dealing with rejection after rejection is not easy. It takes heart and a lot of strength. I’ve heard if you don’t give up, you will win. I am not certain if that is true. What is true is that you must have an excellent, clearly written guide to getting where you want to be, and one that you must follow. Without a map, you probably won’t end up in Canada as you hoped. Instead, you may end up in Ohio or North Carolina with no idea how to get back on course. Your plan is your guide, and your guide has to be 95% accurate. Would you continue following Google Maps or your GPS if only 50% of the time it correctly pointed you to your destination? No, because driving around aimlessly would lead to daily chaos, wasted time, and frustration. You would eventually find yourself exhausted and give up. On this journey I am learning, the map or the plan must be right. The map must be pointing you in the right direction for where you want to go. Proper planning is 50% of the challenge, after that it’s simply a matter of executing that plan.
Did you look for funding in the past?
Yes, primarily grants for the nonprofit and a small business loan.
Why do you think that female-owned businesses are a VERY small percentage (that has not been growing) of businesses that get funded by venture capital?
I know that I lack the courage and confidence to ask for money before I have earned it. Being accountable for someone else’s money and guaranteeing a return on this investment would be a significant burden to me. I feel as if that would take the joy out of the work. On the other hand, it may be a great motivator. Knowing you do have people who are looking to you to make them a profit, may be the thing women need to catapult them forward. Maybe we just need a shift in our thinking.
What can we do to change that?
Mentoring is everything. It inspires us, gives us a guide of how others made it, and it’s a way for us to make quality connections with impactful leaders. I have found that talking with successful women who have made it, is a great motivator. Also, they keep me on track when I begin to enter my dream world of possibilities. Often they have tried many different routes as well and can offer insight into my next idea, good or bad. One-on-one is the best. Often in a group setting, you don’t get to ask the fundamental questions that you would if it were just you and that person. This type of interaction can lead to the real business development and can nurture confidence.