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From margins to momentum: unlocking the talents of female leaders to foster peace, prosperity and environmental stewardship Guatemala

Leapfrogging incremental change through synergizing diverse sectors of society around the Girl Effect

Photo of Travis Ning

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

It is no secret that Guatemala is struggling. Basic data reveals devastating levels of inequality, corruption, violence, environmental degradation, and malnutrition. Problems seem to be everywhere.

There are no silver bullets in a context like this. However, one solution stands out for its ability to impact every one of Guatemala's major challenges: the unlocking of its female talent. Annually, Guatemala ranks at/near the bottom of the Western Hemisphere's gender equity index. Is it a surprise that the country struggles to find solutions when half of its population is outside the margins?

Mayan females represent roughly 25% of the population, but nearly 80% reside in poverty without access to the opportunities of the 21st-century. There are complex reasons for this: centuries of oppression, machismo, no access to power structures, weak infrastructure in rural areas, etc. As a result, there is a pervasive and insidious false belief at all levels of power that Mayan girls are incapable of full participation. With precious few proof points, Mayan girls are too often railroaded into predictable cycles of poverty and exclusion.

Starfish exists to refute this notion and to do so in a radical way. We are prototyping a platform of innovation designed to be a quantum leap over what would otherwise take 4-5 generations. We believe we have the key ingredients to create an innovative and replicable talent pipeline, including:

-A system to identify highly motivated girls and families who will be pioneers.
-Powerful local leadership and staff (90% Mayan, 95% female) that is "all in" on changing the status quo. The mirrored race-gender dynamic between staff and Girl Pioneers adds essential empathy and context while nurturing an empowering and equal power dynamic.
-A network of national-level, private sector entities eager to provide input on workforce readiness.
-A new facility, designed to share innovations
-A committed body of external innovators

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are adolescent girls ages 11-25 born into situations of quadruple poverty (female, rural, Mayan and poor) in rural villages of the Department of Sololá in Guatemala. These Girl Pioneers and their families are carefully selected over the course of a year based on their aptitude, drive, and level of family commitment. Girl Pioneers are frequently the most-educated members of their families. Each will enroll in the Impact School, a secondary school (grades 7-12) designed specifically for them.

The school goal to leapfrog incremental change is defined by four areas. Each Girl Pioneer graduate will be:
-Economically autonomous, defined as a middle-class income (and upward mobility).
-Lifelong learners, defined as going beyond high school graduation and into university.
-Capable of a choice-filled life by avoiding early marriage and motherhood.
-Empowered to empower others by accessing and influencing power structures.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Several key factors make this idea different:
1) Designed around urgency: Guatemala does not have time for incremental steps. This project is meant to achieve a quantum leap in ONE generation. We are guided by the belief that the outliers that this school creates will have infinitely more impact than one organization.
2) Open-source, iterative innovation- as a responsive organization, Starfish is continually integrating global best-practices into its unique Mayan context. At any given time, local staff is implementing and contextualizing the innovations of over a dozen sources. Starfish is a gateway for others to also access these gems. In the past year, over 30 organizations have received trainings via Starfish.
3) Depth not breadth- we go "all in" on Girl Pioneers, which includes a powerful family engagement process to sustain the unparalleled trajectory.
4) Inclusion of traditional "enemies"- We welcome private sector and like-focused NGOs to be a part of this project.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Starfish is among the handful of organizations in Guatemala that is led and implemented by women from the SAME communities ahat it serves.

www.starfish-impact.org

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

How far can she go? That question drives us. First, it was microcredit where a woman gets a launch but too often cannot fly due to a low ceiling (she is often illiterate, already has a large family, etc,). Then we proved the impossible (previously, we designed a program that secured unprecedented rates of public high school completion among Mayan girls). We seek to answer this question again, now through a school designed specifically with her in mind.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Guatemala is only one generation removed from a 36-year civil war. The majority of the country did not experience this war (70% is under the age of 30), but they are confined by divisions left behind by the conflict. The core user of the school is the Girl Pioneer and her family; however, Starfish's design aims to consider other essential users: future employers. Peace is achieved through partnership between the two major groups (urban/non-Mayan and rural/Mayan), who unite over a shared commitment to the unlocking of girl talent for common good.
When the Girl Pioneers complete their education, they will access previously unseen levels of tertiary schooling and employment. This upward mobility and prosperity is fueled by workforce readiness and higher wages. As outliers/role models, these women illuminate and support future generations of Mayan female leaders. Planet is impacted through girls' education, widely considered as one among the top interventions to reduce climate change.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

The transformational effects of educating girls allows for a diverse collection of partners. In additional to the foundational partnership with girls and families, this idea considers:
-Private sector employers: In a context where traditional schools are broken, companies are eager to expand markets and access talent that is workplace ready. Starfish has access to companies that view this talent not as a nice-to-have, but rather a must-have. These companies are on the receiving-end of the talent and have expressed interest in helping to mold workplace competencies.
-External innovators: The school is designed as a laboratory. In Guatemala, convening adolescent girls into a consistent space is difficult. Through the empathy-based work with girls and families, innovators share their best-practices through the training of the school staff. This formula of training local, Mayan staff (who contextualize the innovation) has proven effective, especially with family work.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

This project maximizes opportunities, such as
- A motivated private sector that is currently struggling to find talent
- An international movement to embrace and evidence the power of educating girls
- Families in rural Guatemala gaining an awareness of alternatives to marginalization through increased access to information
- An awakening of Guatemala's society, which has seen unprecedented levels of civic engagement in the past 3 years
- An HCD-informed organizational culture

Geographic Focus

Rural, indigenous Guatemala is the epicenter, with ripples reaching out across the country.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The Impact School is running a middle school for 150 Girl Pioneers. In 2020 we will open the high school. We have 18 months to design the high school. This process requires rigorous consultation with private sector employers, families of Girl Pioneers, and the Girl Pioneers themselves. The physical building will be completed in October 2018.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

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Photo of Ashley Tillman
Team

Hi Travis Ning great to have you in the Challenge, can you share more details about the platform you are prototyping and your approach to developing it? Also curious if Gayanjith Premalal or Luz Gallo have any questions?

Photo of Travis Ning
Team

Hi Ashley- thanks for reading about the initiative. The "platform" is both a physical and metaphorical space. We see it as a school that is integrating the world's best educational innovations but doing so with a unique empathy-angle since all educators are same-gender/race as the students they teach. This is challenging since we are investing in human resources (both students and teachers) that come from what is arguably the most marginalized population in the western hemisphere: rural, Mayan, female, poor. With the right intervention, can this group access spaces of power and decision-making in ONE generation? The approach consists of enormous amounts of design thinking since many external ideas and innovations require significant levels of contextualization. Girl Pioneers in the school come from families that are often illiterate and from remote Mayan villages. Most do not speak Spanish. Even the most (seemingly) simple possible solutions to emerging challenges require intensive and continually iterative processes. The idea of local women determining the philosophy and approach to engaging girls and families was best described to me through a recent story:

A 7th grade Girl Pioneer showed up to school with a broken sandal. It is understood that this is her one pair of shoes, so this presents a real challenge to her. The immediate impulse from someone not from the context is to simply get her a new pair of sandals- done deal, right? However, the response from her teacher that morning was one of empathy: "Oh, that is rough- I remember when that happened to me a few times. Come sit with me and I can show you a trick to put it back together again"). It is a micro example of the approach. Can this empathy coupled with amazing educational innovation unlock the talent that Guatemala desperately needs? We believe so.

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