How to Start a High-Impact Non-Profit at 16
The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Meet the Interviewee: Julia Berardini
Julia Berardini is a high school student from Toronto, Ontario. When she was just 16, she helped start LIFE (“Long-term Indigenous Financial Education”), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving financial literacy amongst Indigenous youth. I got the opportunity to interview Julia about her non-profit’s growth and her experience starting it at such a young age.
What does your non-profit do and what’s your role in it?
“The LIFE Program is a non-profit that me and two other friends, Rayne Fisher-Quann and Michaela Yarmol-Matusiak, started at a hackathon. It stands for the “Long-term Indigenous Financial Education Program,” and our goal is to set up a mentorship between Indigenous leaders in finance and Indigenous youth between the ages of 12-15 in order to increase financial literacy and help break the cycle of poverty. I had just turned 16 when I helped start the program.”
Why is this your passion?
“From the start of LIFE, our main goal was to help increase the amount of financially literate youth in Canada. Since simple things like starting a bank account or managing a credit card aren’t taught in schools, we knew there needed to be a way to pass on that education in order for youth to better manage their futures. But, when doing research to achieve this, we realized it wasn’t enough to simply build a program for all youth in Canada, but instead needed to create a program to help the kids who needed it most. On top of that, reading statistics like how 90% of Indigenous people are not confident managing their financial affairs, and 40% live paycheck to paycheck, we knew that a program such as LIFE was greatly needed in those communities. Just knowing that Indigenous people have been forced into a cycle of poverty for hundreds of years, stemming from colonization, really inspired us to make LIFE a reality.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting a non-profit at such a young age? How did you overcome it?
“By far, one of the toughest obstacles to starting LIFE and keeping it going was time management. As a high school student, I have to balance school, volunteering and my social life along with the LIFE program, which can definitely be tough. Also, coordinating with other team members is tough when they have just as busy a schedule as you! LIFE has definitely been a great way for me to practice and perfect my time management skills, but definitely can be a challenge to deal with at first!
Definitely one of my most effective strategies to maximize time management is to make lists of everything I need to do and prioritize what’s most important. As well as this, I make sure to take on what I can handle, not too much. Knowing your limits is super important when it comes to time management.”
What’s in store for the future in both the short term and long term? What are your goals?
“In the short term, LIFE is working on making partnerships with other like-minded companies and organizations who we think can help implement our program, as well as reaching out to Indigenous people in finance and communities who are interested in helping to develop our program. Our aim for the next year or so is to set up a pilot program in an indigenous community and have the first graduates from the LIFE Program! Our long-term goals include expanding our program to the rest of Canada, and hopefully to involve as many people as possible in it. I truly believe LIFE has a lot of potential to help others, and I hope more than ever that I can see it happen.”
What are some of the biggest highlights/successes from the experience?
“One of the most amazing experiences with LIFE was presenting at the Canadian Personal Finance Conference in front of numerous CEOs and big names in finance, including Jane Rooney, Canada’s Financial Literacy leader. It was absolutely incredible to see people excited about our program and ready to help make it a reality, and it certainly helped inspire us to continue to work to expand LIFE.”
How can high school/university students get involved with your non-profit?
“The best way to get involved is to spread awareness about LIFE and the issues it is looking to tackle. That could be sharing on social media, or simply having a conversation with your friends and family. If you’d like to find out more about the LIFE program, you can visit our website at lifeprogram.tech!”
What specific tips would you give to a high school or university student looking to create and run their own non-profit?
“Firstly, you need to find something you are truly passionate about and willing to dedicate a lot of time to as I think that’s how you’ll be able to work your best and help develop your startup. Also, have a great team that’s full of people who energize and inspire you. I strongly believe if you love what you are doing and love who you are working with, other people will recognize that and want to get involved with whatever you are creating!”