“After arriving in Senegal in 1974, I lived in a small village near Thiès for three years. It was here that I realized a lack of basic, life-saving information was causing so much unnecessary illness, tragedy and death: Two children in the village were lame from polio; ordinary wounds became infected and led to hospital stays; there were many cases of measles; a baby died from dehydration.
It was also here that I began to understand why development projects have often failed and why they have even disempowered people at the community level.
To try a different approach, I partnered with the Senegalese villagers to design and implement a basic education program in African languages, and in 1991, I set up a nonprofit organization,Tostan, to continue that work.
In this program, people who had never been to school were for the first time able to understand why vaccinations are important, how to treat wounds in the village and how to ensure simple diarrhea does not lead to dehydration and death.”
In a new interview with “solutions journalism” site Dowser.org, Tostan founder Molly Melching talks about empathy, the impact her book has made, and the 340 more villages in Senegal she plans to reach.
“Q: Hillary Rodham Clinton said that However Long the Night’s story is ‘proof that commitment can drive transformational change.’ How do you think Tostan is changing the way we approach development?
A: I feel that empathy is often forgotten in the world of development. People are outraged about what’s going on in the world – and with very good intentions, they translate their outrage into telling people, ‘This is wrong!’ or ‘Stop this immediately!’ But we are talking about systemic change, and that goes deeper than telling people what to do.
There are things that are difficult to accept. I have had to live through the sights and stories of little girls being cut, hemorrhaging, and dying. And you are outraged. But with outrage alone, you can maybe save one girl, possibly a few girls. You need strategy to reach a critical mass of people who can make this a thing of the past – quicker than we ever thought possible.”
June 8th, 2013 was a historic day for 30 communities from the Koulikoro region in Mali. Many representatives from these Bambara communities – including women, men, young children and teenagers gathered in the village of Fégoun near the banks of the Niger river to publicly declare the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage in their communities. The declaration is the result of decisions made in each community that these practices were harmful to the general wellbeing of community members. Community members discussed the effects of these traditions using new information on health and human rights gained through Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), with classes led in local languages from 2010 to 2013 in partnership with Project Muso Ladamunen and Sini Sanuman.
Traditionally, communities in Mali have been resistant to abandon these practices. The latest figures put the prevalence rate for FGC at 85.2% (DHS 2006) and for child/forced marriage at 71% (PRB May 2011) in the country. The recent confusion due to the 2012 coup d’état and war in the north have also complicated efforts by NGOs working on this and other long-term projects seeking sustainable change. read more
Last night, Tostan was featured on PBS NewsHour – both in an updated TV segment and in a brand-new online segment focusing on Tostan’s new book.
Above, watch what aired on TV and see Tostan’s work in Senegal firsthand.
Below, watch the bonus segment, which covers everything from how she started focusing on female genital cutting to her insights on how people modify their behaviors. An excerpt:
“She had no intention of broaching the sensitive and extremely taboo subject of genital cutting. That cause was championed by her Senegalese colleagues and friends, newly armed with health information and driven in at least one compelling case — a ‘cutter’ named Oureye — by her own guilt. Oureye is one of several strong characters in the book, written by New York-based journalist and author Aimee Molloy and published in a partnership between the Skoll Foundation (an underwriter of the NewsHour) and the HarperOne division of HarperCollins.”
Mother’s Day is on Sunday, so we thought it fitting to share parts of some awardee messages:
There are nearly three billion adults worldwide who lack basic financial services, and most of them are women. Take Clenda from Litein Town in Kenya: she is a 24-year-old mother of two who has been in the farming business for over 6 years. Through one of Kiva’s partners, Juhudi Kilimo, Clenda received a $300 loan to purchase a dairy cow that allows her to sell milk in the local market. She uses the extra income to pay for her children’s education and help increase the overall quality of life for her family.
By lending as little as $25 on Kiva, anyone can help offer opportunity to women worldwide. This Mother’s Day, help spread the word about how Kiva.org, the world’s leading microlending platform, gives us all a chance to make a big difference for women, families and communities. Thank the nurturers in your life by giving them a Kiva Card — $25 to lend to any borrower they choose — to help individuals around the world realize their potential. Visit www.kiva.org/gifts.
