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MAIA (formerly Starfish)

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Economic Development, International, International Economic Development, Microfinance

Mission: MAIA (formerly Starfish) unlocks and maximizes the potential of young women to lead transformational change.

Results: MAIA Girl Pioneers become lightning rods for systemic change in their communities. Graduates of the program are on average the first in their families to make it past 3rd grade, and they go on to earn university scholarships, open social enterprises, flourish as professionals, and lead movements for social change. They serve as examples for their families and communities as to what can happen what a young woman is afforded the access and opportunities that allow her to reach her full potential. The impact of a MAIA Girl Pioneer is infinite. Specifically, 240 girls and their families have been served by this program. Currently, 87 percent of the 152 graduates are working and earning money for their families, 30 percent employed at either a school or NGO. Twelve percent of all graduates have already exceeded the income goal, and 43 percent are working in the formal economy. If we also include the number of graduates studying as “on track” toward economic autonomy and mobility, 91 percent of graduates are on their way to reach this goal. Ninety-six percent of MAIA graduates have delayed pregnancy and marriage until turning 25. Fifty-five percent of graduates are currently enrolled in university or taking classes, and 48 percent of those students have university scholarships. Fifty-one percent of graduates are working for NGOs, involved in community service projects, and/or have been elected to voluntary positions of leadership. *These results were last updated in Dec 2018.

Target demographics: unlock and maximize the potential of young women to lead transformational change.

Direct beneficiaries per year: 200 Girl Pioneers and their families, 40+ organizations

Geographic areas served: Guatemala

Programs: MAIA is dedicated to unlocking and maximizing the potential of young women to lead transformational change. Through three key strategies, we support a new generation of leaders and enable a collective impact for adolescent girls, families, and communities. 1. MAIA Impact School—The Impact School is a secondary school created to maximize the potential of Mayan girls by providing a high-quality education while supporting holistic socioemotional development and celebrating culture. It is the only school of its kind in Central America. Every aspect of the school, the curriculum, and the mentorship program has been developed to nourish and connect the girls’ talents with the opportunities of the 21st century. A defining characteristic of the school is the same-gender/same-race faculty that mirrors the profile of the students. The school currently serves 150 girls, and 45-50 girls will be added each of the next three years until the school serves approximately 300 Girl Pioneers and families in grades 7 to 12. Key features: Over 30 school models were consulted during the development of the SIS. Seven core competencies—Critical Thinking, Excellence, Growth Mindset, Negotiation, Intercultural Network, Resilience, and Vocal Empowerment—are deliberately built into every aspect of the school to ensure that graduates will be on track to achieve the four goals (www.maiaimpact.org/impact-school). 2. New Horizons Graduate Program—MAIA views high school graduation as an incredible achievement, not a finish line. Once the Girl Pioneers graduate from high school, they continue to face barriers and intense social pressures. In the interest of continuing intensive support, the New Horizons program supports graduates to stay on track to achieve the four goals, while granting them the freedom to explore new opportunities such as launching a small business, finding a formal job, and/or attending university. To date, a total of 250 Girl Pioneers and families have been served by this program. These young women are over 50 times more likely to attend university (www.maiaimpact.org/new-horizons-graduate-programs). 3. Chispa (Spark) Action Network—MAIA is a platform for NGO, private, and public sector partners to access and share global innovations in education, girls’ empowerment, and gender equity. The school building is designed to identify and disseminate innovative education and youth development techniques throughout Central America and beyond. MAIA’s innovation arm, the Chispa Action Network, acquires, tests, and shares best practices with partners throughout the region. Large classrooms accommodate observers who take best practices back to their programs. Key features: Since 2016, over 60 organizations and schools have accessed innovations in an array of girl-focused trainings including STEM, vocal empowerment, literacy, inclusion, and more (www.maiaimpact.org/chispa).

Community Stories

34 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

Board Member

Rating: 5

MAIA is an incredible one of kind organization that changes young women's lives for the better. It not only gives young indigenous Guatemalan a world-class organization it also teaches them and their families skills to better communicate and support each-other to drive for future success. It has measurable KPI's that have proven demonstrable success to help young women improve their lives and the lives of their family and community. On top of all that success one of the most unique things is that the organization is run by indigenous women of the community and the vast majority of the staff is made of of indigenous women.

