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Building the foundation

I joined Stars Foundation as its CEO and first employee 15 years ago. In one of my job interviews, our founder shared some principles that have guided all our work since.

He discussed the importance of supporting local organisations working to improve the lives of children and young people in their communities, of recognising their expertise by placing decision-making in their hands, and of always seeking ways to enable more impact.

Guided by those principles, our subsequent journey has been one of brave and innovative philanthropy.

In 2007, when we launched our flagship programme, the Stars Impact Awards, we were one of the first donors to offer unrestricted funding direct to local organisations in the Global South – our combination of flexible funding, capacity-building, profile-raising and a rigorous selection process was unique.

We developed trusted relationships with our award winners, supporting them with introductions to other funders, networks and other winners from whom they could learn and draw inspiration. And we began to have real impact, awarding 190 organisations in 67 countries, working with over five million people and leveraging close to $10million of additional funding for our award winners.

Building the influence

As Stars grew, so did our desire to enable ever-greater impact. We continued to assess our effectiveness, conducting internal and external evaluations, learning from feedback and sector shifts, always looking to evolve our approach.

As we began to see the value and importance of our funding approach, we engaged with other donors, influencing their giving practices to provide more direct and flexible support to local organisations.

We developed collaborative partnerships, such as Fund The Front Line with the likes of Pears Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Charities Aid Foundation and Global Giving.

We joined the OECD’s Global Network of Foundations Working for Development and acted as its representative on the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC). There, we looked at how foundations could engage in SDG17 and helped to draft the Guidelines for Effective Philanthropic Engagement which were adopted at the First High Level meeting of the GPEDC in Mexico in 2014.

To enable more direct funding to frontline organisations, we shared our awardee assessment methodology with nearly 60 other funders through our Impact Partnerships Programme.

We launched the With and For Girls Collective in 2015, bringing together nine organisations to co-create an awards programme funding girl-led and girl-centred grassroots organisations, using a participatory grant making model in which adolescent girls take the final decisions on award winners.

And we looked to share all that we have learned in our Impact Awards Learning Report, which summarises the key lessons we have drawn from our work, along with an analysis of the awards process we have developed and refined over the years.

Building on technology

Stars was born before the launch of many of the technology platforms that have changed the way the world works. The internet gives philanthropy many new opportunities to innovate, communicate and extend its reach.

Building on these opportunities, our founder launched his next philanthropic initiative in 2015. Philanthropy University provides practitioners with the knowledge, resources and support they need to deliver sustainable development for all.

After an initial incubation phase, Philanthropy University will re-launch in 2018 as the centrepiece of our founder’s philanthropy. It will provide accessible and relevant content to local civil society organisations, with a particular focus on the Global South, harnessing the power and the potential of technology for good.

Philanthropy University will be open to everyone, and its ambition is to reach 100 million people by 2020, extending beyond children and young people to the broader reach of the SDGs.

A new home

Philanthropy University will translate what Stars has learned over the last 15 years, applying it to a digital platform in a way that can scale. Its focus, like Stars, will be on local organisations; specifically on providing capacity building that is tailored and responsive to their needs, and on the duty of philanthropy to amplify the voices of local leaders.

Philanthropy University will become the new home of the Stars Impact Awards. From 2018, the Impact Awards will link to the online platform and will be run by the Philanthropy University team. We are supporting this transition with a number of our Stars colleagues joining the Philanthropy University team. Our With and For Girls initiative has grown exponentially since its launch and will become the focus of our UK team from 2018.

Always family

As often happens with big organisational change, a number of people will be leaving – myself included. I will step down as CEO to take on an advisory role to both the Philanthropy University and With and For Girls teams into 2018.

Through Stars, I have seen our founder’s philanthropy go on the most incredible journey over the last 15 years, and it has been the greatest privilege to lead that journey along with the other members of our phenomenal team. I have no doubt that the next tech-enabled 15 years will achieve as much and more, and I look forward to cheering it from the sidelines.

Those of us leaving Stars know that we will always be part of the Stars family and the wider constellation of partners we have worked with over the years. And wherever we go next, I know we will take with us a strong belief in the power of local development to change the world.


* Photo Credit: Shallah Montero / Stars Foundation