Jonathan Starr
Since Jonathan Starr established Abaarso, the secondary school has placed more than 80 students in international boarding schools or colleges.

By James Sullivan

It was no ordinary test for Mubarik Mohamoud. As the first student from the Abaarso School of Science and Technology to be accepted into an American school, Mubarik could create untold opportunities for his schoolmates with a successful transition to Worcester Academy.

On the other hand, if he stumbled, his peers’ hopes might be dashed.

Jonathan Starr, a former hedge fund manager who started Abaarso eight years ago in the breakaway African republic of Somaliland, chuckles as he recalls his demanding expectations for Mubarik. When he learned that his prize student was worried “the entire future is on his shoulders,” he responded, “Good! He’s been listening.”

Starr, who lives in Westborough with his wife and baby daughter, spent four years in Somaliland building a high school campus out of the unforgiving rubble on the outskirts of the capital city, Hargeisa. He has just published a book, “It Takes a School: The Extraordinary Story of an American School in the World’s No. 1 Failed State,” about his rash decision to bring a rigorous education to the former region of Somalia, and the remarkable group of teachers and students who brought that vision to reality.

By his early 30s, Starr had amassed significant wealth and achievement as a systems savant for Fidelity Investments and later with his own hedge fund, Cambridge-based Flagg Street Capital. But he still felt a nagging desire to do something meaningful with his life.

While working in finance, he volunteered as a Boys and Girls Club basketball coach. After leading a winning season with an underskilled team from the suburbs, he jumped to another club closer to Boston, where the players were more talented. But they were growing up in dysfunction.

Click here to continue reading: Writing a success story in Somaliland

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