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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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Time to pause... and reflect

Posted by: Muna on 23 Jun 2015
in Blog

A wise friend once told me that as a parent, days take forever but years fly by. 

Time is passing so quickly that I often don't feel I get a chance to pause and take stock of how quickly my children are growing and evolving. The same can be said of Stars. The Foundation today could not be more different from the one I started working for thirteen years ago. 

It has now been six months since my return from maternity leave and this feels like a good time to press the pause button and reflect on all the changes that have taken place. 

Finding my feet

It was with mixed emotion that I returned from maternity leave in January of this year. I wanted to get back to my work and the team I love, but felt torn to be leaving my youngest when she still seemed so small. Her first teeth had only just started to appear and her interest in crawling was just beginning.

Six months on, I am thrilled to be back in my seat at Stars and the flexibility my job offers means that so far I have rarely missed my children's bedtime.

I was very fortunate to have left Stars in the capable hands of an incredible team while I was on maternity leave, led by the wonderful Eric Levine our Interim CEO. Stars was on the cusp of significant change.

Having recently completed the first Independent Assessment of our flagship  programme, the Impact Awards, we were thinking through the changes we wanted to implement in response to the findings.

All change!

I've returned to a very different looking organisation.

Our Impact Awards process has now evolved considerably, as has the team. For example, we have moved from an open application process to one where we seek nominations from referral partners.

The change could not be more dramatic. Gone are the piles of paper surrounding people's desks and the steady hum of the printer. Instead of assessing hundreds of applications (as many as 1,500 in previous years), programme officers are out networking and building relationships.

There is a new energy in the office and an added bonus is getting to listen to conversations on skype in French, Spanish, Arabic and Portuguese!

There is more collaboration across functions now. For example David and Neha, who lead on fundraising and partnerships, are working more closely with the programmes team. There is a better two-way flow of information, more sharing of contacts and more frequent introductions made.  

Another change we are piloting this year is having a member of staff based in region. Katie will be moving to Cambodia from July to run the Asia-Pacific Awards programme from there.

With the need to build strong referral partner relationships, and a new approach to our capacity building offering – more focus on regional workshops – there could be a lot to gain by having a permanent presence on the ground. It is an exciting move, but Katie will be missed in our Victoria office, especially when it’s time to make tea!

Girl power and new frontiers

The With & For Girls Award is a new addition to our programme portfolio. It brings together 8 funding partners who have committed $1million to fund locally-led grassroots organisations focused on girls.

Together, the partners are designing the awards process and introducing exciting elements, like a panel of girls between the ages 16 and 19 that will select the award winners in each region and be involved in helping to develop the With & For Girls brand.  

A wider ambition of the Collective is to drive more flexible funding towards grassroots NGOs focused on girls and we came Highly Commended in the Bond Awards for Positive Collaboration last month for our efforts in this space!

2014 saw the launch of the Philanthropreneurship Forum, an annual event exploring the dynamics of creative philanthropy, and how its practice can catalyse innovation and cross-sector collaboration.

This was the first time all our award winners met face to face – an incredible experience for our team.

Our founder, His Excellency Amr A. Al-Dabbagh, also announced plans to launch Philanthropy University in 2015 - a free educational platform offering online training for aspiring leaders working for social good. Watch this space!

Evolution not revolution

With so many changes underway, we felt our brand no longer reflected all the facets of our work and our evolving approach to philanthropy. 

Stars is focusing more on acting as a broker - building partnerships, networks and coalitions that will allow us to make a more meaningful contribution to the lives of children around the world. 

Working with design agency Pentagram, we unveiled our new look Stars brand at the end of last year. I'd love to know what you think.

New blood

Bringing in an interim is an amazing opportunity to inject fresh ideas and new skills into an organisation. On both of my maternity leaves, we deliberately hired Interims who would bring different approaches and experiences to Stars, and we are reaping the benefits.

If any of you are about to go on maternity leave and considering hiring an Interim to cover for you, I’d be delighted to share my experience with you – tweet me @munawehbe!