Jonathan Starr
Founder of Abaarso School of Science and Technology

Jonathan Starr is the founder and former headmaster of the Abaarso School of Science and Technology, a non-profit educational organization in Somaliland. In December 2015, he passed on the headmaster position to lead Abaarso’s largest donor, the Horn of Africa Education Development Fund. Despite its brief existence, Abaarso School has broken a decades-long drought in Somali education with unprecedented success, including placing students at Harvard, Yale, Brown, MIT, Amherst, and Swarthmore. Abaarso now has 80 students attending highly regarded universities and private schools around the world.  This has all been accomplished while operating at a cost structure that is a small fraction of similar schools in Africa and the Middle East.


From 2004 to 2008, Jonathan founded and led Flagg Street Capital, a private investment firm that managed $170 million of investor assets. Prior to Flagg Street, Jonathan worked as an Analyst at SAB Capital and at Blavin and Company, both well-respected private investment firms. His career started as a Research Associate within the Taxable Bond Division at Fidelity Investments. In addition to his full-time professional responsibilities, Jonathan sat on the Board of Directors of Pomeroy IT Solutions, a publicly-traded US information technology company generating approximately $500 million of annual sales. Jonathan’s board responsibilities included acting as a member of the Audit Committee, the Advisory Committee, and the Special Committee (strategic alternatives) of Pomeroy.


Jonathan graduated from Emory University, where he received a B.A. Summa Cum Laude in Economics and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He is deeply interested in motivating students and school communities to achieve their full potential.


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It Takes A SchoolThe Extraordinary Story of an American School in the World’s #1 Failed State
Henry Holt and Co.

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.

The Abaarso Story Jonathan tells the inspirational story behind the book It Takes a School, including the characters and all that Abaarso and its students overcame on their way to unprecedented success. This talk is about finding an achievable passion and driving it through to reach your goals.
Setting Students Up for Success Abaarso students reach levels far beyond what anyone would predict, gaining several years of education in each school year. This happens despite most students coming from extremely impoverished backgrounds, broken families, and poor schooling. Abaarso busted all conventional wisdom on what makes students succeed and it did so by developing a culture of success.
Succeeding In The Developing World Part of what makes Abaarso exceptional is that it succeeded in an extremely difficult and at times hostile developing world environment. What’s more, the Abaarso Founder was not Somali or Muslim. Not even African. This talk is targeted at businesses and non-profits who want to better understand the challenges and opportunities in trying to work in a foreign environment.
A Career In International Development? This talk is aimed at college students and others considering working in international development. Jonathan builds on aspects of his 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Islam And The West Years working as a non-Muslim in the Islamic world have provided Jonathan with insights on the current struggle between Islam and the West.

Watch Jonathan and the Abaarso School featured in conversation with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes.

Watch Jonathan’s keynote address at Picairn.

Read about how and why Jonathan started Abaarso School.

Read about Abaarso School alum Abdisamad Adan.

Read Jonathan’s piece about the “business” of international aid in The Wall Street Journal

Listen to Jonathan’s interviews with Bloomberg and BBC about Abaarso School

Read more coverage about Abaarso School in The Huffington PostThe Christian Science Monitor, and ESPN.

“In many ways, Jonathan has become part of the Marist community through his advocacy for his students and through his work with our Honors students. He has been generous with his time and knowledge, teaching two master classes on leadership and meaning in life. No first year author has ever had this level of commitment before, and we definitely look forward to working closely with Jonathan in the years to come.”
- Dr. James G. Snyder, Honors Program Director, Marist College

"It was great that Jonathan Starr visited the Marist Honors Program to share his work in Somaliland with the students. His talk had a perfect blend of realism and idealism. First, he explained the many pitfalls of our foreign aid to places like Somaliland, and how our money does not make it to the people who need it most. Yet at the same time he inspired the students to believe that they can change the world in a positive way. His talk was a highlight of the academic year for the students. I can't wait to have Jonathan back to Marist to meet with our students."
— Marist College Honors Program