Through a replicable model of local leadership, innovation, and commitment to unlocking female potential, Starfish empowers a new generation of pioneers who lead self-determined lives and inspire others to do the same.

Starfish does not follow the rules of conventional thinking. Convention says that effective organizations must scale the number they serve. It often says that organizations must be built to last forever and – worst of all – that incremental change is the goal.

What if we looked at things from a completely different angle?

Starfish catalyzes female momentum to accelerate change. It achieves this in what is the Western Hemisphere’s worst context for women: Guatemala. The premise is simple: over 20 years, find 500 extremely high aptitude young women in poverty and see what would happen if each were able to realize her full potential. How far could she go? What kind of transformational changes would she bring?

Through unique local implementation armed with powerful innovation, Starfish employs a powerful combination of scholarship, professional mentorship and peer support to unlock the talents of each young woman. We find her just after 6th grade, when she about to abandon school for economic reasons. She joins Starfish, and her trajectory launches. A local, professional mentor guides her and her family along an unprecedented journey through middle school, then high school, and well into the beyond. Along the way, she acquires knowledge and know-how that have eluded Mayan women for generations.

Starfish measures itself by the heights that this Generation of 500 will reach. How many will start successful small businesses? How many will complete university? How many will be elected to bring an unheard voice to a country that desperately needs it? Most importantly, how will each open opportunities for others?

In Starfish, we are betting the farm that 500 Girl Pioneers – each with her talent fully developed and empowered – will be infinitely more effective than we can ever dream of being as an organization. Our task is to innovate effective responses that embolden these women to continue to blaze a new trail and become powerful women outliers where before there were none. Forget the incremental change stuff! These women are leaping over 4-5 generations. Can the daughter of an illiterate single mother become a physician? We think so, and we are going to find out what happens when she does.

We started this in 2008, and we are now seeing the results. To date, 95% of Starfish Girl Pioneers are academically successful. The 30 graduates are already 6x more educated than their mothers, and are 50x more likely to enroll in university compared to their non-Starfish peers.

They are already setting a new bar for Mayan women, as college students, small business owners, government employees. And they are just getting started.


16 Students and Projects