Skoll Foundation



Skoll Entrepreneur(s): Molly Melching
Award Year: 2010
Focus Area(s) Addressed: Education and Economic Opportunity

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Molly Melching has lived and worked in Senegal, West Africa since 1974 and has dedicated her life to the empowerment of communities at grassroots levels. Molly’s early experience working with children in Dakar and living in a rural village enforced her beliefs that many development efforts were not addressing the true needs and realities of African communities. In collaboration with the villagers, Molly began to develop a new type of learning program that actively involved both adults and adolescents by using African languages and traditional methods of learning. Their efforts grew throughout the 1980s, leading Molly to found Tostan in 1991.

Tostan is an organization whose innovative grassroots education model—the Community Empowerment Program (CEP)—engages communities for three years in the cross-cutting themes of democracy, human rights, problem-solving, hygiene, health, literacy, project management skills, and parental education.

Molly is highly regarded for her expertise in nonformal education, human rights training, and social transformation. Her work with Tostan has brought her international recognition for results in many areas of development which include, reductions in infant and maternal mortality, widespread school and birth registration, the emergence of female leadership and the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.


  • More than 200,000 community members have directly participated in Tostan’s program, and over 3 million have been reached indirectly through its ‘organized diffusion’ model.
  • In 2014, they focused efforts in Ebola-affected areas. In Guinea, Senegal, and nearby countries, Tostan-trained community leaders are already organized and training a range of new leaders.
  • 19,000 women have been selected as community leaders because of Tostan’s focus on women’s empowerment
  • In Jan. 2015, their fistula camps in Senegal provided medical and social support for women.
  • A moving book, “However Long the Night,” about Molly’s work was published by HarperOne in April 2013, in partnership with the Skoll Foundation.
  • More than 2,000 Community Management Committees (CMC) and dozens of regional federations have been formed, with over 80 percent managed by women.
  • More than 7,000 communities in eight African countries have publicly declared their decision to abandon female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.
  • Tostan’s approach to FGC abandonment has been integrated into national and international strategies, including 10 U.N. agencies and 5 governments. In Senegal, the government has adopted a National Action Plan that calls for using the human rights approach pioneered by Tostan to end FGC.
  • 38,000 people participated directly in the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in one year.
  • 90 percent of girls are staying in school in their partner communities in The Gambia
  • 447 CMC-led awareness-raising activities in Guinea-Bissau to promote education
  • 220 communities in Senegal are implementing a new early childhood development module.
  • Their Generational Change in Three Years goals include: expand their work to 1,000 communities in West Africa; ending FGC in Senegal by 2015 and expanding the movement in the region; reducing child marriage and violence against women and girls; and transforming education for a generation of parents and children. That’s besides their CEP.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.