We believe in empowerment, equality, and opportunity for all. We are contributing to the global movement for gender equity and girls’ education by unlocking and maximizing the potential of young women to lead transformational change.
Learn more about Starfish:
The mission of Starfish is to catalyze female momentum to accelerate change where it is most needed. Right now, we believe the place where this change is most needed is Guatemala, which has the unfortunate distinction as home of this hemisphere’s worst gender equality gap.
Started in 2008, we embarked on changing the lives of the indigenous girls of Guatemala. We saw that these girls were largely outside of the education system, illiterate and stuck in a cycle that positioned them as overlooked citizens in their own communities.
We know that only 14% of rural indigenous girls in Guatemala completed 6th grade. We know that 3 out of every 5 of indigenous Guatemalan women are illiterate. We know that Mayan girls are at the bottom of every measurement of human development. We aimed to change this and, in turn, to help improve the lives of the entire Guatemalan population.
The Starfish name (previously Starfish One-by-One) originated from the parable of the starfish. We appreciated and valued our ability to influence change by simply “throwing one starfish back into the ocean.”
Please see our FAQ’s for more information on our name.
Through our work, we now understand our mission is far greater. And our responsibility is more deeply embedded in the livelihood of the girls, their families and their communities. Our goal is to create truly meaningful and long-lasting change. The name still works – Starfish are among the most resilient creatures on earth.
Our Vision is maximize all aspects of female potential, fostering equality and opportunity for all.
We have abandoned the idea of incremental change and patience as a virtue. The need is far more urgent than this allows. Instead, we challenge ourselves to unleash, in the near-term, the potential of a select group of 500 indigenous Guatemalan girls – to us, they are Generation 500.
Starfish is an organization that thinks and behaves differently. Our beliefs are deeply seeded in how we behave and run our organization.
We believe in the formula.
We believe in their power.
We believe in having focus.
We believe in local expertise and leanness.
We believe in shared value.
We believe in the formula. Educational access, hands-on support, and unprecedented knowledge are a powerful combination to unlock the potential talents of each young woman that are the Generation 500.
We believe in their power. Generation 500 will become truly influential women in their communities and they will take this newfound power and share this with other girls. And, these other girls will share with other girls. And these girls will share with other girls. And so on, and so on…
We believe in having focus. Our focus now will create long-standing impact for the future. We have set a concrete goal of directly reaching 500 girls, consciously and with consideration. We know that by focusing on a discrete number of girls, we can have a deep impact in their lives and the lives of their famlies and communities.
We believe in local expertise and leanness. Qualified, hands-on-the-ground teamwork beats bulky, central oversight any day. This is why our program is guided by an invaluable and qualified resource – Mayan women.
We believe in shared value. We lean into partnership with others. We are exceptionally fortunate to receive expertise from others to deepen our impact. We strive to do the same for others.
At Starfish, we love this idea and we operate accordingly.
We are not afraid to try new ways of doing things. We push against status quo. We learn. We adapt. And we improve.
Some of the key lessons we’ve learned are:
Focus yields results: Good intentions can get in the way of impact. We know that we must be selective in what we decide to tackle. We know that we must remained focused on what we do well. Only this will result in the greatest impact. It is tempting to try to take on more, but this spreads us too thin and dilutes our overall impact.
A strong culture keeps us focused: Starfish is very intentional about our culture. Our staff is highly talented and singularly focused. We know that it’s important to have everyone on our staff embracing our mission in order to be effective.
Impact requires resources: We accept this. And we know that fixating on overhead can get in the way of just getting the work done. We operate with a lean U.S. management team and a robust Guatemala-based team. We believe we have this mix right to create the greatest impact to our girls, their families and their communities.
Collaboration takes courage: We are a sharing organization. We believe that collaboration amongst like-minded organizations will increase our impact. At the same time, we appreciate that being “open source” sometimes brings its own set of challenges. We are willing to – happy to – work through these challenges because we know it’s the right thing to do.
