Skoll Foundation



Skoll Awardee(s): Molly Melching
Award Year: 2010
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Education, Peace and Human Rights

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“These communities have done what was once thought impossible.  They have changed an entrenched, harmful social norm, through a vibrant grassroots movement.  It was about human rights and health, people feeling they were part of a very noble and positive movement that was inspiring, that made them want to be part of it.”

Sub-Issues: Early childhood to primary education, Women and girls education Problems affecting the well-being of communities, such as violence against women, early marriage, female genital cutting, and lack of education for girls and women, persist because communities and their leaders see themselves bound by social norms and powerless to effect change.

The Skoll Awardee: 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.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2010:

  • As of 2014, more than 200,000 community members have participated in Tostan Community Empowerment Programs.
  • The number of communities renouncing FGC has grown to more than 7,000, representing more than 3 million inhabitants, in Djbouti, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia, and The Gambia.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.