From mothers2mothers (video above):
With our double your mommy campaign, you can tell your mother or an important woman in your life how special she is by making a donation to mothers2mothers in her name that will have twice the impact! Every donation we receive for U.S. Mother’s Day will be doubled with a matching gift by an anonymous donor up to a total of $25,000. In acknowledgement, we will send her a Mother’s Day e-card with a special video message from some of the inspiring mothers we work with or a card by mail. It’s easy to double your mommy here. read more
On April 30, a new book However Long the Night — Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions ofAfrican Women and Girls Triumph is being released by HarperOne and the Skoll Foundation. Melching will be in Washington, D.C., New York, and the San Francisco Bay Area starting April 29 — scroll down for dates and locations. Endorsed by Hillary Clinton, this compelling book by acclaimed author Aimee Molloy tells the unlikely and inspiring story of Molly Melching, an American woman whose experience as an exchange student in Senegal led her to found the international nonprofit Tostan and dedicate almost four decades of her life to the women and girls of Africa. This moving biography tells of Melching’s beginnings at the University of Dakar and follows her journey of nearly 40 years in Africa, where she became a social entrepreneur and one of humanity’s strongest voices for the rights of women and girls. More than a biography, However Long the Night is a book about social transformation and women’s empowerment. It shows how education and knowledge of human rights can create generational change and ignite large-scale social progress. View the short book trailer above.
Invitation-only event to discuss Tostan, an organization globally recognized for transforming the lives of millions of women and girls across West Africa. To receive an invitation contact Julie@willamsworks.com
Many Skoll awardees work with women and girls, so we thought we’d share some of their public letters and videos today, International Women’s Day. Above, you can see Tostan’s video from Women’s Day last year, and they will soon post their new one from today.
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.’ read more
On January 20, 2013 in Ziguinchor, a region of southern Senegal, there was a very large public declaration for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage by 427 communities. (See video above). This was the first-ever regional public declaration in Senegal. It is framed as part of the government plan toward Senegal-wide abandonment of FGC.
Today at 9:30 a.m. EST, Gannon Gillespie, Tostan’s Director of Strategic Development, was interviewed for Voice of America’s Health Chat.
Tomorrow, at 7:45 a.m. EST, Skoll Awardee Molly Melching, Tostan’s Founder and Executive Director, will participate in a Google+ Hangout to discuss progress. read more
Skoll Foundation portfolio principal Kimberly Dasher Tripp shares her insights on how to scale impact in the Harvard Business Review. Here’s an excerpt:
“If you ask venture capitalists in Silicon Valley how they measure the success of business entrepreneurs, they would no doubt list off metrics having to do with fast growth: funding raised, people hired, customers acquired, revenue produced. The assumption is that company growth is good. But when it comes to social ventures, where the primary focus is impact (not profits), bigger isn’t necessarily better.
When organizations talk to my colleagues and me at the Skoll Foundation about growth in staff size, budget size, or client / beneficiary numbers, we often ask “So what?” In our view, those types of growth don’t necessarily translate to real and significant impact. Sure, size can often be correlated to maturity, but we want to know that the service, curriculum, or product the organization is offering has a significant impact on the problem it aims to solve. For us the question is not how do you grow organizations but how do you scale impact?”
17 January 2013, Dakar, Senegal: Tostan, an African-based NGO, has launched a new project to enable communities in West Africa to share their own vision of development, social change and peace-building through innovative filmmaking.
“Social entrepreneurs see possibility where others see problems. They are unapologetically ambitious, setting their sights not just on incremental improvements but on systems-level transformation. And to achieve their audacious ends, social entrepreneurs enroll those most vested in that transformation — people oppressed, marginalised, or constrained by an existing reality.”
Those are Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg’s words in This is Africa, a new publication from the Financial Times that “seeks to examine African business and politics in a global context and to make sense of the relationships that Africa is building with the rest of the world.” read more
Tostan has big news to share: 144 communities in Guinea-Bissau will publicly declare their promotion of human rights, including abandoning female genital cutting and child marriage, and embracing all human rights and responsibilities.
