Givology Hong Kong's Blog

Interview with Travis Ning, Executive Director of Starfish

It's an immutable truth that in order for a developing community to escape the margins of society and end the poverty trap, its full measure of female potential must be unlocked and tapped into. This is all the more true in Sololá, Guatemala, where 77% of the population lives in poverty or absolute poverty. [url=]Starfish[/url], our partner in Guatemala, aims to eradicate this poverty by offering its Girl Pioneers unprecedented formal work opportunities through [url=]Foot in the Door[/url]. We were able to learn more about Foot in the Door this past week through an interview with Travis Ning, Executive Director of Starfish. [url=]Only $325 is needed to defray the costs of Foot in the Door - every dollar counts![/url][b]
[/b][b]What is Foot in the Door about? [/b]
Who doesn't remember their first job? Now imagine if that was the first job for anyone in your family.
Starfish Girl Pioneers come from largely illiterate families, most of which survive by farming. They have no access to career guidance in their family or among their friends. Learning to navigate a formal work environment is something we learn- its not born. Many of us grow up watching our parents do it before we take a stab at it with our first jobs. We learn about punctuality, deadlines, customer service, team work, etc. The learning curve can be steep for all of us.
We know that Girl Pioneers will need these same skills. They have no natural network to tap to find a formal job. Starfish does what we can with mentorship and job panels, but there is no substitute for real experience.
Foot in the door is a "win-win-win" scenario. For example, a girl says she wants to be an accountant. We find a non-profit willing to take her on as an intern (and invest some time in her training). She goes through the whole routine: applying, interviewing, orientation, etc. She is an employee of that organization. These are small organizations with equally small budgets, so they cannot pay her stipend. Starfish covers around 80% of it and the partner organization covers 20%. The Girl Pioneer wins because she has an after school job and an income. The partner wins because they have subsidized talent. Starfish wins because our mission is to unlock her talent and apply it.
She has "her foot in the door." Not necessarily with the organization where she interns (thought that is awesome when it happens), but in the job market. She has has firsthand experience and knowledge. Its just a beginning, but momentum can pick up from there. She can make informed career choices.
[b]What would a typical internship that Foot in the Door provides entail?[/b]
They are 3 month, renewable commitments. These are typically after school jobs a few days a week. Its hard to overstate how important the income is for the girl and the family. At the same time, she gets that "foot in the door" of a real job.
A typical scenario entails a girl expressing an interest in a particular field. For example, working with special needs children. Her mentor will help her find a local organization dedicated to that specific focus. We don't want the Girl Pioneer there fetching coffee or making copies- we make sure the internship is going to be meaningful for all involved. If the organization is interested, they will interview her for the position. If all goes well, she is HIRED. The mentor keeps tabs on things to make sure that communication is fluid between all involved. The girl earns anywhere from $65-100/month depending on how many hours she works.
To keep the job, her employers must be happy and she must keep her grades up. In the perfect world, its a great match and the organization hires her (this has happened). Worst case scenario is that she hates the job. But that too is informative (did any of us LOVE our first jobs?).
[b]How will Starfish’s Girl Pioneers benefit from Foot in the Door?[/b]
The key here is personal experience and exposure. How do you know what you want to do as a profession? Most of us hark back to personal experience and/or people we know. What if you had neither? This program is designed to address that huge gap that a Girl Pioneer would otherwise not be able to bridge. Guatemala has the worst gender disparity in our hemisphere. Part of that is women's economic activity and opportunity. Foot in the Door takes direct aim at this exclusion.
[b]What are your focus priorities for Foot in the Door in 2014?[/b]
Right now, the challenge is maximizing the effectiveness of each and every internship. Its hard to imagine the number of challenges that Girl Pioneers face when the have this first job. Imagine if you were the first person you know to work in a structured office environment? There are so many blindsides that this experience addresses. Mentors are there to help her navigate it all, but she walks that path alone when she is on the job.
Our goal is for every Girl Pioneer to conduct at least 1 of these internships before graduating high school.
[b]What motivates you to keep fighting for formal employment experiences for Starfish’s Girl Pioneers?[/b]
For centuries, formal employment has been unreachable for Mayan women. Half the country is indigenous, but only 12% of the employees of small businesses are Mayan. This is only 20% for medium businesses. Over 90% of high schoolers graduate without any vocational or employment training of any kind. Why is this so?
Education is a big piece, but the system in Guatemala does not address actual employment. But knowledge (with experience) is power. We see this program working in so many ways. Above all, its a tangible way to connect the unseen talent of potential of a generation of Girl Pioneers with needs in their communities. That is what Starfish is all about.
[b]On a personal level, what does education mean to you?[/b]
Education means options and choice. It means finding your "soft spot" and thriving in it. When people find and reside in that space, good things happen for everyone.

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