I am proud to have been a board member for the past 3 years of MAIA. This is a truly an awe-inspiring organization.

Board Member

Rating: 5

I was introduced to MAIA by a close friend. I was supportive of their vision for the young Guatemalan girls but was not necessarily expecting the organization to have an emotional impact on me personally. After visiting the MAIA school, I became a believer as well in these young girls' future! Everyone that is involved in this organization has spent hours upon hours thinking of all of the details that are necessary to help transform these young girls' lives! It's an amazing organization filled with dedicated individuals.

Donor

Rating: 5

I first heard of MAIA through my daughter and as a retired teacher and a believer in girl’s/women’s education, I totally embrace this cause. I have visited the MAIA Impact School in Sololá, Guatemala several times. I love to talk teaching with the teachers and especially enjoy watching these girls go about their education. If not for this school, most of these girls would be working and/or married, living a familiar life within the cultural norms of indigenous women in the Guatemalan highlands. MAIA is helping them unlock their full potential and chase their dreams, which are not very different from any girl in the US. These girls want to become doctors, nurses, educators, business owners, politicians. They will improve the lives of everyone in their communities and in their country as they set and meet their goals. MAIA gives them opportunities which their families cannot financially support. Their parents are so proud as the girls continue their education with the support of high quality, well-trained teachers from local area, indigenous women themselves. The girls arrive for 7th grade from public schools with reading and math skills several years below grade level. MAIA enables them to graduate from high school ready and confident to compete on the national and world stage. You cannot ask for more than that!

MsJB

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I am a public school teacher in Nevada and I'm always curious what the public school system in countries I visit looks like. It's hugely disappointing to me when I discover that the public school system doesn't think educating girls is as important as educating boys.

I had a chance to visit the Maia school in Guatemala, and I was thrilled to meet the wonderful director. I had a conversation with her, largely about how to support students who are falling through the cracks and struggling to meet academic expectations. We discussed ideas for interventions to support these students and their families, and then we discussed ways to support the teachers with everything from curriculum planning and mapping to classroom management. Many of our ideas were very similar- in fact, they were using the same book for teacher professional development that my school had used the year before! It's a book about having high expectations and believing in ALL learners, regardless of other situations.

My favorite thing about Maia is that all the teachers at the school are local women who have worked their way up through the system, and are now role models, mentors, and supports to the younger girls in their community. This really shows the students at Maia that they can be successful with hard work and support from their family and community. Students who have already graduated and gone on to the university or to start their own businesses also continue to come back to show the current students and the community the impact of educating young women.

Not only does a woman educated by Maia have better prospects for a sustainable, successful, and positive future for herself, but she spreads that optimism to friends, younger family members, and eventually on to her own family as it grows. The impact is never-ending, while the connection to their culture, history, and community is ever-lasting.

Vikki Pitter G.

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I first learned of the Maia impact school when it was operating as Starfish. I strongly believe in this organization’s mission to empower indigenous women. I’ve have learned about MAIA, through attendance at informational events and fundraisers in the US and had a unique opportunity to visit the school in Solola. My experience with this incredible organization is inspiring and I will continue to support MAIA in the future!

Donor

Rating: 5

I first became involved with MAIA in 2016, when one of the directors agreed to mentor my high school daughter in getting involved with nonprofit organizations. My family quickly became familiar with the importance of MAIA's mission (the education and empowerment of young girls and women in Guatemala) and its extraordinary leadership. Over the past several years we have remained involved as volunteers and supporters. We visited the MAIA school in Solola, Guatemala last summer; this year, my daughter is serving a volunteer intern at the school. MAIA is an exceptional, and exceptionally well-managed, nonprofit. Its mission is extremely important and we feel proud and honored to play a small part in it.

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

While we have been learning, growing and working alongside the folks at MAIA for the past decade, nothing compares to entering the MAIA Colegio and feeling the palpable impact that they are making. MAIA is an organization that is conscious of every detail, and who - over everything - centers the voices, assets, priorities, and culture of those whom they serve. In this case, those served are Mayan indigenous girls, women, and their families. There are currently 147 students enrolled in the Colegio, supported by nearly 50 staff members. Each of these individuals will share their education and development with countless around them, making MAIA's impact, as they say, truly "infinite."