The Starfish team is more than a collection of hired hands. We are a dedicated, passionate team. We blend traditional values with progressive thinking. We act, we learn, we refine…and we act again. Starfish consists of a streamlined support team in the U.S. and a broader operational staff in Guatemala. All of our staffers are 100% committed to the success of the girls in our program. The entire team is driven by Starfish’s core values (hotlink to pdf w/ values statement). We are a team of 25 full-time employees in Guatemala. This team is 86% indigenous and 80% female. The executive management office in Colorado has three full-time and one part-time staff.
Starfish maintains a streamlined U.S. management team in order to maximize our impact on the ground in Guatemala. Click here to see our complete Financial Report.
Our U.S. office consists of a staff of two full-time employees who support our 25+ member team in Guatemala. Since 2012, we have had annual external audits of our finances, striving always for full transparency for our donors.
Below, please find our Annual Reports, IRS 990 Forms, and our 2013 Audit Report. Please note that in 2013, Starfish changed its fiscal year (October through September) to improve our efficiency and planning. As a result, the 2013 IRS 990 and external audit report on a 9-month fiscal year. (All documents below require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Click here to download and install from Adobe’s website.)
Our model is simple: we work with young women from low-income, traditionally marginalized communities who have the talent and desire to succeed but lack access to opportunity. Through an intentional, holistic program, we provide access to education, consistent and intensive support from peers and mentors, and a diverse knowledge base to ensure that each young woman can realize her full potential and ultimately create change in her community and her country.
We call the young women in our program “Girl Pioneers” because they are truly trailblazers. As the first women in their families and often their communities to study past the second grade, they are on an unprecedented trajectory. Intensive mentoring is crucial for long-term success—the Girl Pioneers can look to their mentors (young indigenous women from the same circumstances) as examples of perseverance on an otherwise unknown journey.
The result: Starfish Girl Pioneers are overcoming previously insurmountable obstacles to earn an education and empower themselves as leaders in Guatemala and on the global stage, thereby unlocking the power of the “Girl Effect.”
Program elements are defined below:
At Starfish our goal is to innovate high-impact responses that equip each Girl Pioneer with the skills to blaze a new trail and become part of the first-generation female outliers. This approach is in stark contrast to traditional approaches to development.
The result? Our Girl Pioneers are far surpassing several generations of otherwise incremental change. And we believe our approach will propel and inspire countless others to do the same.
We ensure that every Girl Pioneer can access educational opportunity through two approaches:
Through our mentorship program, we provide each Girl Pioneer with a scholarship that covers roughly 75% of her school-related costs. This financial aid is essential to ensure that each girl can attend school with the support of her family, fostering dignity and buy-in.
With the opening of the first Starfish Impact School in January 2017, we will ensure that incoming Girl Pioneers have access to a secondary school education specifically designed to connect her talent with the skills and opportunities of the 21st century.
We believe that the potential of each Girl Pioneer can only be fully realized if she has a network of support.
In all areas of the programs, professional mentors are paired with small groups Girl Pioneers and work with these students throughout their time in the Starfish program. Mentors are among the few Mayan women who have blazed similar trails – they are highly-trained and come from the same indigenous groups and communities as our Girl Pioneers.
Watch our video below to learn more:
In addition to supporting traditional academic subjects, Starfish focuses on fostering a deep awareness of and capacity for self-empowerment and leadership. This “Empowerment Curriculum” paired with opportunities for continual practice provides each Girl Pioneer with the power to overcome centuries of educational and political exclusion by illuminating subjects including (but not limited to): vocal empowerment, leadership development, reproductive health, civic engagement and financial literacy.
Watch our video to learn more (hotlink to video)
For an indigenous young woman in rural Guatemala, accessing a quality education is a rare feat. According to the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum, only 44 percent of women in Guatemala are enrolled in secondary school. For indigenous women, this statistic is even more startling—only 10 percent of indigenous girls who live in rural communities are enrolled in secondary school, and less than 1 percent continue on to university.
The average Mayan teenage girl in Guatemala has only 3.5 years of education.
