How it All Started

MAIA, previously known as Starfish, capitalizes on the deep well of experience of its founders, Theodore and Connie Ning and Mimi Schlumberger. All spent many years in the women’s microcredit movement in Asia and Latin America.

Their years in microcredit taught the founders a couple of critical lessons:

  • How a mother has an unyielding commitment to improving her family’s situation, and

  • How education plays a pivotal role in breaking free of cyclical poverty and making informed choices

Founded in 2007, MAIA was created with a focus on the younger generation of women born into quadruple discrimination (poor, female, rural, Mayan) whose “fate” would normally be to drop out of school, marry and mother, and repeat the poverty cycle. The founders focused their strategies on the question: What would happen if these young women had the opportunity to go as far as their talent could take them?

To address the numerous challenges facing girls, the solution had to be holistic in nature and sustainable in its implementation. MAIA’s pillars of academics, community, and culture work together to create a deeply intentional support system for young women and their families to ensure they can break the cycles of exclusion and poverty that have gripped them for generations. MAIA was built to be nimble and responsive to the emerging needs and lessons learned.

Since 2008, MAIA has run a successful mentorship and scholarship program centered on creating “Girl Pioneers” who would be the first in their families to complete secondary school. This project couples financial support to attend public schools and an intensive mentorship program at MAIA centers on weekends. The MAIA mentorship model works because the mentors themselves are mirrors of their mentees — they’re from the same or a similar community and have had a comparable trajectory. The mentorship groups consist of 12-15 peers, who engag with topics like financial literacy, reproductive health, civic engagement, and life planning, among others, for the duration of the six-year program. As the results demonstrate, the mentorship project has been highly successful.

However, there was a crucial variable that continued to impede the trajectory of Girl Pioneers: a substandard public education system. In Sololá, just 6% of high school graduates are considered “proficient” in math. This is not for lack of talent, but rather due to an antiquated system. As a result, Girl Pioneers entering into the workforce or applying to university had to achieve success in spite of their education, not as a result of it.

To directly address this problem impeding our graduates from reaching their full potentials, MAIA opened the Impact School, a secondary school (grades 7-12) in January 2017 after several years of planning and professional development for staff members. The school serves first generation, rural indigenous girls, and combines our mentorship model with rigorous academics, cultural preservation, and an emphasis on deep family work. The mentorship component remains the cornerstone of our model and is deepened within the school as our team has significantly more time to invest in Girl Pioneers.

To learn more about MAIA’s founders, please visit the following links:

Theodore C Ning, MD, FACS & Constance C Ning, RPT, MA honored for global health contributions