MAIA is an example of a nonprofit who is working diligently to uplift communities who have traditionally been marginalized by systems of oppression (including colonialism, genocide, and globalism). For those hoping to learn about sustainable community development, the "girl effect," women's empowerment, justice, and resilience, getting involved with MAIA is a must. Come, participate, listen, bear witness, learn, and forever be changed in the process.

Many thanks to Norma, Vilma, Ceci, and ALL of the MAIA girl pioneers who are currently studying, and who have come before them, for creating a beacon of light in this world. As an organization working in the Ixil region of Guatemala (Philanthropiece Foundation/Filantropis ONG), we recognize your lucha, we see your impact, and we so appreciate your openness to sharing all that you have learned, all that you are doing, and all whom you are.

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I’ve heard and read a lot lately about the global impact that empowering women and girls can have on poverty and climate change, but the arguments have been abstract. I recently visited the MAIA Impact School and witnessed this promise in real time.

It was obvious to me - and staff and families I spoke with confirmed - the change these girls have undergone in a short time. I talked with several girls completing their third year at the school. Instead of being on the receiving end of a system that believes that girls aren’t worth educating because their future is to marry and have children, MAIA is helping these girls and their families break that cycle. Through their commitment to the 4 goals that MAIA has for these girls and their families (which everyone signs up for) the girls talked about possible future careers including intentions to become leaders - leading by example in their families and communities. In this process they’re creating a virtuous cycle of change through their siblings, parents and communities.

Also as part of this process, MAIA is testing and proving a wrap-around educational model which can become a platform for leveraging and extending this impact in other departments in Guatemala.

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

MAIA’s Impact school is a beacon for the importance of educating girls in order to make a difference in the lives of families and whole communities. I recently had the opportunity to visit with MAIA leadership as well as staff at the school and students themselves. My visit was incredibly valuable: I received honest, thoughtful answers to all my questions about future plans and challenges.

MAIA operates the school with a very clear strategy. The goals are for each graduate to have a job paying at least minimum wage, thereby guaranteeing economic independence; to complete at least 15 years of formal education; to have a family on her own terms, including not marrying until age 25; and to become a leader in her community. The girls I spoke with want to achieve the first three goals, but whether they will or not remains to be seen—they were in the 9th grade. But leadership potential was palpable. Instead of being “throw-aways” who are not worth the investment of time and money for education, they come early to school to read; do research on computers which they had never previously held; ask questions and voice their opinions; and speak up clearly about their dreams for the future which focus on helping their communities. What the girls are called upon to do is very difficult—almost double the hours their public school counterparts spend in class, if indeed they continue past 6th grade. Family engagement and support is mandatory, and the change in attitudes especially of fathers about the value of girls’ education is striking. Girls have the benefit of mentors (paid MAIA staff) who meet with them regularly for encouragement and support.

Teachers and staff are inspiring. They are enthusiastic and innovative. No one seems just to settle for an easy or cookie cutter solution. There is a constant search for what works, what doesn’t, and what else can be done to improve pedagogy and curriculum content.

The leadership is committed to making what it learns available to others—other teachers, NGO’s and schools. The school itself is viewed as a space to test out new ideas and widely disseminate what works.

MAIA is especially attuned to the girls’ needs to develop resilience. Their lives will not be easy as they will be among “the firsts” in Guatemalan universities and businesses. As indigenous women who have grown up in rural areas, all of whom speak Spanish and English as second and third languages, they will face sexism, classism and racism. Perhaps the most important thing that the Impact school is doing is developing models for nurturing the resilience needed to face these challenges. MAIA girls are determined to be future leaders.

Board Member

Rating: 5

Empowering women changes everything. My son is adopted from Guatemala. If his birth mother had experienced MAIA, he may have never needed to be removed from his native culture and biological family. He may have grown up in an intact family in his native country with an educated, powerful mother. Adoption was the best available option for him. MAIA enables indigenous girls to grow into powerful women!

