Stars: different alignment, same general constellation


Andrew Milner


Changes of staff and emphases are underway at the London-based Saudi philanthropy, the Stars Foundation. Following a decade of its flagship Impact Awards, Stars’ focus is shifting to the Philanthropy University in Silicon Valley set up by its founders the Al-Dabbagh Group.

The Stars Foundation’s long-serving CEO, Muna Wehbe, who stepped down at the end of 2017, will act as adviser to both the University and the Foundation’s With and For Girls Initiative, which will become the province of the Stars team in the UK.

The changes come on the heels of a report chronicling the lessons learned during 10 years of the Impact Awards. Set up in 2007 to support strong locally-led civil society organisations responding to the needs of underserved children, the Awards have, since then, recognised 130 organisations who have reached over five million people.

According to Stars’ website, the choice of awards over grants was made, first, in the belief that not enough funding was going directly to locally-led NGOs and, second, that flexible funding, rather than funding tied to particular projects was what such organisations needed.

The report in essence recommends more of the same: be more flexible towards the changing circumstances of organisations and their environments; be more transparent, making communications about selection processes, criteria and expectations clearer; make greater use of participatory grantmaking, involving partners and grantees in the selection process; build the capacity of NGOs; pay attention to what it calls ‘the inevitable power imbalances in philanthropy’ by providing flexible funding to locally-led organisations, collaboration and sustainability.

Henceforth, the Impact Awards will be housed in the virtual Philanthropy University. Clearly one of the main intentions behind this move is to scale up the work of the awards.

The university will apply what Stars has learned to a digital platform with an ambition to reach 100 million people by 2020.

The university’s emphasis will still be on local organisations and specifically on providing capacity building responsive to their needs, and on the duty of philanthropy to amplify the voices of local leaders.

Significantly, however, Stars’ newsletter also speaks of extending the range of its work ‘beyond children and young people to the broader reach of the SDGs’.

Andrew Milner is associate editor of Alliance. Email

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