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Stars Foundation invests in organisations and ideas that transform the lives of disadvantaged children and their communities globally.

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A decade of learning from local stars

Posted by: Muna on 05 Apr 2017
in Blog

This January saw us celebrate the 2016 Stars Impact Awards - marking ten years of our flagship programme that recognises and rewards outstanding locally-led organisations working to improve the lives of children. The 23 winning organisations joined us at the Philanthropreneurship Forum in Vienna, where they received their prestigious award on stage, followed by a week of workshops, networking and relationship building.

At this ten-year milestone we have taken the time to reflect on all that we have learned and have asked ourselves what more can we do?

Stars of NGOs

Originally conceived by our Founder HE Amr Al-Dabbagh, the Stars Impact Awards launched in 2007 with awards to three NGOs in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa. They have since recognised 140 organisations across 41 countries, working with over 5 million people.

These numbers, whilst impressive, do little to convey the brilliance that these Awards uncover. Organisations working with ‎deafblind children in India and the victims of child abuse in the Philippines, combatting FGM in Ethiopia, running floating hospitals in Bangladesh, helping Palestinian children faced by conflict build resilience through music, supporting digital inclusion in Paraguay...the list goes on.  Each organisation is responding to local needs in a culturally appropriate way and building its services from the ground up.

Time and again, year after year, our winning organisations take our breath away. They remind us just how much can be achieved by a dedicated group of people when they are given the space and the resources to do what they do best.

The Awards are based on a rigorous assessment process, where all aspects of the organisation's management practices are reviewed, along with their programmes and the impact they have on the lives of disadvantaged children. In recognition of this, winning organisations receive unrestricted funding and capacity building support, allowing them to determine where their award funding can be best spent in order to bolster the important work that they do and strengthen the infrastructure that will keep them going for years to come.

Localising capacity building

Stars has always been an investor in capacity building, a need sadly under-resourced within the sector.  Last Spring saw us trial regionally-based capacity building workshops for our 2015 Impact Award winners. This was a shift from our previous offer of consultancy-based support only. To make our capacity building offer truly beneficial, workshops needed to be context specific and tailored to the needs of participants. We found real value in bringing together organisations from similar regions for collaborative learning and feedback from participants was excellent. These workshops, combined with an injection of funding to allow organisations to implement learning from the workshops, has proven to be a more effective package of support for winners than consultancy-based support alone.

So what next?

Our experience has taught us that capacity building support is vital in sustaining the long-term resilience of civil society organisations, strengthening their ability to achieve their vision, objectives, and ultimately serve the people they care for. Yet despite this critical need, many organisations cannot find capacity building that works in their best interest, if they can find it at all. We have seen this time and time again. When we visit these incredible NGOs we see committed teams of people, stretched thinly, working all hours to deliver critical services to children and their families. We see individuals looking for every opportunity to do more, to build their organisations further and to grow their own skills while doing so.

How can we provide them, and others like them, with access to relevant and accessible training, for free, just when it is‎ needed? How can we provide it in a form that is effective and that takes into consideration their circumstances; like sporadic access to the internet, a life often on the move, and one where time is a luxury? How can we support leaders to implement what they learn in order to create lasting change for their organisations? How do we offer people the opportunity to connect with others doing similar work, facing identical challenges, and finding solutions with the very people they are serving? And most importantly, how can we ensure their voices and their approaches are amplified and shared across a wider network of practitioners?

Philanthropy University

Enter Philanthropy University. A free online platform, launched by Stars Foundation's founder, offering access to courses, community and capital for NGOs across the Global South. This platform, which was pilot-tested last year with impressive results, is evolving and relaunching in mid-2017 to serve the kinds of NGO leaders Stars has been working with for the last decade, but at a much greater scale. It provides local organisations with the much-needed and often under-funded capacity building support they so often lack access to.

What does this mean for Stars? It means that through Philanthropy University we will be serving many more NGOs than before.  Part of our UK team will be joining forces with the US-based Philanthropy University team to ensure the lessons we have learned and the expertise we have developed over a decade will be carried forward. And we will champion the work of our Award winners, who themselves are best in class examples of organisations delivering genuine change for children and their families.  The rest of our Impact Awards team will continue to meet our commitments through 2017 and manage relationships with previous Impact Award winners.  A large part of this work will be the delivery of regional capacity building workshops for our 2015 and 2016 Impact Award winners. In addition, our work on the With and For Girls Awards will continue and we look forward to growing the With and For Girls Collective yet further to meet its ambitious 2020 vision.

With all of this in mind, we are rethinking our current approach to the Impact Awards as we focus on integrating our activities with Philanthropy University's. We are incredibly proud of all we have achieved through the Impact Awards this past decade. It has been wonderful to witness the continued and growing success of the local organisations we have recognised during this time. Ten years has taught us a lot, and we look forward to the lessons we will learn over the next decade as we grow our reach even further.

You can read more about‎ Philanthropy University in this blog by its CEO Connor Diemand Yauman.

This blog is also available in Arabic and Spanish.