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I first learned about MAIA (formerly Starfish) in 2012 and was inspired by its innovative approach to providing quality educational opportunities for indigenous Mayan girls in Guatemala. I began volunteering with MAIA during the summer of 2018 and have spent the past 10 months working closely with the MAIA team as it expands its programs to serve more girls in rural Guatemala.

MAIA is an exemplar of innovation and collaboration for other educational NGOs, not only in Guatemala, but also throughout Central America and other developing countries. School leaders and educators from MAIA travel both nationally and internationally to visit other schools and educational programs, gathering best practices that they then bring back and contextualize within rural Guatemalan communities.

Through the MAIA Impact Network, staff members are dedicated to learning and sharing best practices and institutional knowledge with other organizations committed to level the playing field for girls and youth from marginalized communities. Other NGOs in Guatemala have already begun to replicate MAIA's school model integrating wraparound mentoring and social-emotional support programming for students.

MAIA's leaders understand that representation matters. The overwhelming majority of the staff are indigenous women who come from the same communities as the girls who attend MAIA's Impact School. Staff leads by example, providing a model to students of what it looks like to be an indigenous woman taking advantage of educational and leadership opportunities and giving back to their communities.

Moreover, MAIA's Impact school embraces a philosophy of preserving and celebrating the indigenous Mayan cultural heritage and identity of its staff and students while also developing the skills and competencies needed to succeed with the global demands of the 21st century. In addition to classes that strengthen both Spanish and English language skills, students take Kaqchikel (the local Mayan dialect) classes throughout their entire time at the Impact School to ensure they don't lose their ability to speak, read, and write in their mother tongue.

MAIA is leading the way for girls' education, investing in new generations of leaders at the local, national, and international levels.

Board Member

Rating: 5

MAIA is extremely well run and very organized. They have clear goals and metrics to measure their outcomes. They are intensely thoughtful and engaged on the ground in Guatemala on multiple fronts. This is an organization that stands apart.

Board Member

Rating: 5

MAIA has changed my life. I became involved with the MAIA Board a few years ago by some serendipitous connection as I am a Guatemalan living in Denver. Everyone frequently asks whether I think my country will ever change, and I know through organizations like MAIA, it will, as it empowers girls to become active members of society.

Advisor

Rating: 5

I have worked in the field and taught at the university level as a developmental psychologist since 1973, consulting with organizations and academic institutions around the world (47 countries at last count). I have visited in Guatemala since the 1980s, and have made a commitment to the children and youth of that country for years to come. Through my work with a literacy program in El Salvador (ConTextos) I came to know Starfish and its innovative school for indigenous girls, and am delighted to share my evaluation. The school is built on a solid intellectual foundation-- focusing on "developmental assets," making a long term commitment to the girls as they move through adolescence into early adulthood, emphasizing resilience in every aspect of the program, and providing a "holistic" approach to education and socialization. I have spent time at the school and plan to incorporate it into my long term professional and personal mission because it exemplifies the kind of informed practice that blends good heart and with good mind. The staff are kind and thoughtful. The girls are marvelous! STarfish is an NGO gem! James Garbarino, PhD Loyola University Chicago

1 Chris K.3

Donor

Rating: 5

Impressive! I learned about Starfish through Dining For Women (DFW). I was so impressed by their work that I had to see it for myself. Along with several other members of our San Francisco DFW chapter, I traveled to Guatemala to see the Starfish team in action. We had a wonderful experience from cultural events and tours, to a very personal experience visiting the family of a Starfish girl, to the highly anticipated graduation ceremony. The opportunity to interact with the students, mentors, teachers and staff at Starfish exceeded my expectations. Starfish is making profound changes in both the lives of the girls and the communities around them. This is why, in addition to contributing through the giving circle of DFW, I am also an individual donor.

Review from Guidestar

1

Donor

Rating: 5

She's the First has been conducting site visits with Estrella del Mar (Starfish) since early 2011. In that time, we've witnessed the organization blossom from one focused on empowerment to one focused on overall success for each and every one of its students. One thing that hasn't changed is the organization's commitment to growth and learning, as they continue to innovate to improve their services each and every year, as we witness in person each year.

