Tostan’s mission is to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights.
Tostan means “breakthrough” in the Wolof language of West Africa. Since 1991, Tostan has brought its three-year Community Empowerment Program (CEP) to thousands of communities in ten African countries: Burkina Faso, Djibouti, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia, and Sudan.
CEP empowers communities to change their own lives by teaching them about human rights and dignity in a way that is respectful, inclusive, holistic, and sustainable. Participants help to spread the knowledge they gain through their social networks. In this way, that knowledge becomes the catalyst for positive change on a community, regional, and national level.
Thanks to CEP, more than 7,200 communities have declared that they will abandon female genital cutting, forced marriage, and child marriage. Communities have witnessed economic improvement, the emergence of female leadership, increased enrollment of girls in school, and better protection of maternal and child health, among other benefits.
Problems such as violence against women, early marriage, and female genital cutting persist because communities see themselves powerless to effect change.
Tostan advances community empowerment program built on respectful engagement, traditional learning methods in local languages, and community ownership of the process.
Molly Melching and Tostan have helped to bring about something once thought impossible: thousands of villages abandoning the practice of female genital cutting.
More than 200,000 community members have participated in Tostan Community Empowerment Programs.
Communities come to understand social norms as something they can choose to change, to become healthier, more prosperous, democratic and literate.
Demonstration and Replication
Change expands as community leaders learn from peers and decide to begin their own programs.
Molly Melching moved to Senegal in 1974 as an exchange student, and stayed on to work in community development. She realized over time that development programs failed to achieve real transformation, and to last, because they were built around foreign concepts of development, rather than the communities’ own perceptions and wishes. She founded Tostan in 1991 to advance a community empowerment program built on respectful engagement of village members, work with traditional learning methods in local languages, and facilitating community ownership of the development process. By engaging communities in exciting, inspiring explorations of their human rights and their power to improve their own health and well being, Molly and Tostan have helped to bring about something once thought impossible: public declarations by thousands of villages of their intention to abandon the practice of female genital cutting. As of the date of the Skoll Award, Tostan had played a role in public declarations by more than 4,200 villages to abandon FGC, in Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Somalia.