It Takes a School: The Extraordinary Story of an American School in the World's #1 Failed State

It Takes a School: The Extraordinary Story of an American School in the World's #1 Failed State

by Jonathan Starr


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It Takes a School: The Extraordinary Story of an American School in the World's #1 Failed State by Jonathan Starr

A story of David and Goliath proportions, how an American hedge fund manager created a unique school in Somaliland whose students, against all odds, have come to achieve success beyond anyone’s wildest dreams

Jonathan Starr, once a cutthroat hedge fund manager, is not your traditional do-gooder, and in 2009, when he decided to found Abaarso, a secondary school in Somaliland, the choice seemed crazy to even his closest friends. “Why,” they wondered, “would he turn down a life of relative luxury to relocate to an armed compound in a breakaway region of the world’s #1 failed state?” To achieve his mission, Starr would have to overcome profound cultural differences, broken promises, and threats to his safety and that of his staff.

It Takes a School is the story of how an abstract vision became a transformative reality, as Starr set out to build a school in a place forgotten by the world. It is the story of a skeptical and clan-based society learning to give way to trust. And it’s the story of the students themselves, including a boy from a family of nomads who took off on his own in search of an education and a girl who waged a hunger strike in order to convince her strict parents to send her to Abaarso.

Abaarso has placed forty graduates and counting in American universities, from Harvard to MIT, and sends Somaliland a clear message: its children can compete with anyone in the world. Now the initial question Starr was asked demands another: “If such a success can happen in an unrecognized breakaway region of Somalia, can it not happen anywhere?”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250113467
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 02/07/2017
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 345,953
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Starr founded and led the private investment firm Flagg Street Capital, worked as an Analyst at SAB Capital and Blavin and Company, and as a Research Associate within the Taxable Bond Division at Fidelity Investments. Using a half million dollars from his personal finances, Starr created the Abaarso School in 2009. His work in Somaliland has been written about in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, CNN, and the Christian Science Monitor.

Table of Contents

Foreword xv

Map xviii

Prologue 1

Part 1 Burning My Ships

1 My Somali Uncle 7

2 Somaliland Roots 12

3 From Hedge Fund Manager to Headmaster 15

4 Modem-Day Nomad 19

5 Results Day 24

6 The Exam 29

7 The Blank Sheet of Paper 33

Part 2 Building a School

8 First Trip to Somaliland 41

9 Clans 47

10 Teachers 51

11 The Abaarso Condition 54

Part 3 School Culture

12 Mohamed: A Day in the Life 61

13 Straight Talk and Motivation 65

14 Fahima's Rocks 71

15 Critical Thinking 76

16 Fundamentals 84

17 Integrity 89

18 Suzanne's Orphanage 96

19 Selection Day 101

Part 4 The Great Miscalculation

20 The White Man Speaks Somali 109

21 A Complex World 112

22 The Village 114

23 Like Water Through a Sieve 117

24 Doing Something Right 122

25 Money Disguised as Religion 125

26 Trouble with the Boys 127

27 Khadar's Rage 132

28 Nothing Is Easy 137

29 Harry's Mad Dash 142

30 The Higher Education Commission 147

Part 5 Tenacity

31 Selling Success 155

32 No Good Deed Goes Unpunished 162

33 A Somali Among the Elite 168

34 Twenty-Seven Schools in Twenty-Five Days 177

35 SAT Trip 185

36 Deportation 190

37 The Full Arsenal 195

Part 6 Winning the Society

38 Miss Marple 203

39 Religious Council 207

40 Vindication 210

41 The Cherry on Top 215

Part 7 When Arms Are Open

42 Show Me the Money 223

43 Our Best Ambassadors 226

44 The Future 231

45 In Harvard Yard 237

Epilogue 241

Acknowledgments 249

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