Molly Melching has lived and worked in Senegal, West Africa, since 1974. Ms. Melching’s early experiences, studying at the Cheikh Anta Diop University 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, Ms. Melching began to develop a new type of learning program, which actively involved both adults and adolescents by using African languages and traditional methods of learning. Their efforts grew throughout the 1980s, leading Ms. Melching to found Tostan, an organization whose innovative education model—the Community Empowerment Program—engages communities for three years in cross-cutting themes of democracy, human rights, problem-solving, hygiene, health, reading and writing, SMS texting for literacy, development, and project management skills.
To date, thousands of African villages have collectively abandoned harmful practices such as female genital cutting and child/forced marriage thanks to Tostan’s program, while making significant impacts in other areas, including health, environment, economic growth, and women’s leadership. Tostan, now operating in eight African countries and 22 national languages, is an internationally recognized model for community-led development. Tostan received Sweden’s Anna Lindh Human Rights Award, the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize, and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.