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FAQ » Starfish » Her Infinite Impact


What is the meaning of Starfish?

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.

Why Girls?

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.

Why Guatemala?

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 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 to discuss your specific interests.

Do you accept in-kind donations?

Yes, definitely. Please email 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 to discuss upcoming trips.

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