Since 2008, Starfish has operated a successful wraparound program—by November 2015, 130 Starfish Girl Pioneers will have graduated from high school, with 50 percent of past graduates enrolled in university and 90 percent employed outside the home. While graduates of our current program have reached incredible heights academically and socially, the implications of the severely substandard Guatemalan educational system are noticeable. Nationally, only 10 percent of high school graduates meet international standards of literacy and only 8.5 percent reach the standards of math comprehension (Guatemalan Ministry of Education). Schools in rural Guatemala lack both quality and quantity. These debilitating factors severely impede each young woman’s ability to realize her full potential as a productive employee, social change-maker, and leader.
To address this issue, Starfish has embarked on a new journey to launch our first all-girls’ secondary school in January 2017. We believe that by combining our intentional, holistic program with highly trained educators and a rigorous academic model, our Girl Pioneers will truly be able to realize their infinite impact.
The Starfish Impact School will begin with a cohort of 40 carefully selected seventh-grade students from Sololá and will expand by one grade level each year, through 12th grade. Though our mission and measurable objectives will remain identical to those of our current wraparound program, we have identified seven core competencies that will serve as her passport to access the opportunities of the 21st century:
– Academic excellence
– Critical thinking
– Growth mindset
– Intercultural communication
– Vocal empowerment
In the effort to answer the question “How far can she go?” and reach our goal of ensuring that each Girl Pioneer obtains 15+ years of education, Starfish provides support to every Girl Pioneer who wishes to pursue post-secondary educational opportunities.
Through the Quetzal Fund (QF), launched by Ted and Connie Ning in February 2015, Starfish provides full ride university scholarships to many of the top 10% of Starfish graduates. The mission of this fund is to ensure that high achieving Starfish students can pursue post-secondary education, regardless of their economic circumstances. Through this fund, we aim to prepare young women to become agents of change in their communities, country, and our world.
In addition to the Quetzal Fund, we partner with a range of organizations to provide external university scholarships to all Starfish students who wish to pursue post-secondary educational opportunities. These organizations include: She’s the First, Progressa, and FEPMaya. We employ a full time staff member who work one on one with Girl Pioneers to navigate the complexity of scholarship applications and university enrollment.
In 2015, 15 Girl Pioneers received full ride scholarships to attend university through the Quetzal Fund and scholarships from our partner organizations. If you wish to make a direct contribution to our university scholarship program, please be sure to make note that your donation is restricted to “university scholarships” in the comments section of our Donate page. Thank you for your support!
Starfish aims to ensure that our graduates are able to find employment in the formal sector and earn more than the per capita annual income in Guatemala ($3150/year) after graduating from high school. In order to reach these goals, we support our students and graduates through formal internships.
Formal internships—Nothing informs career direction more than firsthand experience. However, Girl Pioneers come from families that lack both experience in the formal job sector and the networks to support their daughter’s job search. Starfish coaches address this need by matching Girl Pioneers with paid six-month internships with other social impact organizations. When a partner organization is large (like former the microcredit organization Friendship Bridge), it covers the entire internship salary (usually $125/month for FT). With organizations that are smaller, Starfish covers some (and at times all) of the internship wage.
In 2015, of the 30 internships amongst high school students and graduates, roughly 85% were carried out in local NGOs, schools, or health clinics. Of the New Horizons interns, several Girl Pioneers were invited to extend their internships, and a few turned into formal jobs.
Small business development—Starfish graduates have access to trainings and guidance from our full-time small business consultant as they create their own enterprises. Our consultant guides them in every step of the process and connects them with opportunities for seed funding. There are currently seven small businesses, several of them in the category of “social entrepreneurship,” with more on the horizon for 2016.
The name Starfish is inspired by the parable of the starfish, stemming from our belief in the importance of helping the individual. But, our mission isn’t to help just one “starfish” – it’s to help many, and therefore improve the lives of an entire population. To us, that is true impact.
Why did you drop “One-by-One”?
