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As part of its curriculum, Starfish delves deeply into the subject of formal employment over the course of hundreds of hours. Girl Pioneers take personal assessments to inform them of natural aptitudes and vocational implications. They learn to prepare a resume and role-play job interviews. Girl Pioneers also have access to numerous events where they can meet with female professionals to learn about possible careers. They also conduct on-site visits to universities and other realms that usually remain undiscovered by indigenous women. However, Starfish knows that there is nothing as valuable as firsthand experience.

Starfish has devised a creative and effective way to partner with other organizations and businesses to connect a girl’s need to acquire real-job experience with their need for talent. The Starfish “Foot in the Door” Program matches high school-level Girl Pioneers with local NGOs, small businesses or government offices for formal, three-month internships. These partner organizations are often under-resourced and under-staffed, and welcome the support of a Starfish Girl Pioneer who has the drive and commitment but lacks experience in a formal employment situation. Girl Pioneers join these organizations as employees, while Starfish covers between 70-80% of the stipend each girl earns, and the employer covers the balance.

Starfish aims to have each Girl Pioneer graduate from high school with formal employment experience. To achieve this, we have partnered with dozens of local organizations in Guatemala over the past three years. The entire experience constitutes “real-life” in which the Girl Pioneer must apply and interview for the job and get “hired.” She is treated like any other employee. The employer consents to investing time for the training of the Girl Pioneer providing both she and Starfish with feedback on her performance. In the best-case scenario, Girl Pioneers are hired by the partner-organization or use this experience to find formal work elsewhere (both of which have happened). At its worst, this initiative provides a Girl Pioneer with a powerful, firsthand experience of formal employment that often shows her that perhaps she does not want to pursue that career after all (this has happened too).


Rural, indigenous Guatemala is among this hemisphere’s most challenging contexts to address the issue of job creation. Guatemala has the unfortunate distinction of having the hemisphere’s worst gender inequity gap. Within Guatemala, Mayan girls are by far the most disadvantaged group. Being poor, rural, female and indigenous is most often a recipe for total exclusion. Very few find economic footing. Almost 20% are married by the age of 15 and nearly 65% are married by the age of 18. Yet of all places, rural communities need the full measure of female talent and potential to emerge from society’s margins. The state of Sololá (where Starfish is based) is 94% indigenous, with 77% of the population residing in poverty or extreme poverty.

In a country where roughly 50% of the population is Mayan, indigenous people make up only 12% of employees in small businesses and 20% of those working in medium-sized businesses. 93% of Guatemalan youths never receive any type of work-related training. The 220 Starfish Girl Pioneers all come from families that have never been employed in the formal economy; they are called “Pioneers” for a reason.


Funding would allow for approximately 40 months of formative job exposure and experience that will be distributed into three-month internships. Girls Pioneers at the high school-level would have access to these unprecedented opportunities. All internships represent a powerful “first” for each Girl Pioneer and her family as it marks the first time that any have been employed in a formal job environment.

Starfish Girl Pioneers completing high school are 50x more likely to enroll in the university. Firsthand employment experience is a powerful tool for determining one’s career path.

Over 10 NGOs, small businesses, and government offices (and their clients), will benefit from the talents and skills of Girl Pioneers.

Team Credentials

Starfish in Guatemala is led by an incredibly strong core leadership team comprised of 26 indigenous staff members. In addition to the academic credentials (all being the first in their families to complete university), they have all “walked the talk” in their personal lives through their own grit and perseverance. As indigenous themselves, are ideally positioned and motivated to encourage and support others to do the same.


  • October 2015 Update

    Thank you for supporting the Foot in the Door program through Starfish! With your support, we developed a successful mentoring program that supports students in our Puente (Bridge) program and high school graduates who are in our Nuevos Horizontes (New Horizons) program. Over the past year we were able to fund 85 paid internships for high school students in the Bridge program, which provided valuable work experience to each participant for an average of two months. We were also able to provide 42 paid internships to our high school graduates. Through partnerships with organizations like Mercado Global and LIFE School, participants received valuable work experience while earning a monthly income that they can use to support their families. These six-month internships allow our students to practice important skills like time management, organization, writing, communication, and professionalism in order to ensure that they are employable in the future!