Skoll Foundation


Molly Melching on the Power of Information, in the New York Times

February 8, 2013 by

Molly Melching and Tostan were recently part of  the New York Times’ Fixes column. An excerpt:

“When it comes to changing human behavior, Melching said that the force of law or even the threat of spirits still pales in comparison to the power of information.

She related how Tostan is now sharing the latest information about brain development with Senegalese parents, the kind of neuroscience that Americans and Europeans are used to hearing: the first 15 days of a baby’s life are critical for brain development, and speaking aloud to them goes a long way in language comprehension and formation later on. Melching said she and her colleagues spent hours getting new fathers, many of them respected leaders in the community, used to these practices. She laughed aloud recounting the image of these men, babies in their arms, awkwardly greeting their children: ‘Um, hello baby.’

Cultural change is awkward. It can’t be forced, but it can grow organically. Tostan uses a theory of ‘organized diffusion’—creating community settings in which people feel comfortable receiving and discussing accurate information about health and human rights. And, of course, it is essential to make sure that the ‘influencers’ of any community—often the men—are engaged both intellectually and emotionally.

‘None of us, rich or poor, likes to be told what to do,’ says Melching. ‘That’s why we steer clear of messaging. The truth is that when anyone, men included, get good scientific information and a chance to discuss it with members of their communities, they are very interested in changing.’”

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