While we started our mission with focus on the girls of Starfish, we quickly realized that our impact was far greater than helping just these individuals. Our impact would and should effect their families and their communities. As we’ve grown as an organization, we realized “one-by-one” was too limiting for our mission and superfluous to our name.
When was the organization founded?
Starfish was founded in 2007 by Ted and Connie Ning and Mimi Schlumberger. In the relatively short time of our operations, we have seen substantial and positive changes occur for our girls, their families, and their communities.
By educating and empowering girls in rural communities, the impact to their communities is undeniable. Global data of the “girl effect” supports this time and again. Indicators pertaining to the health, education, economic development, environment and civic population all improve when young women have sustained access to and success in school.
Starfish is singularly focused on unlocking the girl potential for communities in Guatemala. We believe that by changing the lives of the indigenous girl population of this generation, we will create catalysts for reverse to the embedded cycle of poverty for generations to come.
Naturally stunning and culturally rich, the economic and social indicators of extreme poverty, illiteracy, gender equality and disease within Guatemala are among the worst in the hemisphere. The contrast of beauty and struggle are striking.
Among half of the 14 million Guatemalan people are Mayan – a traditional culture that has endured civil war, extreme poverty and desolate living conditions for generations. Mayans, especially women and girls, are at the bottom of the social ladder. It is arguably the hardest place to unlock the Girl Effect in the hemisphere, but we are showing it is possible. Starfish believes that with access to the right educational resources and support, Mayan women will lead the way out of this state of poverty.
What are your key strategies?
Since 2008, Starfish has employed the use of an intensive wrap-around program that supports a Girl Pioneer as she goes to, through and beyond secondary school. A full-time mentor is the linchpin of this intervention, and she stewards the empowerment and education of 15 Girl Pioneers and their families. This strategy has worked: annually 95 percent of Girl Pioneers are academically successful.
Yet the shortcomings of Guatemala’s schools – particularly those in rural areas – cannot be ignored. Frustrated by our limited ability to influence systemic reform (but incredibly inspired by powerful models of innovation elsewhere), Starfish is now in the intensive planning phase of launching the first of what will be a network of all-girl secondary schools that will open in 2017.
Where can I find information about Starfish Impact?
We measure the impact of our program in a variety of ways – for the girls, their families and their communities. For the girls, we have created a customized Monitoring & Evaluation system that allows us to track their progress, successes and future opportunities. Our overarching goal is to empower her to empower. On an ongoing basis, we review our progress towards our four organizational goals that demonstrate this. We realize that we are at the beginning of our journey and confident that our list of achievements will be ever-growing.
What results best show your success?
We believe that the data on our 3 graduating classes (2011-2013) demonstrate that the Starfish girls are on a different trajectory than previous generations:
-Over 50% are enrolled in university (versus less than 1% nationally)
-Over 90% are employed outside the home (versus 0% among their mothers)
-Average years schooling is 12+ (versus less than 2 among their mothers)
-Average age when graduates marry cannot yet be calculated because none have married (versus age 18 among their mothers)
By the end of 2015, we will have 140 graduates.
What is next for Starfish?
On our immediate horizon is a bold initiative that goes right to the question “How far could she go?” Guatemala’s lackluster education system is no secret, especially to us. Starfish is currently in the design phase of its own secondary school that would fuse the core elements of Academics, Community and Culture in a uniquely engaging environment. Start date for our first group of 7th graders is 2017. Stay tuned.
How can I get involved?
Your involvement is important to us and there are many ways that you can help – monetarily, in-kind donations, volunteering, learning more. You can contribute directly via our website under the Get Involved section. Or, if it’s easier, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
What is the most useful non-financial contribution I can make?
We accept a range of non-financial contributions – in-kind donations, workplace matching donations, stock donations, frequent flier miles, life insurance, vehicle donations and volunteering to name a few. Please contact us at email@example.com to discuss your specific interests.
Do you accept in-kind donations?
Yes, definitely. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss.
Who can I contact about traveling to Guatemala?
We love when our supporters are interested in a hands-on experience with our program. Please email email@example.com to discuss upcoming trips.