The first declaration of 75 communities in the Cambajú, Bafata Region was yesterday. Here’s more from the Tostan blog:
“The curriculum of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) begins with interactive sessions on democracy, human rights, and problem solving. These themes are the basis of the programand relate to later sessions on hygiene, health, literacy, math, and project management. By centering the program on human rights, participants are able to identify rights-affirming practices they wish to reinforce in their communities and harmful practices they wish to abandon. read more
First book in partnership, about the life and work of Molly Melching and TOSTAN, to be published in April 2013
October 19, 2012; San Francisco, CA—HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, announces a partnership with the Skoll Foundation to publish co-branded narrative nonfiction books by Skoll Foundation Social Entrepreneurs—91 entrepreneurs in 74 organizations globally, that have proven they can change the world. HarperOne has been a leading publisher of books about personal and social change for 35 years, including more than 75 New York Times and national bestsellers in the last six years.
The books, by Skoll entrepreneurs in collaboration with leading writers, will tell dramatic first person stories about creating large-scale impact on the world’s most daunting problems. The debut title, However Long the Night: One American Woman’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph, tells the riveting tale of Molly Melching and her organization, Tostan. read more
Today we’re sharing a blog from Skoll awardee Tostan. Written by Lilli Loveday, Projects Assistant, The Gambia:
Through our work we have learned that as communities become empowered through human rights-based education, their ability to empower girls amplifies. In celebration of the first ever International Day of the Girl—11 October 2012—we are sharing the inspiring stories of five girls as they pursue their goals and build an empowered future for themselves and their communities in our blog series, Spotlight on Girls. Now let’s turn the spotlight on Aja Drummeh from Bajon Koto, The Gambia.
Five-year-old Aja Drammeh lives in the Bajon Koto community in the Upper River Region (URR) of The Gambia. At an inter-village meeting held in her hometown at the end of August, Aja inspired the audience as she shared her remarkable knowledge of human rights, democracy, and issues related to health and hygiene. read more
Besides the fact that our CEO Sally Osberg is speaking today at 10:30 a.m., there’s lots of other Skoll Foundation related excitement at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting, which started yesterday. Tim Hanstad of Landesa spoke about “Making a Business Case for Land Rights.” Mindy Lubber of Ceres talked about Integrating Social and Environmental Value into Core Business. (Watch her at that link starting at the 20 minute mark).
Above, listen to Molly Melching of Tostan starting at 25:30 in the video. It was part of the 2012 Commitment Workshops called “Influencing Behavior and Attitudes.” Melching introduced us to a Senegalese woman who went to 148 communities with Tostan and helped end the practice of female genital cutting and child marriage there.
“You may ask, how does a deeply entrenched practice, of genital cutting, which has lasted more than 2,000 years, how did this change come about?” Melching said in her talk. “One of the people who was most determined to find a solution was a villager who is now 75 years old..he taught us profound lessons about a society where the family and the social group is of utmost importance. He explained that a practice like female genital cutting was not even a choice for people in the community…It was an obligatory social rule.”
…”For both attitudinal and behavioral change to occur, we have found that the change must really come from within.”
“I truly believe that we are at a point where in a few years Senegal may be able to say that it is a country free from a practice that disempowers women and girls and violates their human rights, the harmful practice of female genital cutting.”
Those are Skoll Awardee Molly Melching’s words, in her latest Huffington Post piece. She writes:
“This year we have seen the 5,000th community in Senegal declare abandonment of FGC. We are now on the verge of something unique and historic — total abandonment of FGC in Senegal.
After two years of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), 28 Somaliland communities abandoned female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage this weekend in a big event.
The formal declaration read: “As from today and witnessed by politicians, traditional/religious leaders, government officials and the common men, women and children, we 28 communities of Maroodi Jeex do hereby declare unanimously the abandonment of all forms of FGC. These 28 communities will join the 20 communities that abandoned FGC in Somaliland in 2009.”
Congratulations to Tostan, which just won an “Award in Action” from the Cécilia Attias Foundation for Women, which brings global attention to successful development approaches that improve the well-being of African women.
Highlighted as an example of best practice within the international health field, Tostan received the Award for its work on improving health systems and maternal care at the community level. The award was announced in Gabon at the Foundation’s Dialogue for Action Africa, an international forum dedicated to promoting well-being for all women.