In 2001, then banker Andrew Stein was working on financing infrastructure and commercial hotel projects in Latin America. He was traveling weekly to various countries in the region when he developed a plan with his senior management team to dedicate some of the hours visiting those countries to orphanages around the local communities.
During one of his preliminary visits to a young women’s home in Santiago, Chile, a nun shared with him the reality that many of the girls–upon turning 18–were forced to move from the home, with little education or resources, often turning to the streets as a source of income, comfort and “support.”
Perplexed by this challenge and motivated to create lasting change in these underserved, underdeveloped communities abroad, Stein returned home to New York, setting up the Orphaned Starfish Foundation. Within months, Stein raised US$40,000 from friends and family, immediately returning to the site of his original inspiration to get started on the work that was so desperately needed. He opened the first Orphaned Starfish Foundation computer training center in Santiago, Chile in 2001.
“Computer-based education is now a necessity in the workforce and giving these children the training from basic computing to programming, robotics, etcetera, allows them to have the skills to gain the best employment possible,” says Stein. Another important component of his philosophy is teaching these young adults life skills. Preparing them for the real world, like budgeting, renting an apartment, or taking care of their physical health, is critical to succeeding in life overall.
Six months into the project, Stein noted many of the younger girls became the top students in their classes, expressing interest and showing initiative in computer skills. Fast forward fifteen years, and most of the girls from that one orphanage have gone on to seek higher education in college, have obtained strong professional opportunities, or have gotten married.
But the story doesn’t stop there. So inspired by the drive and motivation these young women displayed despite their circumstances, Stein expanded his reach, making his way into neighboring countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Panama. To date, OSF serves more than 10,000 orphans, and victims of abuse, trafficking and poverty in 50 OSF computer centers in 25 countries around the world.
When asked what the name means, Stein refers to an old parable about a massive storm washing thousands of starfish ashore. Dying of dehydration, a young boy began to pick up each starfish, returning them to their natural habitat where they were able to thrive, survive, and live on. Seeing the saving of thousands of starfish as a challenge, an older gentleman questioned his ability to save them all. The young boy, much like Stein, responded confidently “it starts with just one starfish.” Like the thousands of starfish in the story, Stein started with only 32 young women, and now helps thousands across the globe. And while he may not be able to save the world, he’s making a difference, one Orphaned Starfish at a time.
Stein, a Long Island native, and lifelong community service advocate has since left the world of banking and is fully committed to his international philanthropic endeavors.
If you are interested in becoming involved with the Orphaned Starfish Foundation, please visit orphanedstarfish.org to see a video, pictures, and descriptions of each of their global programs. ■