Blog – Measuring Impact in Terms of Starfish


Every Monday morning we have a team meeting on Teams – we’re a tiny-but-mighty organisation with 4 core team members, and we work remotely, so we’ve been having video meetings long before COVID19 dictated the ‘new norm’. Each of us takes a turn at chairing the meeting, and part of that role is to do a 15-minute ‘introduction’. This is an opportunity to share something with the team for interest, amusement, action or reflection, and is a great way to kick-start our week.

Last week our CEO was shortlisted in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards in the Pivot Entrepreneur of the Year category, and it was an opportunity for us all to come together (albeit virtually) and celebrate her, and our, journey together throughout lockdown. One point that came up was thinking about our impact as an organisation. We have worked with over 20,000 young people in the last 7 years, so in those terms we have a massive impact. But sometimes you can wonder how many you are actually reaching, in real terms – how many of those 20,000 will take the skills they learn with us, and the opportunities we give them to get their ideas and voices heard, and really run with it? In my mind, in real terms, the numbers don’t really matter.


Shocking, I know, because we all know how vital data is, both in terms of marketing and measuring, and the bigger the numbers the wider the reach and potentially the bigger the impact. But what if, out of all those thousands of young people, we only end up making a real difference to a handful? We work with nearly 4000 young people a year, which is incredible for an organisation our size – but what about all those other young people who aren’t able to take part in these kinds of programmes? All those who fall through the cracks, all those who don’t get the opportunities to be heard? The task can sometimes feel so huge, so overwhelming, that it can be tempting to think ‘Why bother? Why bother trying if you can’t possibly have an impact on them all?’

So in this morning’s team meeting, I read a summary version of an essay by Loren Corey Eiseley [1907-1977]  called The Star Thrower. Loren Eiseley was an American anthropologist, educator, philosopher and natural science writer, and it has been said of him that he had “an astonishing breadth of knowledge, infinite capacity for wonder and compassionate interest for everyone and everything in the universe.” Here’s a link to the summary of his original, and here is the parable that was adapted from it:

The Starfish Story

(adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley)

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.<

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”


And that’s it. That’s what really matters. No matter how overwhelming the task, no matter how much you might feel like you’re failing because you’re not reaching everyone, no matter how much more impact you wish you could make – it’s so important to realise that even if you only have a positive impact on ONE person, it matters. The effort is worth it. Whether you’re measuring your impact in tens, thousands or hundreds of thousands, what really matters is that each individual success counts – you’ve made a difference for that one.

So well done. Well done to all of you, all of us, that are finding our feet in this ‘new norm’, that are putting the effort in, that may be floundering along the way, but that are still finding ways to make a difference, make an impact, one starfish at a time. You are all phenomenal, and they are all worth the effort. Keep going,


Sarah Milburn
S4TP Programme Manager

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd