an Entity of Abaarso Network

Our Story

Barwaaqo is proud to be part of the Abaarso Network. Our flagship high school was featured on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper and in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof when our students became the first in their country in more than 30 years to matriculate to US universities including Harvard, Yale, MIT, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and Penn. 

In 2017, we started Barwaaqo University, the only women’s university in Somaliland. Our residential model allows us to provide wraparound services for our students, including a rigorous academic foundations program, social emotional learning, leadership development, and a wide range of extracurricular programs. 

In 2019, Abaarso Network founded Kaabe Schools, a scaling system of Montessori primary schools. These primary schools provide high-quality education to children across Somaliland, driven by Barwaaqo graduates. 

Nimco Ismail, Co-founder

Nimo Ahmed Ismael was the first student from Somaliland or Somalia in over thirty years to earn a scholarship to a US university. The Minister of Education held a press conference to honor this historic feat. Nimo graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 2017 and immediately returned to Somaliland to help found Barwaaqo University and assume the role of Dean of Students. After years helping to set up Barwaaqo, Nimo left to earn a Law Degree from University of Stirling in Scotland. Nimo returned to the organization in 2022 to serve as Abaarso Network’s first Deputy Director. 

Jonathan Starr, Co-founder

Jonathan was the Founder of the Abaarso School, the incredibly successful 7th-12th grade boarding school in Somaliland. Jonathan served as Headmaster of Abaarso from 2008 to 2015. Prior to founding Abaarso, Jonathan had a successful career in finance. From 2004 – 2008, he founded and led Flagg Street Capital, a private investment firm that managed $170 million of assets. Prior to Flagg Street, he worked as an Analyst at SAB Capital and at Blavin and Company. Jonathan also sat on the Board of Directors of Pomeroy IT Solutions, a publicly traded IT company generating $500 million of annual sales. Jonathan graduated from Emory University, with a B.A. Summa Cum Laude in Economics and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

A native of Minnesota, Ava graduated with high distinction from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School with a degree in Public/Non-Profit Management and Entrepreneurial Management. Ava’s interest in international development began at Children’s Home Society and Family Services. Before working for Abaarso School, she served as a youth and maternal health education advocate in Kenya. She has traveled extensively in East and South Africa and speaks English, French, Swahili and is learning Somali. At Abaarso School, Ava served as the Assistant Headmaster and Director of Development and also taught math from 2011 through 2014. In 2014, Ava returned to the United States to work for Firefly Value Partners, L.P., in New York City as an operations analyst for three year before returning to Somaliland in 2017 to start Barwaaqo. 

Ava Ramberg, Co-founder