We've come to know much of the staff and many students in Starfish programs, and the repeat visits have shown us the outcomes of a program as intensive as this one: Staff members are happy and dedicated to their work, and students grow over time to be more confident and ready to take on the world. Starfish has also built a name for itself in the local community, where many people know of the organization through the many community members who are regularly involved in the program.

Overall, She's the First has the utmost confidence not only in Estrella del Mar as it exists today, but also in the Estrella del Mar of tomorrow. Their innovation, dedication, and commitment to equality are hallmarks of a strong program that will serve the community well for years to come.

Review from Guidestar

1

Donor

Rating: 5

I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Starfish Impact School in person to drop off some donations while I was traveling in Lake Atitlan, and I was so glad I made time for it!
As a social worker with a background in youth development, I was thoroughly impressed by the comprehensive holistic approach Starfish applies to all of their programs in their effort to educate young women. You can tell the Starfish team has been very intentional and responsible with the way they have developed the girls' school, making sure that the program objectives and implementation are driven by community needs and community input; many of the teachers and full-time staff were from the surrounding community, some of them were even graduates of past Starfish projects.
It was really great to see an NGO with such a transparent, effective, and sustainable approach, and getting to meet some of the young women who are students was such a treat! All the students there were smiling and engaged and participating actively in the classes we got to observe, so wonderful to see!

Review from Guidestar

1 peterkonrad

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

I have been fortunate to serve as the foundation manager for two grant making organizations, the Weyerhaeuser Family Foundation and the Harvey Family Foundation, in their grants to Starfish. I have also personally contributed to Starfish from my family’s donor advised fund at the Denver Foundation. These experiences over the past eight years have only increased my belief in, and support of, their work.

Over the past thirty years as a foundation manager, I have worked with hundreds of international nonprofits. I believe this experience has taught me a lot of what it takes for these organizations to be successful. First, I believe that it is critical to be a learning organization. This starts by being very clear about the organization’s mission, goals and objectives. It is followed by a commitment to measuring their outcomes and learning from their successes and failures. As a result these organizations are clearly focused and constantly improving. Starfish does this extremely well. They are focused on changing the lives of Guatemalan’s indigenous people by developing girls as strong and capable leaders in their communities. Year by year I have seen the “Starfish model” evolve and improve to a point where they are now creating a school for these girls. Second, to be effective international nonprofits need to have an efficient and effective management team with strong support from the first world. But this management team must understand and be supportive of the local leadership. The overall process must be bottom up and led by the indigenous people but must be supported from the outside. Management’s job is to help guide and support this in-country effort but also be able to provide resources from outside the country. Many international nonprofits struggle with this balance. Starfish continues to be successful because of very strong and talented Guatemalan leadership and yet also has strong U.S. based management which provides strategic leadership and financial resources.

I believe strongly in Starfish One by One and encourage you to support their efforts to change the lives of Guatemalan women so that they can change the lives of their families and their country’s future. Should you have any questions I would be happy to talk further with you.

Peter Konrad

Review from Guidestar

Carma S.

Donor

Rating: 5

My husband and I made our first trip to Guatemala in February 2013 to visit Starfish one by one, I can say that we were blown away. We visited classrooms and were delighted at the quality of the education, mentoring and interaction between the young ladies. Home visits made us realize that these girls would not have an opportunity for education without help. The barriers of illiteracy, remoteness, language and discrimination are insurmountable for these beautiful women.
I am convinced with the help of the mentoring and support received from Starfish, these ladies can lead the way for their families, sisters for years to come.

Donor

Rating: 5

My Rotary club is currently working with Starfish to support a group of girls in a mentor circle. From the first time we connected with Starfish, we have been so impressed by their mission, organization and communication. The structure of their program is built for sustainability and long-term success for the girls that they support. In addition, a group of our members visited Guatemala and our sponsor group in March of this year. The trip was truly life-changing for our travelers. We had the opportunity to get to know the Starfish team in Guatemala, interact with families and get a true picture of the challenges that families face. We also got to see the true benefit of this program first hand. I consider it a true honor to work with this organization and will tell anyone who will listen all about it!