“We are not the movement of tomorrow. We are the movement of today.”
13-year-old Jimena, 2015
Guatemala ranks last in the most recent Social Inclusion Index of Latin America (Vanderbilt University). No doubt, SIS graduates will lead unprecedented levels of change. However, we know that one school—in spite of all our investment—will not achieve systemic change from a silo.
With this in mind, Starfish initiated the Chispa Action Network (CAN) in 2015. This network exists to create synergy among diverse entities and align these interests and interdependencies towards systemic change. The network is currently in its initial iteration, focusing first on creating social capital among young women served by girl-focused NGOs. CAN engages organizations from across Guatemala by inviting their highest-achieving young women leaders to join a network of peers. This girl-led network features two key elements:
Chispas del Hoy (Sparks of Today) Summit: This three-day event draws 100 young women from over a dozen organizations and schools from every ethnic and social class in Guatemala. During this highly dynamic event, delegates create powerful bonds over their shared commitment to the “Girl Effect” and each girl’s unique role in steering Guatemala towards achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The SDGs, in particular Goal 5 (gender equity), provide the framework for the event as well as the resulting girl-led network.
Chispacios (Spark Spaces): Upon returning to their communities, delegates are invited to form inclusive chapters that meet on a monthly basis. These chapters represent opportunities for emerging female leaders to carry out specific SDG-aligned initiatives in their communities. CAN communicates with the local organization to ensure that these chapters have access to a meeting place and Internet. CAN provides general guidance, cross-pollination between clubs, and matching funds to help propel these girl-led community initiatives.
A by-product of this highly inclusive and diverse initiative is the precedent of collaboration among NGOs, private sector entities, and media sources. It is difficult to underscore the progressive nature of this type of entity in a post-war landscape full of mistrust and scarcity-mindsets. The 2016 version already featured a robust collection of diverse organizations and companies that were all eager to be a part of this emerging network and movement. As the network matures, the goal is to develop a tight-knit group of 8 to 10 of Guatemala’s highest-performing organizations serving girls. This network will then focus on four forms of collaboration:
Innovation: The Starfish Impact School will be designed to be a gateway for external innovators seeking to disseminate their cutting-edge innovations in Guatemala’s unique context.
Credibility and visibility: Combine a savvy media strategy with rigorous vetting of network members to ensure the highest standards of transparency and impact.
Synergy: Connect young women served by member organizations to equip each with invaluable social capital necessary to sustain unseen trajectories.
Resources: Leverage the achievements of the network to access transformational funding.
CAN is predicated on the belief that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and leverages relationships to deepen collective impact. This is already evident, with notable national and international opinion leaders—Guatemala singer/songwriter Stephanie Zelaya and US advocacy-branding expert Jess Weiner—lending their influence to position CAN. The network’s members will act as a powerful conduit for both Starfish and the other members, allowing access to a multitude of otherwise inaccessible relationships, resources, and opportunities for emerging female leaders across Guatemala. Through creatively leveraging this diverse consortium, CAN will position the importance of the “girl effect” on the national agenda.
CAN’s long-term vision
SIS will serve as a crucial proof-point that demonstrates what happens when talent meets the right opportunity. However, the school will prove little if no one has ever heard of it. CAN is designed to share best-practices among members and propel them into the national arena. In contrast to many network entities, CAN’s design is informed by practitioners who are all empathetic to the unique realities of field work as a grassroots organization. In other words, CAN’s internal and external credibility stems from the Starfish Impact School’s results.
As a unified block of credible, united, high-impact organizations with strategic connections (with media, private sector, and targeted government entities), CAN will be the voice of otherwise unheard grassroots organizations and the girls they serve. Issues that are typically overwhelming for single organizations—public safety for girls, systemic abuse/corruption by teachers, antiquated curricula—will be surmountable. CAN will be the “go-to” knowledge source for anyone looking to inform policy affecting girls, engage in high-impact philanthropy, or access programmatic innovations in Guatemala.
For more information about the Chispa Action Network, please contact Travis Ning at firstname.lastname@example.org.